A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest

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A gripping tale of shipwreck and survival that changed the fate of the colonies and enriched our literary legacy

In 1609, aspiring writer William Strachey set sail aboard the Sea Venture, bound for the New World. Caught in a hurricane, the ship separated from its fleet and wrecked on uninhabited Bermuda, a bountiful island paradise its passengers would inhabit for nearly a year before reaching their intended destination, the famine-stricken colony of Jamestown. Strachey's ...

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A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown

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Overview

A gripping tale of shipwreck and survival that changed the fate of the colonies and enriched our literary legacy

In 1609, aspiring writer William Strachey set sail aboard the Sea Venture, bound for the New World. Caught in a hurricane, the ship separated from its fleet and wrecked on uninhabited Bermuda, a bountiful island paradise its passengers would inhabit for nearly a year before reaching their intended destination, the famine-stricken colony of Jamestown. Strachey's meticulous account of the wreck, the castaways' time on Bermuda, and their arrival in a devastated Jamestown was read by his contemporaries and remains among the most vivid writings of the early colonial period. Following the life of this ordinary man, Hobson Woodward tells one of the neglected but defining stories of America's founding.

Strachey had literary aspirations and sought to capitalize on his epic experience, but his writings did not bring him the acclaim he sought. Only in the hands of another William would his tale of the wreck and its aftermath make history as The Tempest. A Brave Vessel is the fascinating account of a near-miss in the settling of Virginia, the true story behind one of Shakespeare's great plays, and the tragedy of the man who failed as an author but who contributed to the creation of a masterpiece.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
…the most interesting and effective part of A Brave Vessel remains its account of the little community on Bermuda and its remarkable survival.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In this well-written and expertly paced work of popular scholarship, Woodward, an associate editor of the Adams papers, tells the story of William Strachey, an aspiring poet whose chronicle of a disastrous sea voyage and its aftermath had a profound influence on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Strachey is a fine figure for historical resurrection-he was good friends with John Donne and a passenger on pioneering journeys to the New World, which eventually brought him, aboard the Sea Venture, to Bermuda and the infant Jamestown colony in Virginia. Woodward draws heavily on Strachey's written narrative, often to marvelous effect. This is particularly true of the dramatic storm scenes, in which the entire crew of the Sea Venture nearly perished. Through Strachey, Woodward tells of the conflicts that divided the crew after making landfall in Bermuda and the hardships of replenishing a starving Jamestown's supplies. The heart of the book is Woodward's recreation of Strachey's viewing of The Tempest, which affords the author the opportunity to catalogue the narrative and linguistic parallels between the Sea Venture' s travails and the play-fascinating fodder for the committed Shakespearean source hunter. Maps. (July 13)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture, bound for Jamestown, is a well-known tale of disappointment and triumph, considered by many scholars to be the source of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Blown off course by a hurricane, the ship managed a fortuitous landing on the island of Bermuda. Using the account kept by William Strachey, a gentleman of letters with pretentions of being a poet, Woodward tells of challenges met by the accidental islanders, who mustered every scrap of resourcefulness to create a rudimentary civilization on a deserted island paradise and finally to press on to their original destination. Woodward devotes the second half of his book to a detailed explication of the parallels between Shakespeare's The Tempest and the trials of the Sea Venture. His imagined scenes of Strachey watching Shakespeare's play serve to make him a pitiable figure, craving success yet knowing that his efforts have only bolstered the career of another. VERDICT Although the Sea Venture's link to The Tempest has been previously explored, Woodward deepens our understanding while extracting a vivid and all-too-human drama from 17th-century texts. Anyone interested in either early America or Shakespeare will want.—Michael F. Russo, Louisiana State Univ. Libs., Baton Rouge


—Michael F. Russo
Kirkus Reviews
The exquisitely detailed story of the 17th-century ship that helped inspire Shakespeare's The Tempest. In his debut, Woodward, the associate editor of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, recounts the tale of the beleaguered Sea Venture, which set out from England in 1609 for the colony of Jamestown in the New World. One of the passengers was William Strachey, a writer with literary ambitions who kept a detailed account of the trip. Nearly two months into the voyage, a hurricane struck and a massive wave crippled the ship. Unable to continue to Jamestown, the Sea Venture limped to the island of Bermuda. The crew stayed there for several months, subsisting on the sweet waters of the island's ponds and the meat of birds, wild hogs and giant sea turtles. Some voyagers wished to remain on Bermuda, causing an open revolt. When the remaining crew members were finally able to continue to Jamestown, they found it decimated by starvation. Strachey wrote home about his ordeal, and the story became well-known in England-and served as one of the inspirations for The Tempest, which Strachey had the opportunity to see when he returned home. Woodward extracts a striking richness of imagery from 400-year-old sources-life on Bermuda comes across as strange and beautiful; Jamestown, a hell on earth. The author's acute sensitivity to the hardships of the settlers will help readers gain a new appreciation for their exceedingly difficult lives. A skillfully written history of the trials of some the earliest American colonists. Local author events around Boston
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670020966
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 7/9/2009
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Hobson Woodward is associate editor of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 10, 2009

    Great book!!!

    This books tells the true story of the origin of Shakespeare's Tempest. Brave Vessel is well written and well reasearhed. As someone whose degree is in English Literature, I have always interested in the story behind Shakespeare's plays. It was a great read and I would encourage everyone to read it.

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  • Posted August 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Brave Vessel and A Brave Crew.

    An interesting story of the vessel Sea Venture, which shipwrecked during a hurricane on an island in Bermuda on its's way to Jamestown with colonists. That story by itself would be enough to warrant a book, but the fact that one of the survivors was a would be writer, William Strachey, who wrote an account that later become the basis of 'The Tempest' by Shakespere, ties all of these elements together. Mr. Woodward provides an entertaining and detailed account of shipwreck, mutiny, survival, the colony of Jamestown(from its early days), and finally a return to London by Mr. Strachey a few years later as he watches a play that closely resembles his own experiences. Sadly, for Mr Strachey, his account was eclipsed and forgotten by the public in lieu of Shakespere's play.

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