The Founding of English America

An Introduction to the Lost Colony and Jamestown


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About the Book

In 1577, John Dee, a scientist who served as an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, proposed to her the creation of colonies in the New World. Neither Elizabeth nor Walter Raleigh imagined the task would be so difficult or take more than 30 years. The effort started with an exploration of the coast of today’s North Carolina and the settlement of a colony on Roanoke Island in 1585. This ended tragically and became known as The Lost Colony, its fate a mystery to this day. James I resumed the effort with the founding of Jamestown in 1607 on an island in the James River in today’s Virginia.
This book relates the histories of the Roanoke and Jamestown colonies to enable a full understanding of the founding of English America. Important events in America’s beginnings, including the wreck of the Sea Venture (which inspired William Shakespeare’s The Tempest), the Algonquin chief Powhatan’s plans to make the newcomers useful to him, and the relationship between Pocahontas and English Captain John Smith are highlighted.

About the Author(s)

John May is an author and former business executive who resides in Pittsboro, North Carolina. His first work, a historical novel, was a finalist for the Thomas Wolfe Prize.

Bibliographic Details

John May
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 269
Bibliographic Info: 3 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2024
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9524-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5261-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Tudor Family Tree viii
Dramatis Personae 1
Introduction 11
1. The Virgin Queen 17
2. The Sea Dogs 33
3. The Lost Colony 50
4. The End of an Era 73
5. Jamestown 90
6. Pocahontas and John Smith 110
7. The Wreck of the Sea Venture 134
8. The Starving Time 151
9. Redemption 166
Epilogue 181
Chapter Notes 195
Bibliography 243
Index 249

Book Reviews & Awards

• “In this elegantly written, thoughtful and well-researched narrative, John May leads us through the formative years of English America, explaining the impulses that sent explorers, colonisers and settlers west across the Atlantic to the earliest colonies on the eastern seaboard, at Roanoke and Jamestown. May rightly ties the two precarious colonies together, in one gripping tale. Pen portraits of his larger-than-life protagonists, Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, Captain John Smith, Powhatan, and Pocahontas, are deft and perceptive, and his interpretation of disputed topics, the fate of the lost colony, for example, is measured and persuasive.”—Mark Nicholls, author of Sir Walter Raleigh in Life & Legend (with Penry Williams) and A History of the Modern British Isles: 1529-1603: The Two Kingdoms  

• “The Founding of English America: An Introduction to the Lost Colony and Jamestown is a thoroughly-researched and engagingly-written new history of the early days of England’s colonization of America. It’s rare to find both of these qualities in one book. But John May has done it. Scholars and history buffs will find plenty here to please them, for the book’s not timid. It takes a refreshing look at some very old evidence, and when he thinks it’s warranted, May quarrels with the historians. (He quarrels with me about John Smith and Pocahontas.) But always he handles the evidence with appropriate tact and historical insight. The non-expert will find an entertaining and trustworthy history of Roanoke and Jamestown. Calling itself an ‘introduction’ might be too modest. If you’re going to read one book on the subject, this would be a good choice. The narrative is alive to the stranger-than-fiction stories of the larger-than-life characters of these early days of the British Empire. In short, it’s a great read.”—Joseph Kelly, author of Marooned: Jamestown, Shipwreck, and a New History of America’s Origin

• “In The Founding of English America, John May gives us just what we need right now. His clear-headed account of the country’s founding serves up the big picture and the forgotten stories—the wars with Spain, the tragedy of contact with the indigenous people, and the profit-hungry pirates and privateers drawn to the New World. This detailed and incisive book is not afraid to reveal the sausage-making behind our nation’s creation.”—Andrew Lawler, author of The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke

• “A vivid account of early English colonialism in North America. Writing with rare grace, intelligence, and brevity, John May shows that the settlements at Roanoke and Jamestown were densely intertwined, rooted in the same imperial ambitions. What grew out of them is an essential American story—at once momentous and tragic.”—John Wood Sweet, author of The Sewing Girl’s Tale, winner of the Bancroft Prize and editor of Envisioning An English Empire: Jamestown and the Making of the North Atlantic World

• “In The Founding of English America John May delivers that elusive, critical balance in non-fiction prose: successfully blending exhaustive research with an engaging literary style. The result is a very welcome and informative portrayal of that slice of history from the search for a northwest passage, to Raleigh’s attempts at establishing a foothold at Roanoke, and finally to the founding of the first permanent English colony in America at Jamestown. Highly recommended.”—Brandon Fullam author of The Lost Colony of Roanoke: New Perspectives, Manteo and the Algonquins of the Roanoke Voyages, and A Lost Colony Hoax: The Chowan River Dare Stone

• “With the scope of a Homeric epic, May’s narrative follows Europe’s seagoing nations as their mariners discover various dependable winds, as navigation and shipbuilding evolve, and as England tries to best its rivals by colonizing the eastern North American coast between 1580 and 1610. His focus narrows on the first two attempts: Roanoke Island, the one that disappeared, and Jamestown, the one that nearly starved to death before becoming the epicenter of Virginia’s booming tobacco economy—and its market in enslaved Africans. In this extensively researched work, May’s eye is also often on Powhatan, father of Pocahontas and great chief, as he dealt with Captain John Smith and his English cohort. Fascinating: full of great characters, surprises, and horrors, and gripping all the way!”—Bland Simpson, author of North Carolina, Land of Water, Land of Sky and Clover Garden

• “May’s copious research combined with his great storytelling gifts make his account of the Lost Colony and Jamestown histories a reading pleasure.”—D. G. Martin, host of North Carolina Bookwatch