|READ ABOUT JAMESTOWN |
are four books that have been published over the past several years
that put the Jamestown experience in a new and more accurate light.
A Land As God Made It--Jamestown and the Birth of Americaby James Horn (Basic Books, 2005), avoids sweeping statements in favor
of well documented detail. The story loses none of its narrative drive
for the effort. What emerges is a grim and sometimes maddeningly inept
struggle to establish a colony while waiting for the Spanish ships to
attack. Horn begins the story not with the departure of the English
ships for the Chesapeake, but rather in 1561 with the Spanish efforts
to dominate all of North and South America. This includes an early
effort to establish a mission in Virginia, which ended in disaster for
the Jesuits—and a bad taste in some natives' mouths for European
Love and Hate in Jamestown--John Smith, Pocahontas and the Heart of a New Nation,
by David A. Price (Knopf, 2003), retells the Jamestown story, also with
footnotes, with sometimes varying emphasis and interpretation of
events. Both this and Horn's book give a better picture of the highly
structured and sophisticated society of the Native American tribes that
peopled all of the Chesapeake Bay.
writing of Jamestown, historians run up against the problems associated
with their primary sources. Nearly all those who wrote contemporary
accounts of the tumultuous events of those years could be considered
unreliable. John Smith, on whom historians must depend for descriptions
of his travels up and down the Chesapeake as well as the first years at
James Fort, presents a particularly thorny problem because he was
Two other books, Jamestown--The Buried Truth, by William M. Kelso (University of Virginia Press, 2006) andThe Birth of Black America--The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestownby Tim Hashaw (Carroll & Graf, 2007) refreshingly avoid that issue
by taking very different tacks. Kelso is the chief archaeologist at
Historic Jamestowne, the actual site of the fort and subsequent town,
and the man who actually uncovered the outlines of the 1607 fort, as
well as hundreds of thousands of artifacts. Kelso's approach is to
understand the Jamestown experience by using the evidence of what they
left behind. It makes a lively story and in some ways comes closer than
more traditional histories to giving flesh and blood to those who
struggled—or didn't—to make it work.
Hashaw's book is in many respects the most fascinating of all, because
it gives us an insight into a civilization, ancient and complex, that
most of us know nothing about—Angola, the starting place for the early
slave trade to the Americas.
Also just out:The Jamestown Project, by Karen Ordahl Kupperman (Harvard University, 2007).Savage Kingdom--The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America, by Benjamin Woolley (Harper Collins, 2007).