A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

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In 1587, John White led 117 English men, women, and children to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. They hoped to establish a British foothold in North America, but soon found themselves struggling to survive. White returned to England for help, but when he returned to Roanoke in 1590, the colonists were nowhere to be found: White never saw his friends or family again. But as James Horn reveals in A Kingdom Strange, some from the party survived; their descendants were discovered a century later, a living testament to America’s remarkable origins.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A leading historian of early Virginia, Horn (A Land as God Made It) relates the convoluted, fascinating story of the failed 1598 venture on Roanoke Island: a British settlement whose 100 men, women, and children disappeared without a trace. Horn teases from the record as no one before the “Lost Colony of 1587,” which had not even been intended to settle on the island. Horn recounts its travails, hostilities with the Indians, requests to England for support that failed to arrive for three years, by which time the settlers were gone. Based on the available evidence, Horn finds that the colonists did not die but intermarried with local Indians. Over a century later, a North Carolina settler, venturing to Roanoke Island, found Indians who claimed Englishmen among their ancestors (and some gray-eyed tribesmen seemed to support the claim). He places it all in the context of the political and economic tumult of the time for an outstanding historical mystery/adventure tale with an ending perhaps less tragic than historians have long believed. Illus. (Apr.)
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Kirkus Reviews
“[Horn] creates an engaging, you-are-there feel to the narrative, with rich descriptions of European politics, colonists’ daily struggles and the vagaries of relations between Native American tribes…. A satisfying recounting of some of the earliest American history.”

Daniel B. Smith, co-author of The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America
“With impressive research and nuanced understanding of early Virginia, James Horn has crafted a vivid and lucid account of the mysterious history of the lost colony of Roanoke. A Kingdom Strange delivers the definitive treatment of a fascinating story from England's earliest explorations in the New World—a story long on speculation and intrigue, but until now, short on evidence and historical truth.”

Peter C. Mancall, author of The Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson
“With deep research and precise prose, James Horn has come closer to finding the “lost” English colonists of Roanoke than any previous historian. A Kingdom Strange, a superb reconstruction of grand dreams and dashed hopes, overflows with new insights about the very real human consequences of the encounter between Europeans and Native Americans.”

Washington Post
“The fate of the Lost Colony is a mystery at the heart of the nation’s founding, chock full of odd characters, conspiracy theories, strange turns of events – even enigmatic carvings left behind on trees. James Horn resists the temptation to sensationalize any of that in his new book, A Kingdom Strange. Instead [he] has written a lucid and readable account of the Roanoke colony and the forces that created it. He makes a persuasive case for what must have happened to the settlers.”

Christian Science Monitor
“Horn has done a magnificent job of researching the mystery of England’s ‘lost’ colony, crafting a compelling narrative that places the luckless settlers in the middle of a global, imperial struggle between Spain and England.… Horn’s winning account is a gripping adventure story about global ambition, individual hardship, and an unsolved historical mystery.”

Richmond Times Dispatch
“[A] fascinating new book…. Horn’s theory is well researched and compelling, but A Kingdom Strange isn’t a narrowly focused work aimed solely at specialists. He has done yeoman’s work describing the political and economic reasons for creating an English colony in the New World, as well as exploring the Indian communities into which the colonists stepped…. Forget toting James Patterson’s thrillers to the Outer Banks this summer. Pack a copy of A Kingdom Strange instead. It’s far more enthralling than what passes for standard beach-reading material.”

Roanoke Times
“Horn’s skill as a historian is amplified by his ability to craft a story…. By the time you finish the prologue, you will not want to stop reading, and as you read, you will discover some of the cultural roots that gave birth to a quirky nation. You will also become aware of the challenges of expanding an economy on a global scale without the support of satellite communication and instant messaging.”

Associated Press
“Exhaustively researched, Horn’s book sheds new light on the colony’s purpose and the social backgrounds of the settlers and offers a new theory or two about where they went…. [I]t’s worth getting lost in.”

The Weekly Standard
“The strength of [Horn’s] approach to his subject lies in his mastery of sources. He shuns the layers of secondary works that, after four centuries, have piled up rumors and half-truths on top of one another. Instead, he prizes only documents written close to the events he relates. Even without the embellishments of popular writers, this is still a story of overweening ambition, heartbreak, greed, and repeated failure that only much later, and in ways unimagined by the original advocates, stamped Britain’s culture and power on North America.”

Chicago Sun-Times
“Horn’s book can be approached in one of two primary ways: As a saga of the indomitable human will attempting to conquer sometimes balky nature, or as a saga of poorly prepared dreamers about to place themselves in the path of death…. For already existing enthusiasts of colonial history, Horn’s research is quite likely to fascinate. For readers who have never [paid] close attention to colonial history, Horn’s narrative might result in converts.”

Seattle Times
“Horn’s version of the Roanoke story draws heavily from previous historians. But he’s also done his own digging in English church records and other archival material, and some of his conclusions differ from the standard account…. [A] fast-paced tale of greed, adventure and tragedy that distills pretty much all that is known and most of what is surmised about the Lost Colony.”

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
“To follow up his masterful exploration of England’s first successful New World colony, A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America, James Horn offers a nuanced, lively narrative of England’s earlier failure at Roanoke. The available evidence is sparse and subjective – created by Englishmen with a particular audience and agenda in mind . . . It is a credit to Horn’s skill as a writer and his capacious understanding of English America that he produced from this evidence a confident, character-driven, compelling story . . . Horn does not close the case on Roanoke. But he has found the lost colonists in an even more important way: they and their Indian neighbors come to life in this splendid book.”

Library Journal - BookSmack!
Beck begins his book with an intriguing hook: what if the colony of Roanoke was not "lost" owing to any of the standard explanations but, instead, was taken and consumed by a beast the indigenous Indians knew to fear? That is the kind of exuberant question that drives many an action adventure. Horn, not surprisingly, provides a different illumination in his excellent exploration of the Roanoke mystery. The colony was home to 100 settlers who famously disappeared without a trace in the late 1500s. Theories (and books) abound as to what happened, but Horn's work rises to the top thanks to his cogent argument and strong narrative style. As he digs into the politics of the time and the settlers' daily life and choices, he paints a vivid portrait of the age sure to draw in readers with both the adventure and tragic aspects of the story. — Neal Wyatt, "RA Crossroads," Booksmack! 1/6/11
Greg Schneider
James Horn resists the temptation to sensationalize…in his new book, A Kingdom Strange. Instead, Horn, a historian at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, has written a lucid and readable account of the Roanoke colony and the forces that created it. He makes a persuasive case for what must have happened to the settlers.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
Horn (director, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Lib., Colonial Williamsburg Fndn.) follows his well-received account of the Jamestown colony (A Land as God Made It) with the tragic story of Roanoke, founded two decades before Jamestown. Roanoke was England's first attempt to establish a foothold in North America, but, unlike Jamestown, it failed, and the colonists mysteriously abandoned their settlement. Horn focuses his lucid and accessible narrative on Walter Raleigh and John White, two key players in the tragedy. Raleigh financed and organized the colony but never journeyed to America himself, whereas White was a leading settler whose maps and descriptions of his journeys encouraged Queen Elizabeth's interest in establishing a British America that would cripple Spain's commercial and military power. Horn discusses Britain's sundry motivations for colonizing America, touches on the Roanoke colonists' mercurial relations with various Native tribes, and theorizes on what may have happened to the settlers after they abandoned their colony. But Horn fails to thoroughly dissect any particular aspect of, or shed new light on, this important and intriguing chapter in early American history. VERDICT This will appeal to lay readers interested in a brief overview of the Roanoke story, but it is insufficient for academic readers despite its endnotes.—Douglas King Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Kirkus Reviews
The story of the mysterious disappearance of the colonists who attempted to set up the first permanent British colony in the Americas. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation vice president Horn (A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America, 2005, etc.) uses new archival material to piece together the history of more than 100 British colonists who landed on Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina in 1587. The venture, sponsored by Sir Walter Ralegh, encountered trouble from the start. The colonists found the new land entirely inhospitable; they contended with fast-dwindling supplies as well as aggressive Native Americans, who brutally killed one colonist days after their arrival. Just one month after their initial landing, the settlers' leader, John White, sailed back to England to obtain a relief force and to replenish supplies. When he finally returned in 1590 after many delays, the colony had disappeared, seemingly deserted. What happened to the colonists has been a mystery for centuries, with a number of different ideas advanced by historians over the years. Horn constructs a detailed theory of what he believes happened to many of the colonists-that they lived on elsewhere for years afterward, only to meet a tragic end. The author creates an engaging, you-are-there feel to the narrative, with rich descriptions of European politics, colonists' daily struggles and the vagaries of relations between Native American tribes. Horn also provides helpful drawings and maps-many by John White-throughout this relatively brief but comprehensive book. A satisfying recounting of some of the earliest American history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465004850
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

James Horn is Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president for research and historical interpretation and the Abby and George O’Neill Director of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library. Author or editor of four books on colonial and early American history, he lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 24, 2011

    Dry as a Potato Chip

    This book is tantalizing in its description, and generous with historical documents. I think it might be more accurately categorized as a textbook. There are at least as many notes as there is text. Unfortunately, it has no plot. Certainly some very valuable research has been captured here. Just don't expect a story.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 30, 2011


    I love this book. Its interesting... good job Jamess Horn!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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