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Strawberries Four Times Bigger And Better
Savage Kingdom by Benjamin Woolley:Appendix 13
© 2013 James LaFond
The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America
2007, Harper, NY, 469 pages
If the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock was the metaphoric founding of America, then the settlement of Jamestown was, in the common American narrative, equivalent to the first incorporation of a trailer park. Benjamin Woolley has structured an engaging narrative that goes far beyond the dismal squalor of the first English American colony to not immediately go native.
In roughly chronological order, with a few nods to the novelist’s use of back story to enliven the narrative, the author introduces the natives of the Lower Chesapeake Bay, the slum under sail that was the Great White Fleet, the scoundrels that schemed to get rich in America, the poor broken bastards that died by the thousands remaining poor, Pocahontas—every pervert’s dream girl, the poor slobs that accidentally found Bermuda and provided fodder for Shakespeare’s Tempest, and the native holy men who journeyed to London only to discover that the English did not smell so bad because they were crammed into floating houses for three months, but because they were accustomed to live in a sewer, yet still bred remarkably like rats.
Woolley does not make the mistake of many of his predecessors who tended to note the actions of the explorers more than their observations. There were many things about the mid-Atlantic coast of America that amazed the English, particularly the size of the trees, the strawberries, and the men. American Indians of the eastern woodlands were among the largest fighting men in the world at the time of European contact. Even with their near annihilation by the diseases brought by the filthy little ill-mannered aliens it took 100 years to drive them from the coast and another 100 to drive them over the mountains.
This is one of the top historical narratives out there, as well as the most balanced look at the American clash of cultures I have read. You really can’t tell who Woolley came to care about the most during the course of his research, perhaps because he tells all of their stories with such care. Let’s rank him among the platonic Pocahontas fans. She does sound spunky, even four hundred years on.
Reading Wholly literally from the Indian perspective and with an eye for the subtext when exploring the English perspective, pays high dividends. The things to take away from Savage Kingdom in terms of understanding the world that evolved to devour the souls of kidnapped children like Peter, were:
1. The indenture system did not work, with almost the entire first 10,000 souls shipped to Virginia dying of starvation and disease, as it was too deadly and cried to be replaced by a chattel system
2. The deal cut with the Indians to secure the integrity of the venture was not sustainable, due primarily to the Indians growing disgust at how the English treated their own people and strip-mined the environment in England [which they should never have been permitted to see first hand] and Virginia and the creeping realization that they would be the next victims of this sick slave society
3. Most English settlers—being poor urban folk, often unskilled teens—lacked the skill set necessary to survive in the natural environment, and were both dependent upon and vulnerable before the Indians.
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