Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Another “New” Story of Jamestown

2011 has brought another new account of Jamestown’s first two decades. If you have never read anything about the first permanent English colony in America, this could be a place to start.

In his new book, The Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America, Tony Williams retells its story from its founding until it became a royal province. He covers much of what Warren Billings told us two decades ago in his Jamestown and the Founding of the Nation. It also should not be confused with the late Alf J. Mapp, Jr.’s. 1985 work, The Virginia Experiment; The Old Dominion’s Role in the Making of America; 1607-1781.

Williams gives us a bit more detail and color than those chronicles and offers his interpretations of the unfolding events in an able storyteller’s voice that are helpful to a novice to early American colonial history, his apparent audience. However, he offers few new insights into the story he recounts or how we achieved the results mentioned in his subtitle.

Since those older accounts were published, there have been major archaeological, anthropological and sociological discoveries that shine new light on what happened there. Examples include the excavation of James Fort, the artifacts found in John Smith’s well and early settlers’ graves. He makes no use of developments that are now helping us understand not only what happened but confirm what some lesser-recognized original sources related at the time.

As a Kirkus reviewer puts it, “Williams tells the tale competently enough, but he does not adequately address the complex back story of the colony and its relations with the native peoples of the Chesapeake Bay, which hinge on matters anthropological, economic and geopolitical. For that, we have other recent, superior books such as David A. Price's Love and Hate in Jamestown (2003) and Camilla Townsend's Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma (2004), which fill in the considerable blanks here. [This may be] literate and occasionally engaging, but those earlier books should be the reader's first choices.”

To them, we would add, among others, Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s The Jamestown Project (2007 and see our posting of January 2010) and Seth Mallios’s The Deadly Politics of Giving (2006).

For the entire Kirkus Review, go to

The Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America; by Tony Williams
Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4022-4353-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Sourcebooks

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