The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America
By Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith
Henry Holt and Company
My original review of this book was very long and detailed. Unfortunately, the file was corrupted and the book is back at the library so I don’t have it here as a reference while re-writing this review. I like to write my own re-caps but I’m going to do something I normally don’t do — link to Amazon. It has a bit of information about the book and I’ll supplement below from what I remember and add a few thoughts.
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.