“A Land as God Made It,” tells in magnificent fashion the story of the formation of the Jamestown colony in what became Virginia, the first permanent British outpost in North America. Established in 1607 and therefore approaching its 400th anniversary, the colonists of Jamestown contended with an entirely new environment, with Native Americans, starvation, interpersonal difficulties, and a host of other challenges to succeed in creating this colony.
The work narrates in an exciting and accessible fashion the dramatic actions of Captain John Smith and his troupe in Virginia. The most critical element of their early survival rested on Smiths relationships with the Powhatans, the native peoples of the region who helped the colonists through several difficult experiences.
Author James Horns also tells here the story of Smith and Pocahontas, a story both more complex and intriguing than that offered in the Disney version of American history. In search of wealth, glory, and the conversion of the natives to Christianity, the Virginia colony survived by a thread for its first decade. It survived a succession of crises until John Rolfe proved that tobacco could earn a profit, and thereby placed the colony on a path toward self-sustainment.
The very success of the colony demonstrated that the British were a serious threat to the Powhatan way of life and in 1622 they rebelled in a bloody war that lasted several years before the native peoples were defeated. Although the Virginia colony survived this war, just barely, it decimated the joint stock company that oversaw it, and in 1625 Virginia became a royal colony under the suzerainty of the King of England.
This is a very skillfully written account of the first twenty years of the Virginia colony, demonstrating very clearly how the British established a foothold in North America. It is a worthwhile and at times exciting reading experience. Enjoy!
James Horn spotlights Jamestown and places it on the historical map. THE LAND AS GOD MADE IT: JAMESTOWN AND THE BIRTH OF AMERICA offers a definitive narrative about the first English settlement in North America, and finally, gives Jamestown its due after centuries of school textbooks placing Massachusetts and the Pilgrims at the forefront of American history. In commemoration of the establishment of the Jamestown colony in 1607,
Horn examines the importance of the settlement economically and religiously, and how it affected the relationship between the English, Spanish, and Powhatan Indians. Horn balances his narrative with the discussion of the origins of the founding of the settlement and the events that occurred after that.
He examines how the English planned to utilise natural resources and produce manufactured goods to be self-sufficient from England suggest that the English wanted to establish a mercantile industry in Virginia as well rival the Spanish empire in all aspects, which also included religion.
Missionaries attempted to convert Native Americans and Africans toward Christianity. Horn emphasises that “Englands claim to vast lands between Spanish Florida in the South and French territories in the far North that were inhabited by the Europeans” (285). The book acknowledges the success of the Jamestown colony and clarifies misconceptions and myths that have been indoctrinated within the historical narrative.
Horn does not romanticise the Jamestown story and those who contributed to the establishment of the settlement and debunks myths that existed between John Smith and Pocahontas. As an after thought, Horn emphasises the significance of Jamestown and the affects of major historical events. He makes important points how the Revolutionary War and the Civil War affected its past representation within the historical narrative, and how professional historians from northern universities were responsible for somewhat skewing representation of the origins of where the United States was established.
Horn suggests that historians preferred to regionalize history as part of some rivalry that existed between New England and the South after the American Revolution, which contributed to the foundation myth. Overall, THE LAND AS GOD MADE IT is the first place to start when reading or studying about the roots of the founding of the United States. It all began in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, and not at Plymouth Rock. This is an important narrative when understanding the history of North America and the United States.
We will hear more about the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, as its 400th anniversary approached in 2007. The anniversary will perhaps restore balance. According to James Horn, in his stimulating history A Land, as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America (Basic Books), many Americans have forgotten Jamestown. They believe that the Pilgrims founded America, but that was in 1620.
Even with the appeal of the Jamestown stories of John Smith and Pocahontas, the birth of our nation in Virginia (part of the backwater South) was relegated by professional historians to a status secondary to that of New England (part of the progressive North). The Pilgrims were originally aiming for Virginia, but they missed (or they had a last minute change of plans).
It was Jamestown that was the first enduring colony in America, and Jamestown that put into practice three basic principles: “private property in land, a representative assembly for ordering local affairs, and civilian control of the military.” Jamestown also was the starting point for slavery in America, and for vicious wars against the indigenous peoples.
As Horn notes, America would have been vastly different if Jamestown had failed, and it could have failed at any number of points in its history.
This scholarly book, largely through first-hand sources, puts the colony in its rightful place. Among those first 144 colonists was Captain John Smith, who got into trouble even before landing; he was accused by the leaders of the expedition of plotting “to usurp the government, murder the Council, and make himself king.” It isn’t clear what the real problem was, but time and again,
Smith showed enormous arrogance (an “Ambitious, unworthy, and vainglorious fellow”) and dissatisfaction when commanded by those he considered less competent than himself (everyone). He was able to stay in the colony less than three years before its leaders sent him back to Britain, never to return. It might have been that British investors in the Virginia Company would have profited from more of his leadership. Smith was a pragmatist who wanted the colony on a sound agricultural footing.
The investors, however, were interested in quick riches from finding gold, made moral by bringing the Protestant faith to the Indians. The Company made a huge mistake in neglecting the “smokie weed of Tobacco,” which was becoming popular in Europe but which the Company regarded as nothing but a fad.
An organised Indian revolt in 1622 hit almost all the English settlements in 1622. By the next year, the Company could not keep its charter, which was revoked in 1624 and given to the Crown. “The Virginia Company had collapsed,” writes Horn, “not the colony.”
It was not clear that the Crown would support continuing the settlement, but in 1625 Charles I affirmed that he would keep and protect it as he would all of his other dominions. The Crown supported tobacco growing, as well as economic supports for trade in the weed, and Virginia finally turned a profit.
John Smiths idea that vigorous worldwide trade would keep the colony going proved true. Faded were the aims of quickly finding gold, and also lost was the vision of a Christian empire in the new world that would make all the Indians Protestants and form a bulwark against Catholic Spain.
As a strictly commercial venture, Jamestown failed, but commerce redeemed the colony; Horns fascinating and detailed book is a story of human activity in many guises but always fundamentally for profit. That was the basis for the start of our land, and for better or worse has never lost its claim on us.