JAMESTOWN, 1544-1699 by Carl Bridenbaugh

JAMESTOWN, 1544-1699

Email this review


In this first modern ""local history"" of the first enduring English settlement in America, historian Bridenbaugh retells (for general readers) the story of Jamestown, Virginia, as ""one of continuous tragedy--wars, disease, death, fires. . . ."" The loss of life is appalling as native Americans and settlers fight for food and out of sheer vindictiveness: during the legendary ""starving time"" (winter, 1609-1610) only 60 of 600 survive, ravaged by famine, disease, and one another. Never more than a small village of slapdash shelters which periodically burned to the ground, Jamestown was a predominantly male settlement (of ""People for the most parte of the meanest Ranke"") which developed little in the way of family or community life. When tobacco-growing succeeded and the settlement seemed likely to prosper after all, Nathaniel Bacon's rebels in 1676 destroyed the whole place, including the State House; and, according to one citizen, the ""unhappy town did never after arrive at the perfection it then had."" So much for Jamestown which, compared with the hopes its planners had for it, Bridenbaugh judges a failure ""in nearly every respect."" All in all, this is a dismal story which Bridenbaugh enlivens with some familiar characters--Captain Smith, John Rolfe, Pocahontas, Bacon the rebel--and with a new ""plausible hypothesis"" about the identity of Powhatan's long-lost brother Opechanca--nough, a.k.a. Don Luis de Velasco. He also makes a less-than-convincing case for the (brief) establishment of a legislative assembly as Jamestown's great democratic legacy to America. This is an interesting and valuable account, but as a record of squalor and slaughter it doesn't match up to Bridenbaugh's claims for it as a ""tale of. . . daring and fortitude and indomitable courage.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press