An energetic examination of the maritime disaster that, surprisingly, cemented England’s claim to a colonial empire in the Americas.
In the early 1600s, with its plantation at Jamestown fractious and failing, the Virginia Company went all in, adopting a new charter to strengthen the colonial government, adding dozens of prominent names to the company council, raising additional funds and recruiting more colonists. In 1609, a hurricane wrecked the Sea Venture, sent by London investors to rescue the settlers, on a Bermuda reef. Previously, mariners had avoided the “Isle of Devils,” but the Virginia colonists discovered a paradise teeming with natural resources sufficient to refresh them and sustain a continuation of the mission to relieve Jamestown. Two boats built of the Sea Venture’s remains anchored at Cape Henry one year to the day after the expedition’s departure from Plymouth, England. The Sea Venture may not have actually “saved” Jamestown—Lord De La Warr’s later arrival with three supply ships deserves that distinction—but the news of her ordeal and triumph electrified England, excited new interest in the potential of Bermuda and firmly persuaded the nation that God’s hand guided the country’s stake in Virginia and its fight against Spanish dominion in the New World. Although the Sea Venture’s story and its seminal characters—George Somers, Thomas Smythe, William Strachey, Christopher Newport and Thomas Gates—have recently been featured in Benjamin Woolley’s Savage Kingdom (2007) and Kieran Doherty’s Sea Venture (2007), this treatment stands out for its artful placement and discussion of the episode between Jamestown’s suffering and squabbling and the Virginia Company’s desperate maneuvering to keep the colonial enterprise from completely foundering. Moreover, Glover (Early American History/Univ. of Tennessee; Southern Sons: Becoming Men in the New Nation, 2007, etc.) and Smith (Colonial American History/Univ. of Kentucky; Inside the Great House: Planter Family Life in Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake Society, 1981) use this tale of shipwreck and survival to convey the larger spirit of the age, a brew of enterprise, greed, godliness, hucksterism and self-advancement.
A thrilling adventure story gracefully told.