Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation

Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation

by David A. Price
     
 

A New York Times Notable Book and a
San Jose Mercury News Top 20 Nonfiction Book of 2003

In 1606, approximately 105 British colonists sailed to America, seeking gold and a trade route to the Pacific. Instead, they found disease, hunger, and hostile natives. Ill prepared for such hardship, the men responded with incompetence and

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Overview

A New York Times Notable Book and a
San Jose Mercury News Top 20 Nonfiction Book of 2003

In 1606, approximately 105 British colonists sailed to America, seeking gold and a trade route to the Pacific. Instead, they found disease, hunger, and hostile natives. Ill prepared for such hardship, the men responded with incompetence and infighting; only the leadership of Captain John Smith averted doom for the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

The Jamestown colony is one of the great survival stories of American history, and this book brings it fully to life for the first time. Drawing on extensive original documents, David A. Price paints intimate portraits of the major figures from the formidable monarch Chief Powhatan, to the resourceful but unpopular leader John Smith, to the spirited Pocahontas, who twice saved Smith’s life. He also gives a rare balanced view of relations between the settlers and the natives and debunks popular myths about the colony. This is a superb work of history, reminding us of the horrors and heroism that marked the dawning of our nation.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Price focuses instead on the human story of Jamestown, nearly mythic in its resonances, and he interprets it not with market economics but with political philosophy -- in particular, the subfield devoted to negotiations with people who would prefer you dead. — Caleb Crain
Publishers Weekly
This sparkling book retells a beloved tale in modern terms. Journalist Price's subtitle suggests that the book might be only about John Smith and Pocahontas-who "crossed into one another's cultures more than any other Englishman or native woman had done"-as well as about Pocahontas's eventual husband, John Rolfe. Fortunately, the book ranges more widely than that. Price relates the entire riveting story of the founding of Virginia. Smith is of course at the center of the tale, because rarely did a colonial leader so bountifully combine experience, insight, vision, strength of character and leadership skills to overcome extraordinary odds. But no one will come away from this work without heightened admiration also for the natives, especially Chief Powhatan, and greater knowledge of the introduction of a third people, African slaves, into the Chesapeake. The book's leitmotif is the interaction of differing cultures and men, like the British gentry, whom Smith scorned for refusing to adapt to hard colonial labor, and the wily Indians, who resorted to starving out the colonists and in 1622 massacred many of them. If there's a fault in a work built unobtrusively on the best scholarship, it's Price's insistence that we see Virginia principally as a place that rewarded courage and hard labor-for white men-in the service of self-advancement and personal liberty. Such a place it was. But it was also for all participants a site, at the start of the nation's history, of danger, horror and death. This is a splendid work of serious narrative history. 2 maps. BOMC, QPB and History Book Club alternates. (Oct. 15) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
David Price's splendid book is an example of how narrative history should be written. Price, an experienced journalist, clearly knows how to tell a really good story. He focuses not only on the two people who stand at the mythic center of the story we all remember from elementary school—John Smith and Pocahontas—but also presents the stories of hundreds of other major and minor players in this exciting drama of early English colonization in Jamestown. When the first 105 Englishmen arrived on three ships in 1607, with John Smith among them, the Jamestown settlers were seeking gold, a passage to the Pacific, and evidence of the survivors from the Roanoke Colony. The settlers found instead indigenous peoples, some of whom were friendly and many who were brutally hostile. The first settlers and their followers also found physical, political, and social challenges that often surpassed their imaginations and—in many cases—their capacity for survival. John Smith, in fact, survived two close calls only because of Pocahontas' intervention, although there never was any romantic connection between the two (even if Disney and your elementary school teacher told you otherwise). That any of the settlers survived at all is only part of Jamestown's remarkable story, a story powerfully and beautifully told in crisp, clear prose. In preparing his narrative, the author relied upon a meticulously researched, extensive array of sources (included in the book's extensive bibliography and cited in more than 200 annotated endnotes). Students (and adults) will enjoy reading this book because it is so entertaining and informative, but they can also rely upon it for solid historical research.KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Random House, Vintage, 305p. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Tim Davis
Library Journal
Drawing on examinations of original documents and previous research, journalist Price has written an engrossing history of the founding and development of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. Spanning Jamestown's establishment in 1606 to the revocation of the Virginia Company's charter in 1624, Price examines the interaction among the colonists and their relation to the native tribes, focusing on Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas. Most of the hate alluded to in the title comes from the interpersonal dynamics of Captain Smith and the incompetent, self-serving succession of governors and council members leading the colony during his tenure (1606-09). Of particular interest are the chapters describing the "starving time" (when 60 colonists out of 500 survived the winter of 1609-10), the company's lust for gold, the first sale of African slaves, and the establishment of private property and representational government. The meeting of Smith and Pocahontas remains one of the most fascinating episodes of Colonial history to this day, and Price relays the facts evenly. While not replacing full biographies of Pocahontas or Smith, this work is nevertheless highly recommended for all libraries.-Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A richly flavored, fascinating narrative of the first two decades of the Jamestown settlement. Price has drawn on a wealth of primary sources, but details don't interrupt the flow of the story. As a mercenary in the Netherlands and Romania, and a slave in Turkey, Smith learned the importance of communicating in new languages and understanding unfamiliar cultures. He developed the skills that would later enable him to stand between the fragile new colony and disaster. The author describes the establishment of the Virginia Company and provides intriguing portraits of the new colonists. Parts of the tale sound surprisingly modern. Fearful that bad news would spook investors and discourage future colonists, the company censored accounts of hardship in letters coming from Virginia. Despite demands from London to cultivate more corn and less tobacco, tobacco always sold at much higher prices, and so remained the crop of choice, even when the colonists were forced to buy corn from the natives. Although reliable information about Pocahontas is incomplete, Price's depiction of the bright, compassionate princess is warm and admiring. Smith's return to England to recover from an injury resulted in disaster for Jamestown. The inexperienced former courtiers made incredible errors that led to the Starving Time and massacres. The author describes these horrific events in graphic detail. The book concludes with an account of Smith's writings and an analysis of the man's vision of America.-Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A graceful narrative history of the troubled Jamestown colony, "an entrepreneurial effort organized and financed by . . . a start-up venture." So writes Virginian and Washington-based journalist Price, giving his tale a thoroughly modern spin at the outset. "English America," he continues, "was a corporation before it was a country," and the founders of the Jamestown colony were a mix of corporate types, including plenty of middle managers and martinets who, under the rubric of "gentlemen," had no intention of working, not even to save their own skins. Alas, writes Price, those founders didn�t do their homework when they chose the spot for their new settlement; though the wide mouth of the James River allowed oceangoing vessels to dock right alongside the town—a helpful advantage, given all the boatloads of gold, silver, and other riches that the colonists were hoping to extract from the surrounding countryside—the site of Jamestown was really a malarial swamp ill-suited to agriculture, cattle, and humans. Put people in trying circumstances, especially people used to the soft life, and you�re likely to get ugly politics. That�s just what happened, Price writes, as struggles developed between aristocratic leaders such as the "selfish Wingfield" and "the imbecile Ratcliffe"—the epithets are those of another historian, though Price doesn�t give much reason to think them wrong, quoting a Jamestown resident who remarked that those governors could have undone Paradise itself—and the commoner John Smith, who was far better equipped than they to see the English through those first few years of warfare and starvation (with a little cannibalism to boot). Price throws a nicetwist on the Smith-Pocahontas legend, which has cheerfully misrepresented the facts for four centuries now, and does a fine job of viewing the fortunes of the Jamestown company through the lens of contemporary English politics, all while offering a lively retelling of events. A first-rate work of popular history, and sure to become a standard. Agents: Glen Hartley, Lynn Chu/Writers Representatives

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375415418
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/07/2003
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.20(d)
Lexile:
1230L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

David A. Price has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, Forbes, and Business 2.0. He was formerly a reporter in the Washington, D.C., bureau of Investor's Business Daily. He holds degrees from Harvard Law School, Cambridge University, and the College of William and Mary. He was raised in Richmond, Virginia, and now lives with his wife and their two sons in Washington, D.C.

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