Synopses & Reviews
Four centuries ago, and fourteen years before the Mayflower
, a group of men led by a one-armed ex-pirate, an epileptic aristocrat, a reprobate cleric and a government spy left London aboard a fleet of three ships to start a new life in America. They arrived in Virginia in the spring of 1607 and set about trying to create a settlement on a tiny island in the James River. Despite their shortcomings, and against the odds, they built Jamestown, a ramshackle outpost that laid the foundations of the British Empire and the United States of America.
Drawing on new discoveries, neglected sources and manuscript collections scattered across the world, Savage Kingdom challenges the textbook image of Jamestown as a mere money-making venture. It reveals a reckless, daring enterprise led by outcasts of the Old World who found themselves interlopers in a new one. It charts their journey into a beautiful landscape and a sophisticated culture that they found both ravishing and alien, which they yearned to possess but threatened to destroy. They called their new home a "savage kingdom," but it was the savagery they had experienced in Europe that had driven them across the ocean and which they hoped to escape by building in America "one of the most glorious nations under the sun."
An intimate story in an epic setting, Woolley shows how the land of Pocahontas came to be drawn into a new global order, reaching from London to the Orinoco Delta, from the warring kingdoms of Angola to the slave markets of Mexico, from the gates of the Ottoman Empire to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"This highly readable account of the founding of Jamestown moves from the English throne to the daily struggles of the colony's first settlers and the experience of Virginia's Indians as their relations with colonists became increasingly strained. Here are the famous tales from early Virginia, like Pocahontas's marriage to John Rolfe. But well-known explorers sit cheek by jowl with fascinating, lesser-known people, such as the colonists' wives, who consulted an astrologer to reassure themselves about their husbands' fate on the open seas. Woolley emphasizes both the financial and religious aims of colonization: English backers expected to get rich on the bounty the settlers would uncover and produce (though the first ships of wood and iron ore sent back disappointed the London Company). But Englishmen also saw Virginia as a 'religious mission,' an opportunity to spread Protestantism abroad. Woolley persuasively argues that the settlers' aggressive response to a 1623 Indian attack became the 'defining moment' in the history of English settlement of Virginia it was through this event, more than any other, that the colonists articulated their connection to their new land and 'crafted and honed their American identity.' Woolley blends nuanced analysis with fast-paced narrative. 16 pages of color illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] swashbuckling saga of political maneuvering, storms at sea, hostile indigenes, violence and starvation. A broadcaster and writer who lives in London, he is fond of the cinematic image, and his book is sprightly and vivid." Los Angeles Times
"[Woolley] illuminates the Virginia colony as part of a larger international game, the stakes of which simultaneously explain and dwarf the sufferings of a few adventurers in a southern swamp. A well-told story of discovery, conquest, business and politics." Kirkus Reviews
"[A]n engaging, well-researched take....Woolley's prose bounces along, equally cheerful in the face of a comprehensive flaying and the founding of what became Washington, D.C., leaving you with warm, fuzzy feelings... (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"[Woolley presents] the story in a highly readable and entertaining human narrative that charms as much as it informs....This is, simply, one of the best written, most accurate, and most accessible histories of the period to emerge in many years." Dallas Morning News
"To gain fresh insights, Woolley created his own searchable database drawn from original texts and 3,500 books, some 2 million words in all. Access to that level of detail becomes both the book's strength and weakness. Those willing to read in depth will uncover a rich picture of America's first enduring settlement." Gregory M. Lamb, The Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire CSM review
Published to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the first American colony, Savage Kingdom presents the bold, even reckless, political adventure driven by a sense of imperial destiny and dogged by official hostility.
About the Author
Benjamin Woolley, a writer and broadcaster, covers both the arts and the sciences. His previous books include Virtual Worlds, an exploration of virtual reality, and The Bride of Science, a biography of Byron's brilliant daughter. He lives in London.