The Jamestown Project by Karen Ordahl Kupperman

I thought this was a book about Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. It is actually about much more than that. 

Kupperman describes the history of European exploration, trade and colonization with the Muslim world, Africa and North and South America. She puts Jamestown in its historical, cultural and political context. She quotes an amazing number of primary sources (with their original, often surprising spelling) to show what the English thought of the American Indians, what the American Indians thought of the English, what the Virginia Company wanted the Jamestown settlers to accomplish, what the Jamestown settlers wanted (and rarely got) from the Virginia Company. She explains that Jamestown was only one of many attempts to start a colony in America, that the Indians were quite familiar with Europeans before the Jamestown settlers arrived, and that Captain John Smith had a very interesting life before he met Pocahontas.

Most of the colonists died from disease and starvation. Some were killed by the Indians and some preferred living with the Indians. Kupperman argues that Jamestown eventually proved to be a success because it showed that colonies would only prosper if the colonists had personal incentives to succeed, for example, the prospect of owning their own land. The powerful people who put money into the colonies wanted to find a quick route to China, or gold and silver, or to convert the Indians to Christianity. The people who made the colonies succeed had simpler goals.  (4/29/11)

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