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Library JournalGenerations of American schoolchildren have learned that Jamestown was the English seed from which the United States sprang. But little focus has usually fallen on how iffy a thing were both its planting and its survival. Now, on the eve of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's founding, these three works together offer opportunities for reexamining U.S. origins. Kupperman (history, NYU; Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony) extends her earlier work to revisit the people and politics that planned Jamestown and made it work. Her nine chapters incorporate the setting of the May 1607 landing at the James River into the discourse of how Europeans imagined America and of how the reality of America dawned in initiative and forbearance. Deftly drawing on wide-ranging sources, Kupperman re-creates the sights and sounds of homeland and wilderness that together reveal the trials, errors, and triumphs that made Jamestown a go for people on the ground but prevented absent investors from making money.
Deans (national correspondent, Cox Newspapers) roves far beyond Jamestown's first couple of decades. Tracing the James River from its prehistoric headwaters, he narrates a story of a new civilization that would change the world. Emphasizing his native Virginia's contributions, the nine chapters sweep across the landscape of U.S. history to bring to the present the past lessons of clashing civilizations. His succession of stories brims with drama and vignettes of famous and not-so-famous people. More commentary than history, the book reduces to a romance Liberty's succeeding as the dream and reality of Americans regardless of race.Investigative journalist Hashaw (Children of Perdition: Melungeonsand the Struggle of Mixed America) takes a hard look at Jamestown's beginnings. His four-part, 19-chapter saga stretches back to Africa rather than Europe. Tracing roots and branches from what he dubs the "Black Mayflower" that in 1619 landed Africans in Virginia, Hashaw develops the African contributions to America's founding. He details the skills and successes of the first black generation, marking their story up to 1676. Insightfully integrating developments in the triangle connecting Europe, Africa, and the Americas, his rich narrative brings to life named blacks of Bantu origin who, rather than suffering as slaves for life, established self-sufficient independence on their own ground amid promise of open competition in early America. Yet he shows also how, amid struggles for civil and religious freedom for some, racial slavery evolved as an institution from the political ideology of European absolutism. His work, like Kupperman's, should delight both scholars and general readers. Collections on black history will want Hashaw; collections on early America will want both Hashaw and Kupperman. Local Virginia collections may be interested in Deans's work.
—Thomas J. Davis