Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review: "The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown"

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 4ooth 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.