The best books with alternate perspectives on Jamestown

Who am I?

I was Site Supervisor at the Jamestown Rediscovery Project in the late 1990s and early 2000s. My fondness for the people involved with the archaeological excavations is only rivaled by my love for the subject matter that involves the collision of cultures as Chesapeake Algonquians, Spanish Jesuits, and English colonists first encountered one another during the 16th and 17th centuries. Though I have been fortunate to write many books, my first book was on Jamestown, and this topic will always hold a special place in my scholarly heart (there is such a thing, I swear!).


I wrote...

The Deadly Politics of Giving: Exchange and Violence at Ajacan, Roanoke, and Jamestown

By Seth Mallios,

Book cover of The Deadly Politics of Giving: Exchange and Violence at Ajacan, Roanoke, and Jamestown

What is my book about?

With a focus on indigenous cultural systems and agency theory, this book analyzes Contact Period relations between North American Middle Atlantic Algonquian Indians and the Spanish Jesuits at Ajacan (1570-1572) and English settlers at Roanoke Island (1584-1590) and Jamestown Island (1607-1612). It is an anthropological and ethnohistorical study of how European violations of Algonquian gift-exchange systems led to intercultural strife during the late 1500s and early 1600s, destroying Ajacan and Roanoke, and nearly marking the end of Jamestown.

The books I picked & why

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The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown

By Tim Hashaw,

Book cover of The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown

Why this book?

Few individuals, even students of history, are aware of the significance of Jamestown in the legacy of American slavery. Tim Hashaw’s The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown provides an important alternative narrative for the birth of English America, focusing on the sixty Africans that arrived in the Chesapeake in 1619, instead of traditional exaltation of the original colonists at 1607 James Fort.

The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown

By Tim Hashaw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Birth of Black America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The voyage that shaped early America was neither that of the Susan Constant in 1607 nor the Mayflower in 1620. Absolutely vital to the formation of English-speaking America was the voyage made by some sixty Africans stolen from a Spanish slave ship and brought to the young struggling colony of Jamestown in 1619. It was an act of colonial piracy that angered King James I of England, causing him to carve up the Virginia Company's monopoly for virtually all of North America. It was an infusion of brave and competent souls who were essential to Jamestown's survival and success. And…


The Jamestown Brides

By Jennifer Potter,

Book cover of The Jamestown Brides

Why this book?

Jennifer Potter’s The Jamestown Brides: The Story of England’s Maids for Virginia is a fascinating account of 56 young English women who left their homes to join the struggling Jamestown Colony in 1621. Though Jamestown is one of the most well-researched historical settlements in the New World, this book offers important new insights into the first permanent English settlement in the Americas and into daily life for women in 17th-century England.

The Jamestown Brides

By Jennifer Potter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Jamestown Brides as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary story of the British women who made the perilous journey to Jamestown, Virginia, to become wives for tobacco planters in the New Colony.

In 1621, fifty-six English women crossed the Atlantic in response to the Virginia Company of London's call for maids 'young and uncorrupt' to make wives for the planters of its new colony in Virginia. The English had settled there just fourteen years previously and the company hoped to root its unruly menfolk to the land with ties of family and children.

While the women travelled of their own accord, the company was in effect selling…


Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing

By Ilan Stavans (editor),

Book cover of Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing

Why this book?

Ilan Stavans’s edited volume, Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing demonstrates how immigration is central to the origin story of the United States. In compiling selections from over 400 years of first-generation immigrant accounts, Stavans is able to shed light on the immigration experience—starting at Jamestown—from the perspective of the immigrant, as opposed to those already living in the destination country.

Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing

By Ilan Stavans (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Becoming Americans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Immigration is the essential American story. From London or Lvov, Bombay or Beijing, Dublin or Dusseldorf, people have come to America to remake themselves, their lives, and their identities. Despite political obstacles, popular indifference, or hostility, they put down roots here, and their social, cultural, and entrepreneurial energies helped forge the open and diverse society we live in. The history of American immigration has often been told by those already here. Becoming Americans tells this epic story from the inside, gathering for the first time over 400 years of writing—from seventeenth-century Jamestown to contemporary Brooklyn and Los Angeles—by first-generation immigrants…


Relation of Virginia: A Boy's Memoir of Life with the Powhatans and the Patawomecks

By Karen Ordahl Kupperman (editor), Henry Spelman,

Book cover of Relation of Virginia: A Boy's Memoir of Life with the Powhatans and the Patawomecks

Why this book?

Finally, Henry Spelman gets his own book! There is no shortage of Jamestown literature on John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe, and Chief Powhatan, but Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s Relation of Virginia: A Boy’s Memoir of Life with the Powhatans and the Patawomecks offers the intriguing account of Henry Spelman, a 14-year-old English boy sent to live with the Chesapeake Algonquians during highly volatile times between Virginia’s indigenous population and the Jamestown colonists. 

I find this book particularly compelling for multiple reasons: it reverses traditional narrative roles and details a member of colonial society who was placed in servitude to the Indigenous population, it was one of very few examples of first-hand historical testimony from an adolescent (none survive from 1580's Roanoke, and only Alonso de Olmos offered an eyewitness account of the annihilation of the Ajacan Jesuits in 1570), and it has often been glossed over by Jamestown scholars.

Relation of Virginia: A Boy's Memoir of Life with the Powhatans and the Patawomecks

By Karen Ordahl Kupperman (editor), Henry Spelman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Relation of Virginia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A memoir of one of America's first adventurers, a young boy who acted as a link between the Jamestown colonists and the Patawomecks and Powhatans.
"Being in displeasure of my friends, and desirous to see other countries, after three months sail we come with prosperous
winds in sight of Virginia." So begins the fascinating tale of Henry Spelman, a 14 year-old boy sent to Virginia in 1609. One of Jamestown's early arrivals, Spelman soon became an integral player, and sometimes a pawn, in the power struggle between the Chesapeake Algonquians and the English settlers.
Shortly after he arrived in the…


The Last Precinct

By Patricia Cornwell,

Book cover of The Last Precinct

Why this book?

Acclaimed crime novelist Patricia Cornwell came and dug with us at Jamestown while doing research for The Last Precinct. For weeks, she immersed herself in every detail of our archaeological excavations and then produced this inspired murder mystery that transcends time. The novel is fun, thrilling, and has its roots deep in the clay subsoil of the Tidewater. 

The Last Precinct

By Patricia Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Precinct as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Physically and psychologically bruised by her encounter with the killer Chandonne, Dr Kay Scarpetta has to leave her home in the hands of the police team investigating the attack. She finds shelter with an old friend, Anna Zenner, but it is not the haven of security she needs when she discovers that Anna has been sub-poenaed to appear before a Grand Jury which is investigating Scarpetta for murder. Kay knows she is being framed and she also knows she can trust no-one. Meanwhile it appears that Chandonne killed a woman in New York before his murderous spree in Virginia, but…


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