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The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown

The story of the naval disaster that changed American History.

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Four hundred years ago, as European powers competed for dominance in the New World, England looked like the nation least likely to succeed. Spain had spent the 16th century extracting shiploads of gold from modern-day Mexico and Peru. Nations as small as the Netherlands and Portugal had a far stronger presence in the New World than did England.

As late as 1600, write history professors Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith, “the English had still established no colonies in the Americas. In fact, they had failed in every Atlantic enterprise they had tried.”

The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown, Glover and Smith’s well-researched account of England’s rocky early beginnings in America, effectively pieces together a largely untold and essential story about how close the British came to failure in the New World. In the end, Glover and Smith argue, it was the fate of a seemingly lost ship that finally turned the tide.

Glover and Smith begin with an account of England’s early disasters in the New World. Their Roanoke Island settlement was a particularly horrific example: The entire colony mysteriously disappeared, likely slaughtered by local Indians.

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