America is the land of runaways from colonial tyranny, according to this stimulating history of Jamestown. College of Charleston literature professor Kelly (America’s Longest Siege) recounts the tumultuous five years after the 1607 founding of Jamestown, Va., England’s first permanent colony in America. For ordinary settlers, he writes, it was a time of bitter hardship and virtual enslavement to upper-class soldiers and officials of the London-based Virginia Company, led by Capt. John Smith, a swashbuckler trying to conquer the empire of Native American potentate Wahunsonacock, father of Pocahontas. Amid famine and race war, as starving Englishmen deployed fire and sword to extract corn from Native American villages, Kelly highlights settlers who defied company edicts, escaped the Jamestown gulag, and lived peacefully among the natives. He entwines that saga with the story of a group of Jamestown settlers shipwrecked in Bermuda, who wanted to overthrow the despotic company governor marooned with them and establish an ur-Jeffersonian protodemocracy. Kelly sets this gripping narrative against an intelligent discussion of sociocultural context, ranging from political philosophy to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He occasionally indulges in rebel romanticism, finding the “real origin story” among “the diggers-up-of-roots, the card players, the fornicators,” but he paints a superb portrait of the founding, combining brilliant detail with epic sweep. Illus. Agent: Jacqueline Flynn, Joelle Delbourgo Assoc. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/03/2018 Release date: 10/30/2018 Genre: Nonfiction
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