A spellbinding narrative on the preliminary attempts at colonization of North America by the British.
Milton (Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, 1999, etc.) describes the earliest British expeditions to the New World, starting with the poorly planned and ill-fated colonization of Sir Humfrey Gilbert. Although a failure, his expedition was a source of inspiration (and information) for his half-brother, the Elizabethan courtier and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh—whose sponsorship of the doomed colony of Roanoke (on an island in what is now North Carolina) was every bit as poorly informed. It was cursed, in large part, by the simple inexperience of idealistic planners who, in spite of their best efforts, were wholly unqualified to plan an operation of this scale. The lack of supplies, the lack of experienced farmers, and the lack of qualified governors were but a few of the obstacles. These flaws were exacerbated by the settlers’ unwillingness to deal equitably with the Indian population, who, not surprisingly, saw the British as a costly burden and a very real threat. When war with Spain halted the transatlantic supply lines, Roanoke quickly fell apart, with remnants eventually coalescing into the local indigenous populations. The next attempt at colonization, at Jamestown, proved successful primarily because of adequate financing by British merchants who had learned that a certain cash crop—tobacco—grew quite well in the wilds of Virginia.
Diligent scholarship and brilliant storytelling: a fascinating study that dispels many popular myths regarding America’s colonization.