The Wealth of Jamestown is a story, a work of fiction to be enjoyed on its own terms. But it’s placed in a historical period about which few Americans know anything.
Our history classes jump from the three ships arriving in 1607 to Pocahontas, and then– nothing until the arrival of George Washington and the cherry tree. That’s a period of nearly a hundred and fifty years, more than a quarter of our national history.
The 1600’s was period of great discovery and innovation, and loaded with significant historic events. In England, a king was beheaded and replaced by a dictator. The dictatorship died and the monarchy restored. Civil war raged over religion in England and all over Europe. It was a time of the divine right of kings, challenges to kings from new parliaments, and great movements of peoples. It was also a time of mass slaughter of civilians who stood in the way of great armies.
While we can’t be sure of exact dates and names, we can surmise what the people were like who came to Virginia in the seventeenth century. They barely survived famine, disease, and war with the native tribes. The Indian wars in Virginia killed about a third of the early population of English settlers. But all that was finished by the 1680s.
By 1680 Virginia supplied a large slice of the English treasury through its tobacco crop. Planters were adding land and buying ships to handle their own trade. Large planters and small planters all survived off the land. There were no towns and no city life; no great buildings, streets, theaters, universities or cathedrals. There was a political structure: an elected House of Burgesses who stood for the people and could face down an appointed governor sent by the king.
This was the world of the grandparents of the founding fathers.