Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America

Benjamin Woolley, Harper Collins Publishers (2007), ISBN 978-0-06-00956-2, paperback

Long before there was a United States with a continental government there was what today would be called an investment adventure company known as the Virginia Company of England.

Woolley leads us through the establishment in 1607 of what became the state of Virginia, portions of which, one hundred years later, evolved into Washington D.C. He details the numerous difficult and life threatening episodes those original English settlers were forced to endure daily from the very beginning of this settlement.

The original exploration by England into the southeast coastal region of North America resulted in the Roanoke colony established in 1584 by Sir Walter Raleigh on the Carolina Banks. He claimed the entire region for the English Crown, naming it ‘Virginia’ in honor of Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. In 1590 this fledgling colony was found abandoned with few clues as to what became of the original colonists.

Seventeen years after Roanoke, England under King James was in turmoil over the divide between Catholic Spain and the Protestant reformation. Robert Cecil, Secretary of State responsible for paying the King’s debts, established the Virginia Company for the purpose of developing this new American colony and exploiting its riches and its natives.

Early American history studies have made many familiar with prominent individuals of this eraCaptain John Smith, Indian Princess Pocahontas, her father Chief Powhatan and her English husband John Rolfe, to name a few. This book describes the interconnections formed by these and many others in establishing this new colony and dividing its land and wealth.

Initially this was a time of mostly hostile relationships between natives and colonists, later evolving into ambivalence which persisted for the next two centuries. While colonists numbers were few the natives were equal in strengthOver time, as the English numbers increased, their organization, administration and technology eventually ruled and indeed eliminated or enslaved the natives.

The Virginia Companys hope of finding easy wealth faded when an abundance of silver and gold proved to be nonexistent. The colonists’ first ten years in Virginia were fraught with difficulty as they lacked experience in wilderness survival, reliable support from the Company and their conflicts with the natives were unrelenting. The book describes in graphic detail the torture and execution by the Indians of many colonists, while others struggled against starvation and rivalry among themselves.

As the colonists eventually grew in numbers and with greater support from England they began to cultivate so called Spanish tobacco for export. This agricultural crop became the medium of exchange for the purchase of needed supplies from England. In the years to follow the crop influenced Virginia and others economies along with social structures such as slavery and the U.S. civil war.

Book reviewed by Chuck Gray
From the Society’s July 2008 Newsletter