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In this book, Kupperman is telling a well-known event in remarkable detail. She intentionally uses last three chapters of the nine to tell the Jamestown’s history. The first six are in relation to how Jamestown came to be. The first chapter deals with political, national and religious conflicts during this period and how it motivated the English to venture West. The second is titled,” Adventurers, Opportunities, and Improvisation.” The highlight of this chapter is the story of John Smith, and how his precious experience enabled him to save ”the Jamestown colony from certain ruin.” (51) He is just an example of the “many whose first experiences along these lines were Africa or the eastern Mediterranean later turned their acquired skills to American ventures.” (43) Chapter three discusses the European and Native American interaction before and during this period. “North America’s people had had extensive and intimate experience of Europeans long before colonies was thought of, and through this experience they had come to understand much about the different kind of people across the sea.” (73) This exchange of information happened because a lot of Europeans lived among the Natives (not as colonist or settlers), and Natives were brought back to Europe. The people in Europe were very fascinated with these new people and their culture. Chapter four analyzes this fascination. It starts off talking about Thomas Trevilian, an author of “an elaborate commonplace book,” that showed “the English public was keenly interested in the world and in understanding how to categorize the knowledge about all the new things, people, and cultures of which specimens and descriptions were now available to them.
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The Jamestown Project conveys two fundamental points, which can be found in the first and last chapters. The first is other multiple factors affected Jamestown’s success. Secondly, Jamestown was the foundation of United States and the model for all other British colonies.
The first chapter is named, “Elizabethan England Engages the World, where it discusses the initial struggle to gain control. Within this chapter, she discusses the religious wars and England’s intrusion upon the Iberian control under Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Religion was a major factor in British expansion. After the Roman Empire, Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, was the prevalent religion in all of Western Europe. The beginning of the chapter states how the Europeans associated all things with Bible. When the Native Americans come along, “European natural historians rushed to try to comprehend the species and the environment of this newly revealed different world in order to achieve the understanding that was a part of God’s plan.” (13) Different Christian denominations interpreted “God’s plan” differently. After the Reformation, Europe was split into Catholics and Protestants with Spain and England leading the pact. Just as the Spaniards thought it was important to expand the Christendom under Catholicism, the England wanted to expand it under Protestantism. Also, England wanted to get colonies “as a way to gain the resources required to defend their own positions at home.” (18) Despite their efforts, the British had difficulty breaking into the Iberian control. “[They] had to confront Iberian control in two regions: from the Portuguese in Africa and the Spanish in the West Indies.” (29) Piracy was legalized as form of privateering, which allowed them to get a foothold in the Atlantic world. Legalized piracy allowed pirates to steal the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch goods. They began to support the Low Countries and later the Ottoman Empire against the Spaniards. The printing of Las Casa’s document helped to discredit the Spanish. Also, England was able to get information from a claimant to the thrown of Portugal, who was in the run in Paris. All of these factors with Spain’s internal problem help England to gain power and Spain to lose theirs. In the last chapter she talks about how Jamestown was able to sustain itself despite the prevalent problems. The “Thirty Years War,” the introduction of African slaves and headright system, and indentured servants helped Jamestown to become successful. In addition to those factors, “conditions at home [England] ….made emigration more attractive both for those financing it and those seeking new opportunities.” (292) As a result, the population boomed along with the economy.
The introduction is called the “creation myth” where Kupperman dicusses the issue of Jamestown’s place in United States’ history. When we think of United States’ history, the story of Thanksgiving comes to mind. Peaceful pilgrims interacting with docile Native Americans coming together eat with each other. Instead of coming in search of religious freedom, the Jamestown settlers and supporters were greedy. Those perceptions are much more appealing and suitable than the avaricious colonist and their English supporters. Chapter nine makes it clear that Plymouth Colony preceded Jamestown. Their plan for the New England colony “was drawn from analysis of Virginia’s record.” And the later success of Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay colonies proves that the model was successful and Britain used it from that point on.
One of the book’s strong points is Kupperman understand the importance of an Atlantic perspective. She incorporates the Native American experience and external events involving the Ottoman Empire with the analysis of Jamestown place in history. The book starts off towards the end of the Iberian rule, and how England began to compete in the Atlantic world through piracy. Roanoke, the first English North American settlement, was created to function as a rest stop or storage. To complete the triangle trade, she discusses English attempts to trade with Africa and how the Dutch trade brought the first African slaves into the colony. The only thing I would have liked to have seen, is her to go more elaborately into examples of Britain using the Jamestown projects in his other colonies. She references it a lot and leaves it as the books last sentence but doesn’t go into detail about as she did every other theme in the book.