The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown

Unit 1: Assignment #1 – Worksheet


Assignment #1 covering Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith, The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown and Middleton & Lombard Ch. 1-3.

Prologue: Why did Glover and Smith write this book? Or, put another way, why did Dr. Barker assign it?

Glover and Smith’s point in writing The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown was done not just to chronicle the account of Jamestown’s rocky beginnings, but to advance the argument that had providence not intervened with the timely arrival of the castaways from the presumed lost ship the Sea Venture, Jamestown would have been lost. The book provides readers with an account of just how close the English came to failure within North America, making the point that the early history of Jamestown was marked not by success, but in fact, catastrophe. England had such a dismal record at colonization in North America following Roanoke, according to Glover and Smith, that England’s chief rival to North America, Spain, saw little reason to even bother attacking Jamestown. Glover and Smith’s goal in writing The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown was to advance an alternative viewpoint,one which argues that the arrival of the Sea Venture and the badly needed supplies it carried with it were instrumental in helping turn the tide in what was shaping up to be another failed attempt at North American colonization by England.

Chapter 1: London Dreams

What were the different impulses for establishing an English colony in North America?

The motivations for establishing an English colony in North America were many, with the possibility of riches for Virginia Company investors being just one of these factors. Entrepreneurs such as Sir Thomas Smith, a major participant of the Virginia Company and in the colonization of Virginia, believed that Virginia could perhaps be the pathway to riches in much the same way that Mexico had been for the Spanish. Other rationales for colonization were that Virginia could hold the key for providing an economic haven for the down and out of England’s population which at the time was burgeoning, allowing them the opportunity for success that was not available to them in England. Still other impulses were more beneficent, such as bringing the word of God in Protestant form to the native peoples, while at the same time denying Spain further Catholic domination of North America.

Chapter 2: “A Grand Enterprise”

Once the colony in Virginia was established, what were the major obstacles facing the settlers?

The first settlers at Jamestown were faced with many major obstacles, including “famine, infighting, [and] warfare with the Indians.”[1] Many of the first settlers who arrived at Jamestown were ill suited for the challenge of establishing a new settlement, and many refused to work. Those who had first arrived ,besides lacking initiative, were simply not in possession of the needed skill sets for building a settlement  such as carpentry, blacksmithing, or farming skills. In the words of Captain John Smith, one of the early leaders of Jamestown, the Virginia Company needed to send “useful men rather than their conniving gentry’ friends.”[2]

If the inefficient workforce wasn’t bad enough, the geographic location chosen for the settlement site was one surrounded by swampland, and this made access to clean drinking a real problem. As a result of drinking contaminated water, disease such as dysentery and typhoid spread rapidly within the settlement taking its toll on an already substandard workforce. The workforce was made even more ineffective because of poor leadership, for the leaders “charged with looking out for the settlers, failed miserably at the task.”[3]

Although an efficient and poorly led workforce, ravaged by disease, exacted a toll on the colonists, perhaps the biggest obstacle facing the settlers was the native Powhatan Indians. The settlement location was right in the middle of an Indian federation numbering in the many thousands, and the Powhatans simply did not want these foreigners living among them. As a consequence of the close proximity of the colonists to the Powhatans, confrontations occurred often between the two, resulting in a bloody outcome for the Jamestown settlers.

Chapter 3: Voyage to Hell

What were the major problems faced by the adventurers during the voyage to Virginia?

During the voyage to Virginia, the adventurers faced many problems, including food shortages, unsanitary living conditions leading to disease, along with the ravages of storms and shipwrecks. Food substances which soon would go bad after just a few weeks at sea left travelers with little choice but to try to subsist on poor rations consisting of salted meat, moldy bread, dead beer, and rancid water. To emphasize just how bad food shortages could be for sea travelers, Glover and Smith note that it was not out of the question for a “lack of food [to] provoke mutiny among passengers…”[4]  Unsanitary living conditions were another major problem. Crowded and unsanitary living conditions often acted as a spawning ground for contagious disease, such as bubonic plaque which could lead to a mortality rate as high as 90 percent. If poor food and unsanitary living conditions were not bad enough, adventurers also had Mother Nature to deal with. Storms such as the one which caused the Sea Venture to veer of coursewere not unusual and maintaining contact with other ships sailing within a fleet which could be counted upon for support, could become impossible.

Chapter 4: Distressing News

What was the “Sincere and True Declaration of the purposes and ends of the plantation begun in Virginia” tract and why was it written?

As news of the ensuing chaos which had enveloped Virginia began to reach England, the Virginia Company began a public relations campaign aimed at countering the bad news. The Virginia Company feared that if some type of action to stem the tide of bad news coming from Virginia was not thwarted, then hopes of raising funds to save the colony would be lost. Therefore the Virginia Company began a skillfully managed propaganda campaign resulting in the publication the Sincere and True Declaration of the purposes and ends of the plantation begun in Virginia on December 14, 1609. The publication was intended to act as a form of damage control by addressing the many rumors coming out of Virginia, while at the same time promoting the Virginia Company’s threefold mission. A threefold mission was designed to appeal to the English public and the company’s investors by promoting the potential for spreading Christianity, the economic advantages which would benefit England, and the expansion of the English empire. Furthermore in order to bolster investor’s confidence, the publication addressed the shortcomings encountered during Virginia colonization, and addressed those deficiencies with proposed remedies. These remedies included an improved government structure and an improved screening process for potential colonists so that only the most useful and resolute would be chosen. Finally the publication took on the propaganda spin that if the religious faith, patriotism, and economic angles failed to sway the English public of the worthiness of the Virginia’s Company efforts then they would appeal to the public’s sense of responsibility. In order to accomplish this last point the publication likened the Virginia colony to a drowning swimmer whom without the publics help, would surely perish.  

Chapter 5: The “Isle of Devils”

What were the conditions experienced on the island of Bermuda by the shipwreck survivors?

The environmental conditions experienced by the shipwreck survivors on Bermuda was unlike anything the castaways had anticipated, finding themselves “delivered to a new Eden…a real island paradise.”[5] Food was in abundance, and the climate was temperate unlike anything they had known in England, or anticipated in Virginia. Working class people, who made up the majority of the survivors, could expect a diet consisting of boiled beef and bread while in England, but on Bermuda the castaways enjoyed a diet consisting of hogs, fresh fruit, fish and birds; “no one ever went hungry.”[6]

The societal conditions that prevailed on Bermuda on the other hand were the same as the survivors would have encountered had they successfully made it to their original destination of Virginia. Thomas Gates was fully in charge as mandated by his decree, and Gates exerted an authority over the survivors that was intended to maintain the foundation of English civilization.

Chapter 6: Trouble in Paradise

What were the main sources of tension amongst the castaways on Bermuda?

One of the main sources of tension amongst the castaways stemmed from their desire to remain on Bermuda, and abandon their pursuit of getting to Virginia. This tension pitted those who wished to remain on Bermuda, with those who wished to continue on toward Virginia. The prospects of life on the island paradise of Bermuda with its abundant food sources and temperate climate contrasted sharply with what lay ahead within Virginia. The tensions between the two island factions manifested in work stoppages and mutinies from the group that wanted to remain, followed by swift punishment from the group which wanted to continue to Virginia, led by Thomas Gates. One such failed conspiracy even involved breaking into a store room, then stealing weapons and murdering Thomas Gates, the island leader along with his supporters.

Chapter 7: Jamestown Starving

What were the main factors still imperiling the colonists at Jamestown?

The main factors which continued to imperil the colonists at Jamestown were the lack of sufficient provisions, a lack of competent leadership, and the native Powhatan Indians intent on wiping out their numbers.

Drought and disease had taken a severe toll on the colonists, and as a result their labor force was simply too weak to effectively provide for their survival needs, and this “hampered efforts to raise crops.”[7] .

The second main factor imperiling the colonists was a lack of competent leadership. With the colony’s leader Thomas Gates shipwrecked on Bermuda, the current leader John Smith despite written orders to the contrary had refused to surrender authority, and as a result the colonial council had to formerly replace Smith. The council’s replacement was a man named George Percy who soon proved himself incapable of the task, and instead busied himself with issues not necessarily in the best interests of the colony, such as spending time assembling his own wardrobe.

The Native Americans were an entirely different matter; led by their leader Powhatan they focused their efforts on wiping the settlers out. They were quite successful in this regard, employing a strategy of successful raids whenever the colonists tried to leave the confines of their fortifications, aimed at starving the colonists out.

Chapter 8: Redemption in Virginia

How was Governor De La Warr able to turn the situation in Jamestown around?

Thomas West, the third Governor De La Warr, was able to turn things around by bringing with him to Jamestown an adequate supply of provisions, 150 more settlers which doubled the population, and most importantly competent leadership. One of the first acts of West’s leadership was putting everyone to work, improving their living conditions and focusing upon future food stores. West also was instrumental in organizing an efficient colonial government which busied itselves with militarization efforts and engaged in an offensive against the Powhatan Indians. West reinforced social order within the colony through mandatory religious rituals which affirmed the colonist’s “duty to God and country.”[8]

In the end West’s efforts at turning the situation around in Jamestown had the effect of making the colony “large enough and strong enough to survive another year.”[9]

Chapter 9: God is English

Why was a permanent colony built in Bermuda?

A permanent colony was built in Bermuda, in response to what many in England thought was divine providence. Many Englishmen believed that it was the hand of God which guided the weather beaten Sea Venture to the safety of Bermuda, and it was the Sea Venture’s sagathat “offered up a powerful religious justification for staking claim to Bermuda.”[10] The Virginia Company in 1612 expanded their charter adding Bermuda as second colony, seeing the potential that Bermuda offered in terms of lucrative commodities by which investors could potentially turn a profit. Another rationale for establishing a permanent colony in Bermuda was its geographic location. Bermuda “was ideally situated to resupply English ships”[11], plus a permanent colony had the added incentive of denying Spain any further dominance of the Americas.


Chapter 10: “O Brave New World”

How did the shipwreck of the Sea Venture change the history of both Virginia and Bermuda?

England’s attempts at colonization had all met with disaster prior to the Sea Venture shipwreck. The timely arrival of both the Sea Venture along with that of Lord De La Warr signaled the beginning of a new era of English colonization throughout the West Indies, as well as breathing new life into the North America colony. Authors Lorri Glover and Daniel Smith argue that following the Sea Venture saga, England never again considered abandoning their North American venture, and in fact “by the 1660’s English colonies were in place in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Jamaica, and Carolina”[12] proving just how significant the unintended consequences of the Sea Venture saga affected “the course of English America.”[13]





Glover, Lorri, and Daniel B. Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008.


[1] Lorri Glover and Daniel B. Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008), 46

[2] Glover and Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown, 49

[3] Ibid, 43

[4] Glover and Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown, 84

[5] Glover and Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown, 137

[6] Ibid, 139

[7] Glover and Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown, 174

[8] Glover and Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown, 203

[9] Ibid, 210

[10] Ibid, 234

[11] Ibid, 236

[12] Glover and Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown, 264

[13] Ibid, 265

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