A debut historical novel imagines the fate of a little-known, 17th-century English settlement in the New World.
In this tale, Chief Justice Sir John Popham, a powerful adviser to King James, organizes an expedition to the New World for the sake of establishing two settlements: one named Fort St. George, a project of the Northern Virginia Company, and the other Jamestown. He recruits Richard Seymour, a student of Francis Bacon and a Montaigne enthusiast, to accompany the Fort St. George group as chaplain. Richard takes with him Skidwarres, a Native American from the Mawooshen tribe from the same area to be colonized: a land that is now Maine. Skidwarres was kidnapped and taken back to England and spent the last two years being tutored in English by Richard; now he’ll be a valuable translator and diplomat. Popham chooses that particular place to settle because of its geographical advantages—drinkable water and a river that provides convenient access into the interior—but Skidwarres cautions him that the region is populated by multiple tribes with a history of intramural war and that the expedition members might not be received hospitably. When they finally arrive, they try to forge a peaceable relationship with Nahanada, the Mawooshen leader, but it’s always a strained détente, especially after some of his braves murder five of Popham’s sailors and then a band of English soldiers rapes and murders a native girl. Richard does his best to advocate for diplomatic solutions, but Adm. Raleigh Gilbert prefers shows of force to achieve his ends. Author Seymour—a distant relation to Richard Seymour—does a masterful job of filling in the historical blanks with dramatic invention. Almost nothing is known about the disappearance of Fort St. George—records only exist for the first two months of its 14-month existence—an opportunity for blending fact and fiction the author artfully takes advantage of in his rousing narrative. He details the building of the fort, which many of the men, settling this “raw land,” see “as a sign of long overdue prosperity, or at least potentially so.” Seymour supplies plenty of intriguing personal drama as well: Richard is engaged to Margaret Throckmorton back home, but he begins a torrid sexual relationship abroad with young Lilly, who made the trip disguised as a boy.
A remarkable marriage of historical scholarship and creative fiction captured in stirring prose.