Virginia’s early colonial history has always attracted historians and authors whose research has added important characteristics to the various stories.
The settlement of Jamestown in 1607, which became the first permanent English colony in the New World, celebrated its 400th anniversary just a dozen years ago and provided the opportunity for numerous new books that chronicled important persons, events and dates.
It is difficult to narrow the list of “must-read” books to a manageable one. The first Jamestown history was “The Cradle of the Republic: Jamestown and James River,” written by lawyer and historian Lyon G. Tyler, president of the College of William and Mary when it was published in 1906.
Here is one such must-read list, with publication dates, primarily by local authors:
» The late archaeologist and historian Ivor Noël Hume wrote in 1997, “The Virginia Adventure — Roanoke to James Towne: An Archaeological and Historical Odyssey.” The long-time director of archaeology for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Noël Hume takes the reader from the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke in 1587 to the Jamestown settlement of 1607 with the highs and lows of the journey.
» “Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation,” by William and Mary graduate David A. Price, was published in 2003. The well-researched narrative reveals that had it not been for the leadership of English Captain John Smith, the settlement would have failed. There was no relationship between Smith and Indian Princess Pocahontas, Price stresses as he describes the formidable Indian Chief Powhatan.
» British born but now a Richmond resident, historian James Horn wrote “A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America,” published in 2005. It was the first of several Jamestown-oriented volumes and discusses the New England myth of Plymouth, the Pilgrims vs. Jamestown and Starving Time and numerous deaths. He was formerly associated with Colonial Williamsburg and now works with Preservation Virginia.
» “Jamestown: The Buried Truth,” by renowned archaeologist William M. Kelso, presents a lively and historical account of the history of early Jamestown, framed around a narrative of the archaeological team’s exciting discoveries that included the historic James Fort. It was published in 2008.
» “Jamestown’s Story: Act One of the American Dream,” by Parke Rouse Jr, presents a collection of historical vignettes telling the story of Jamestown from the arrival of Spanish priests in 1570 until the Indian uprising in 1621. (It was compiled and edited by Wilford Kale and published in 2007, a decade after Rouse died.)
» “Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607 and the Settlement of America,” by Benjamin Woolley, gives a view of the colony from an English perspective, tying together commercial, spiritual and royal interests. It was published in 2008.
Two other books by local authors should not be missed by readers with specific interests.. Genealogists would be interested in Martha McCartney’s work, “Jamestown People to 1800: Landowners, Public Officials, Minorities, and Native Leaders,” published in 2013 and “The Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results that Shaped America,” by Tony Williams, published in 2011.
Kale, a longtime Williamsburg area resident and contributor to the Williamsburg Magazine, is a former journalist and historian who has written several books on local history.