The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America
The English had long dreamed of colonizing America, especially after Sir Francis Drake brought home Spanish treasure and dramatic tales from his raids in the Caribbean. Ambitions of finding gold and planting a New World colony seemed within reach when in 1606 Thomas Smythe extended overseas trade with the launch of the Virginia Company. But from the beginning the American enterprise was a disaster. Within two years warfare with Indians and dissent among the settlers threatened to destroy Smythe’s Jamestown just as it had Raleigh’s Roanoke a generation earlier.
To rescue the doomed colonists and restore order, the company chose a new leader, Thomas Gates. Nine ships left Plymouth in the summer of 1609—the largest fleet England had ever assembled—and sailed into the teeth of a storm so violent that “it beat all light from Heaven.” The inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the hurricane separated the flagship from the fleet, driving it onto reefs off the coast of Bermuda—a lucky shipwreck (all hands survived) which proved the turning point in the colony’s fortune.
Lorri Glover is the John Francis Bannon Endowed Chair in the Department of History at Saint Louis University. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 1996. Her works include Southern Sons: Becoming Men in the New Nation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007); All Our Relations: Blood Ties and Emotional Bonds Among the Early South Carolina Gentry (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000); and The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America, with Daniel Blake Smith, (Henry Holt, 2008). In 2009, she joined the team of the textbook/reader Discovering the American Past: A Look at the Evidence (Cengage Learning), which is currently in its 8th edition. In 2014, she published Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries with Yale University Press. Her latest book, exploring the ratification debates in Virginia in 1787-88, is The Fate of the Revolution: Virginians Debate the Constitution (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).