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The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea…
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The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate…

by Lorri Glover

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In terms of the book's title it fails to explicitly encapsulate the whole story, it actually is somewhat misleading (the subtitle better describes the main content of the story). In reality, the book covers much more of the genesis of American colonization by the British at the turn of the 17th Century. Not to say the book was not comprehensive, my notion is simply that the title alludes to its theme rather than what the co-authors spent time filling its pages.

The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown heavily and thoroughly documents the wheeling-and-dealing of visionaries of the Virginia Company, like those selling timeshares, they hoped to either entice investors via subscriptions to bank roll a colony on America's eastern shore or lure them to partake of the adventure. Great pains are taken to describe the political and social turmoil in London to "sell" the idea of Nova Britannia and resell it when disastrous problems were revealed after the 1609 effort. A lot of ink was dedicated to the initial enthusiasm of all classes in Britain in expanding their empire, as well as relating the skepticism of potential investors after failures were revealed.

What has become apparent to me regarding books with more than one author, is they read like a roller coaster. This volume is no exception; in the first 100 pages the writing sways from chapters reading briskly to plodding along in detail. Seemingly more than necessary, a large section of the book was dedicated to the anti-Catholic and religious times of England. Perhaps for a book about the Mayflower and its religious-freedom seeking passengers, this recounting of singular state religion and its fervor against "popery," the rest of the book has little to do with the animosity and state persecution of the colonists.

The book did a wonderful job at its conclusion, "following-up" with the more famous or well-known passengers. Once the Atlantic journey and unplanned landing on the coral reefs of Bermuda was written about, the pace of the book picked up. Tales of political strife, starvation at Jamestown turned to cannibalism, investor lose and more mutinies than could be imagined made for adventures which even William Shakespeare couldn't ignore when he penned The Tempest. ( )
  HistReader | May 31, 2012 |
My history of the Jamestown colony is sparse, at least what I remember from grade/middle school, and I’ll admit that it’s mostly dates and names. The drama of what Jamestown was about wasn’t covered in those far away history lessons. Here, the story isn’t so much about the dates and times but the drama of Jamestown. The Virginia Company, indebted to the King of England, was so worried about forfeiting their claim that they went out and recruited individuals that had no business being part of a settlement. These were people looking for a way to escape the poverty and grief of London and the Virginia Company promised clothes, food, and shelter if they signed up. Of course people signed up for the chance at a new life where they would have no worries and want for nothing. Unfortunately, the Virginia Company forgot the simple things, like signing up people who could build houses, plant crops, dig wells, and hunt. They were doomed.

The first group of settlers fared badly, fought with the Powhatan Native Americans, and ended up being starved out by them and then turning to cannibalism. When the second wave of settlers arrived, they didn’t find any milk and honey, what they did find were open graves and starving, mad people. When reports got back to England, the great public relations machine that was the Virginia Company kicked into high gear to mitigate the rumors and lies as they called them. They even went so far as to stop the publication of a memoir of one of the survivors so they could go on recruiting.

Now, the Sea Venture was a ship in the second wave of settlers. Unfortunately, it was caught up in a hurricane and crashed on Bermuda. There the settlers found a land full of promise and riches. There were birds, turtles, pigs, fruit and vegetables, and a land that was rich for farming. They didn’t want to leave. The leaders knew that their allegiance was to the Virginia Company and built two new ships to get them the short distance from Bermuda to Jamestown. They arrived to a land of horror. However, they were in a way, the saving grace of the colony. Shortly after the arrival of the shipwrecked passengers, new ships arrived with provisions and people were, in a way, saved and the settlement preserved.

The interesting part of the story for me was the founding of Bermuda. As it turns out, some of the travelers that landed on the island, which has been known as the Devil’s Island, told the leaders of the Virginia Company what a wonderfully fruitful place it was and the Company sent new ships to the island which was settled quickly and bountifully. In a strange twist of fate, the Virginia Company which was losing money in the pit that was Jamestown made its money back in the first settlement of Bermuda due to the richness of the land. So the Sea Venture not only gets credit for reviving Jamestown, but also for the settlement of Bermuda.

Since I’ve been feeling historically deficient this was one of the books that I picked up with the intent of fixing that need. This one came through for me. It doesn’t read like a dry history book but is filled with fascinating and wonderful facts that only made me want to read more about Jamestown and the Powhatan tribe. There was not much discussion of the Powhatan other than their fighting with the first settlement and ultimate starvation of the settlers but the history there interested me and now I have a new subject to follow up on.

If you’re looking for something to fix a history craving, I recommend this one. ( )
  justabookreader | Oct 18, 2010 |
The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America by Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith (Henry Holt, 2008), is one of at least three current and forthcoming books being published around the 400th anniversary of the wreck of the Sea Venture, an English ship carrying supplies, settlers and leaders for the nascent Jamestown colony which made an unintended stopover at Bermuda in 1609. While I think the title/subtitle of this one may be slightly shy of the mark, Glover and Smith have written a very good introduction to the subject.

The authors range far beyond the shipwreck itself to discuss the early history of the English colonization of North America in general and of Jamestown in particular, including a decent treatment of the Virginia Company's propaganda campaign (drawing on Mancall's masterful Hakluyt's Promise - review) and of the dreadful struggles within the early colony which just about did the project in. But their main subject is the shipwreck, which resulted in England's ultimate claim to Bermuda as a colonial outpost based on its prime strategic location, easy defensibility, temperate climate, and abundant resources. It's no small wonder that some of the victims of the shipwreck wanted to stay on Bermuda rather than go to Virginia, where Jamestown's residents were living on shoe leather or resorting to cannibalism.

Glover and Smith also examine the way the Sea Venture wreck was memorialized in literature, and its ultimate impact on Britain's colonial aspirations. While I would have liked to have seen more examination of the time the colonists spent on Bermuda (including George Somers' scientific explorations of the island), and of Bermuda's role in the colonial system during the aftermath of its discovery, I cannot fault the authors for writing the book as they did. And I will applaud them for their excellent source notes, which would be enhanced only by a full bibliography.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2008/12/book-review-shipwreck-that-saved.html ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 29, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805086544, Hardcover)

A freshly researched account of the dramatic rescue of the Jamestown

settlers

 

The English had long dreamed of colonizing America, especially after Sir Francis Drake brought home Spanish treasure and dramatic tales from his raids in the Caribbean. Ambitions of finding gold and planting a New World colony seemed within reach when in 1606 Thomas Smythe extended overseas trade with the launch of the Virginia Company. But from the beginning the American enterprise was a disaster. Within two years warfare with Indians and dissent among the settlers threatened to destroy Smythe’s Jamestown just as it had Raleigh’s Roanoke a generation earlier.

To rescue the doomed colonists and restore order, the company chose a new leader, Thomas Gates. Nine ships left Plymouth in the summer of 1609—the largest fleet England had ever assembled—and sailed into the teeth of a storm so violent that “it beat all light from Heaven.” The inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the hurricane separated the flagship from the fleet, driving it onto reefs off the coast of Bermuda—a lucky shipwreck (all hands survived) which proved the turning point in the colony’s fortune.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:09 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Floundering from two years of warfare with Indians and dissent among the settlers, the Virginia Company was about to collapse. To rescue the doomed colonists and restore order, the company chose a new leader, Thomas Gates. Nine ships left Plymouth in the summer of 1609--the largest fleet England had ever assembled--and sailed into the teeth of a storm.... The inspiration for Shakespeare's The Tempest, the hurricane separated the flagship from the fleet, driving it onto reefs off the coast of Bermuda--a lucky shipwreck (all hands survived) which proved the turning point in the colony's fortune.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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