Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America / Edition 1

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Although it was the first permanent English settlement in North America, Jamestown is too often overlooked in the writing of American history. Founded thirteen years before the Mayflower sailed, Jamestown’s courageous settlers have been overshadowed ever since by the pilgrims of Plymouth. But as historian James Horn demonstrates in this vivid and meticulously researched account, Jamestown-not Plymouth-was the true crucible of American history. Jamestown introduced slavery into English-speaking North America; it became the first of England’s colonies to adopt a representative government; and it was the site of the first white-Indian clashes over territorial expansion. As we approach the four-hundredth anniversary of Jamestown in 2007, A Land As God Made It offers the definitive account of the colony that give rise to America.
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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Horn, whose field is early Colonial American history, has written in A Land as God Made It an exemplary account of the settlement and development of Jamestown … He describes the suffering of the settlers and the bloody reality of warfare in chilling detail, yet he never loses sight of the incredible beauty of the natural surroundings and the British enchantment at them. All in all, an absolutely terrific book.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Horn, who heads the library at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, offers a history that will put Plymouth in its place. Not only was Jamestown settled before Plymouth, in 1607, but, says Horn, it was the seedbed of many themes, both glorious (representative government) and tragic (imperialism), that run through American history. In this detailed narrative of Jamestown's first 18 years, Horn focuses primarily on the relationship between the English settlers and the Native Americans. (He gives disappointingly scant attention to the first Africans' arrival in 1619.) Jamestown was the first English colony in North America to succeed; that success was "disastrous" for the Indians. The town leader John Smith figures prominently in Horn's tale. Smith's own written recollection of his captivity by Indians is the source for the well-known story that a young Pocahontas saved his life; Horn dismisses Smith's account as implausibly exaggerated. In Horn's view, a pivotal point in Indian-Anglo relations was the Powhatan uprising of 1622. Any hope that the English might partner with the Indians against Spain and treat them with kindness or justice was killed-thereafter, the settlers were determined to exclude the Indians from their new commonwealth. 12 b&w illus., 6 maps. Agent, Michael Carlisle. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Horn (director, John D. Rockefeller Lib., Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; Adapting to a New World) writes an account of the Jamestown Colony, founded in 1607-the first permanent English settlement in North America, predating the Mayflower's arrival at Plymouth by 13 years. Horn's story encompasses such legendary figures as Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas-although Horn discounts the importance of the latter. He defines in detail the significance of Jamestown: many of the themes that run through American history were first invoked there. For example, on March 22, 1622, hundreds of Powhatan warriors burned the settlement, taking the lives of 347 colonists. This calamitous event, which came close to destroying Jamestown, forever altered the relationship between the English and the Indians in the New World: no longer was it possible to achieve peace between the two peoples. Additionally, Jamestown was where slavery was first introduced into England's American Colonies; it also was primary in employing a representative government. Thus, Horn demonstrates that the Jamestown experience, for good and ill, played a formative role in defining America. Recommended for all public libraries.-Karen Sutherland, Bartlett P.L., IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465030958
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 532,755
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

James Horn is O’Neill Director of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and lecturer at the College of William & Mary. He has written and edited several books on topics in colonial and early American history. He lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.
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Read an Excerpt

A Land As God Made It

Jamestown and the Birth of America
By James Horn

Basic Books

Copyright © 2005 James Horn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-465-03094-7

Chapter One

Two Worlds

Wahunsonacock and his brother Opechancanough, the two great Powhatan chiefs of the Jamestown era, were in their twenties or early thirties when the Spanish arrived. They would have known about the Jesuit mission at Kiskiack and what happened there, and may have witnessed Menendez's subsequent "chastisement." Possibly, the threat of further Spanish attacks encouraged alliances between James River and York (Pamunkey) River peoples that led to the rapid expansion of the Powhatan chiefdom across the region after 1572. But if so, the threat never materialized. Aside from occasional exploratory voyages, a full generation was to pass before another European power, the English, sought to establish a colony in the Chesapeake Bay. By that time, the Powhatans had grown into a formidable political and military force.

The Rise of the Powhatans

The rise of the Powhatan chiefdom was the central political development of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, shaping the lives of Indian peoples living throughout the coastal plain (tidewater) of Virginia, as well as those of the strangers who arrived from across the ocean. Six regions located between the upper James and York Rivers-"the Countreys [of] Powhatan, Arrohateck, Appamatuck, Pamunky, Youghtamond, and Mattapanient"-were inherited by Wahunsonacock sometime after 1570 and, together with lands along the lower York River, comprised the historic core of his empire. Three decades later, Wahunsonacock ruled over thirty or so tribes, spread across Tsenacommacah (the Powhatan name for their lands), from south of the James River to the Potomac and from the coast to the falls.

As described by William Strachey (a prominent settler who arrived in Virginia in 1610), Wahunsonacock was a man of "goodly" looks, "well beaten with many cold and stormy wynters," yet "of a tall stature, and cleane lymbes." In earlier years, Strachey wrote, the great chief was a "strong and able salvadge [savage], synowie, active, and of a daring spiritt, vigilant, ambitious, subtile to enlarge his dominions." In addition to the lands he had inherited, the rest of his territories had been "either by force subdued unto him, or through feare yeilded." At about the time the English arrived, the Chesapeakes, who lived at the entrance of the Bay and had resisted absorption into Tsenacommacah, were destroyed in an attack that resulted in the slaughter of men, women, and children. In other attacks, such as that suffered by the Kecoughtans, who lived at the mouth of the James River, entire peoples were uprooted and moved to different locations to strengthen the Powhatans' control of newly conquered territories.

A vivid example of the methods used by the great chief to assert his authority is recounted by Captain John Smith. For reasons that are unclear, in 1608, Wahunsonacock mounted a surprise attack on neighboring Piankatanks, who lived along the north bank of the river of the same name. First, he sent some of his men to lodge among them, then he surrounded their village and, at an appointed time, launched a swift and deadly attack. Two dozen men were slain. The women and children, along with the chief, were captured and presented to Wahunsonacock so that they could "doe him service"; and to intimidate visitors, the scalps of warriors were hung between two trees at Wahunsonacock's residence at Werowocomoco.

The Powhatans were surrounded by numerous Indian peoples who were highly influential in shaping Tsenacommacah. Southward were the Algonquians of the Roanoke region who inhabited the coastal areas of Pamlico, Albemarle, and Currituck Sounds. Inland were the Iroquoian Tuscarora, whose territories stretched a hundred miles along the North Carolina coastal plain and fall line from the Neuse River to the lands of the Meherrins and Nottoways (also Iroquoian), situated on the tributaries of the Chowan. Indians known to the English as the Mangoags lived in the Carolina piedmont and enjoyed a reputation for aggressiveness in their attacks on peoples of the coastal region. Siouan-speaking Monacans and Mannahoacs, who inhabited the fertile river valleys along the upper reaches of the James and Rappahannock Rivers, were ancient enemies of the Powhatans and carried out frequent raids along their western border. To the north were the Susquehannocks, who lived at the head of the Chesapeake Bay; and the Massawomecks (Iroquoians), who periodically journeyed from the Great Lakes by way of the Appalachians and the Shenandoah Valley to plunder settlements in the piedmont and the tidewater.

Iroquoian and Siouan peoples in the piedmont and mountains effectively confined the Powhatans to the coastal plain. Aside from periodic raids, Wahunsonacock seems to have been reluctant to engage in protracted hostilities against neighboring enemies. He may have been more concerned about consolidating his authority over the peoples within his own territories than in conducting attacks on powerful nations in far-off lands.

As Wahunsonacock's chiefdom grew throughout the tidewater so did his wealth and influence. His people were required to pay tribute in the form of skins, beads, pearls, food, and tobacco, all collected annually and stored in temples such as those at Orapaks (one of his capitals) and Uttamussak. He claimed a monopoly of prestige goods that were traded in his lands, including copper, iron wares, and other items acquired from Europeans. Copper was traded beyond his dominions with other peoples and used also when necessary to hire mercenary warriors. More generally, gifts of tribute goods to lesser chiefs (weroances), warriors, and priests throughout his lands provided him with an effective means of rewarding those he favored.

Although Wahunsonacock was often described by English observers as a despot or tyrant, his power was not boundless and varied considerably from one area to another. Peoples of outlying regions, such as north of the Rappahannock River or the Eastern Shore, as well as the Chickahominies, who lived on the river that bears their name, behaved far more independently than those of the core area between the upper James and York Rivers. They might recognize his authority, provide support in times of war or when called upon, but they also pursued their own policies and occasionally disobeyed (or ignored) his orders altogether. Wahunsonacock was not an absolute ruler; rather, he was a chief of chiefs.

Wahunsonacock governed his territories through regional or district chiefs, some of whom were close relatives: His brothers Opechancanough, Opitchapam, and Kekataugh maintained tight control over the Pamunkeys; his "sons" Parahunt and Pochins ruled the important districts of Powhatan and Kecoughtan at the falls and mouth of the James River respectively.

Opechancanough was the most powerful of Wahunsonacock's relatives. Like his brother, he was a vigorous and potent leader at the time the English arrived. Perfectly "skill'd in the Art of Governing," it was said he "caused all the Indians far and near to dread his Name, and had them all entirely in his Subjection." Other than his kinship to Wahunsonacock, his influence stemmed from his role as chief of the best-disciplined warriors in all of Tsenacommacah. The Pamunkeys had "neere 300 able men" of their own but could mobilize twice as many allies within a few days. Backed by his warriors, Opechancanough would prove a formidable enemy.

Little is known about Opechancanough's origins, but a few intriguing references suggest that he may have been none other than Paquiquineo (Don Luis). A settler, Ralph Hamor, wrote in 1615 that the Chickahominies were hostile to the Spanish because "Powhatans father was driven by them from the west-Indies into those parts." A much later account by Robert Beverly related that the Powhatans did not recognize Opechancanough as Wahunsonacock's brother but rather as "a Prince of a Foreign Nation, [who] came to them a great Way from the South-West: And by their Accounts, we suppose him to have come from the Spanish Indians, some-where near Mexico." Both could be garbled stories of Paquiquineo's stay in Mexico City and travels in the West Indies before returning to the Ajacan with the Jesuit fathers. But whether or not Opechancanough and Paquiquineo were the same person, there is little doubt they were contemporaries, possibly kin, and surely would have known one another.

Peoples of the Great River

Tsenacommacah was well populated at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Perhaps 15,000 people, dispersed in several hundred villages and hamlets, lived in territories belonging to the Powhatan chiefdom. The most populous areas were inland, away from exposed areas of the coast or Bayside, and corresponded to the upper branches of the major rivers and their tributaries, lands along the fall line, and the river valleys of the piedmont. Powhatan settlements, like those of peoples to the north and south, were usually situated near rivers on sheltered necks or along the smaller estuaries and tributaries. High ground close to the water was preferred because it protected against possible flooding and provided a vantage point for keeping an eye on the comings and goings along the river and on the approaches to the village from inland.

Rivers and coastal waters provided a superb means of travel and were commonly used for transporting men and goods over long distances. In the piedmont and coastal plain, rivers were used to travel east and west; in the Valley of Virginia, the main directions were north and south, some movement going west into the Ohio River basin. Footpaths and trails supplemented the waterways and formed an intricate network across the entire eastern seaboard. The most important was the Great Indian Warpath, which ran the length of the northern continent from Canada to Florida, and which in the Chesapeake region followed the western edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains for much of the way before turning inland into the Valley of Virginia at Tutelo. This major trail sent off numerous branches that crisscrossed the piedmont and coastal plain or led westwards across the mountains to the Mississippi Valley. Far from being cut off from one another, settlements and regions were linked by extensive and ancient routes along which people, goods, and news moved easily.

Most Powhatan settlements were small by European standards, usually consisting of fewer than a hundred people "of kindred & alliance." As William Strachey observed: "Their howses are not manie in one towne, and those that are stand [set apart] and scattered, without forme of a street, far and wyde asunder." Even the largest towns rarely contained more than twenty or thirty houses, these dotted in small groups over tens of acres. Houses throughout Tsenacommacah were of a similar design. Built like "Arbors of small young springs [saplings] bowed and tyed," covered tightly "with mats, or the barkes of trees very handsomely, that notwithstanding either winde, raine or weather, they are as warme as stooves, but very smoaky."

An illustration of Secota (Secotan, near the Pamlico River in North Carolina) provides an impression of such a settlement. At one end of the village is a river-"from whence they fetche their water"-that provided fish, crabs, and oysters. In the top left of the drawing, a couple of men are shown hunting deer that have strayed into the village. The layout reflects the mix of agriculture, fishing, hunting, and foraging that characterized seasonal changes in diet and the variety of local resources. Some of the larger villages, notably those inhabited by local chiefs, were more elaborately designed and included the chief 's longhouse, mortuary temple, and storehouse, as well as areas set aside for important ceremonial functions.

* * *

Powhatan society was organized for war, a response to the threat posed by powerful enemies to the north and west-the Monacans, Mannahoacs, Susquehannocks, and Massawomecks-and Wahunsonacock's territorial ambitions. Warfare involved a variety of tactics, such as frontal assaults, hit-and-run sorties by small raiding parties, ambush, and deception. Most attacks took the form of raiding parties involving no more than a two dozen or so warriors. In these circumstances, the object was to shoot to kill or maim the enemy from the safety of cover or to ensure weight of numbers if attacking at close range. Pitched battles between opposing armies were less common.

Indians frequently used "Stratagems, surprizes and Treacherys" to best their enemies. In a mock battle witnessed by John Smith, the Indians divided themselves into two companies of about a hundred men, one called "Monacans," the other "Powhatans," each company ordered into ranks of fifteen men abreast. After agreeing to terms that the women and children of the vanquished would be the prize of the victors, the two armies approached each other, the men "leaping and singing after their accustomed tune which they use only in warres." Each side then shot at the other; when they had discharged all their arrows, they joined in hand-to-hand fighting: "As they got advantage they catched their enimies by the haire of the head" and acted the beating out of losers' brains with wooden swords. When Monacan numbers decreased, the Powhatans charged in a half-moon formation in an effort to surround them, at which the Monacans fled "all in a troope" to the cover of nearby woods. This, however, was a ploy to lure the Powhatans into an ambush, where fresh warriors were hiding. The Powhatans, perceiving the danger, withdrew to an area of the field where they had arranged their own ambush, but the Monacans declined to pursue them and instead disappeared into the forest.

War was the ultimate test for every male, a searching examination where only the strong, intelligent, or lucky would survive. Men were expected to display strength and courage in hand-to-hand combat, fortitude if captured and tortured (while they were slowly put to death in excruciating pain, they would throw insults at their enemies), and wisdom in council. A set of values that highlighted individual battle skills was vital to maintaining an effective fighting force and applied to all the peoples who made up Tsenacommacah, but there were important distinctions also between warrior groups. Pamunkey and Powhatans made up the core of Wahunsonacock's fighting forces and combined may have numbered five or six hundred men. They were considered the most dependable and loyal of his warriors. In addition, the great chief and Opechancanough were able to call upon allies from neighboring peoples (some paid for their services), troops who fought alongside the elite forces. A combined warrior strength of from 1,200 to 1,500 was easily large enough to overwhelm local resistance to Wahunsonacock's will.

When important decisions, such as whether to go to war, were made, custom demanded that chiefs take advice from their counselors and priests. Counselors ("cawcawwasoughs" or "cockerouses") were usually drawn from village elders, warriors, and priests, and at a district level might include some town weroances. Priests were the principal buttress of the chief 's authority, their avowed ability to foresee the future making them indispensable in providing political decisions. "When they intend any warres," Smith noted, "the Werowances usually have the advice of their Priests and Conjurers, and their Allies and ancient friends, but chiefely the Priests determine their resolution." Strachey put it more forcefully, remarking that priests "at all tymes" governed "and direct[ed] the Weroances ... in all their accions."


Excerpted from A Land As God Made It by James Horn Copyright © 2005 by James Horn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2008

    A reviewer

    This book was very interesting and easy to read. Filled with facts and details rarely discussed in history classes or documentarys. I will definatley read more of James Horn's books!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2012


    Well written by a delightful author I had the priviledge to interview. Fascinating reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 30, 2011


    I love all James Horn books

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