cover image 1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy

1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy

James Horn. Basic, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-465-06469-4

In this compact primer on the founding of the first permanent English colony in the U.S., Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, aims to spotlight a pivotal point in American history. In one year, two contradictory events occurred: the seating of the colony’s general assembly, the first representative body in the Americas, and the arrival of enslaved Africans from Angola seized by English pirates from Portuguese slavers. While there are reams of archival material about how the English settlers established self-government by a planter class, resources on the fate of the human beings who survived the Middle Passage are largely nonexistent, forcing Horn into broad conjecture based on sparse colonial records. He offers predictable accounts of the hardships, Indian wars, and English justifications for brutal attempts to conquer the Powhatan tribes of Virginia. Despite the work to include the histories of enslaved Africans and the natives of the area, this well-told account is strongest in its exploration of the conflicts among various English factions: in the 17th century, the utopian ideals of the earliest colonists clashed with and succumbed to mercantilist designs of private property, government by an elite planter class, conquest, and slavery. Horn recognizes that the seeds of representative democracy were spread, in a chilling paradox, by the subjugation and enslavement of peoples considered inferior but who were essential to the colonists’ continent-taming task. (Oct.)