was late on the American colonial scene. When Jamestown, the first permanent
English colony, was founded in 1607, the Virginia Company and its settlers
were intruding on well-trodden European pathways and among very experienced
American Indians. Jamestown was the first English colony, but San Agustín
in Florida was the first European colony in the future United States.
Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English mariners had traveled in the
Chesapeake Bay, and Spanish Jesuits had attempted to found a colony
there almost four decades earlier. Moreover, the last group of colonists
deposited by Sir Walter Raleigh on Roanoke Island to the south two decades
earlier may have made their way up to the Chesapeake Bay and lived out
their lives among the native population. At least one native of the
region, a man known only by his Spanish name Don Luis de Velasco, had
traveled to Europe and Spanish colonies farther south before returning
to his Pamunkey people. English colonists in Virginia could thus draw
on the experience of their predecessors. And the Pamunkeys among whom
they settled, known to the colonists as the Powhatans after the powerful
chief who led them, understood well the potential benefits and problems
their presence would generate.
NEH Summer Institute on "Texts of Imagination and Empire: The Founding
of Jamestown in Its Atlantic Context" sought to place Jamestown
in the context of all the relationships and patterns being formed in
and around the Atlantic at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
England's entry into transatlantic colonial enterprises was a literary
event. Because each colony was sponsored by a joint-stock company, the
need for continuing investment was acute, and this need fostered an
outpouring of writings from the colonies describing the land, its resources
and qualities, the Americans, and the nature and progress of the colonies.
All these writings were promotional, but many aspired to accuracy and
some to literary quality. Highly educated men such as John Pory, George
Sandys, William Strachey, Roger Williams, and John Winthrop wrote for
their peers in England. Other men, most notably Captain John Smith,
claimed the superior credentials of experience and developed a new kind
of authority in writing. All these documents, and the maps, drawings,
engravings, and other kinds of texts from the first decades of colonization,
formed the focus of the institute.
brought together scholars from literature, history, archaeology, and
public history to read the early texts intensively in the light of recent
scholarly analysis. Visiting scholars each week brought their own expertise
to our discussions and helped us make interdisciplinary connections.
We also explored the resources available on the web and decided to offer
the following set of essays as our contribution to the ongoing discourse
on European expansion and the American response and the kinds of relationships
these initiatives spawned. The gateways to the various essays by institute
participants are sites on the map of the Chesapeake first published
in Captain John Smith's A Map of Virginia.
With a Description of the Country, the Commodities, People, Government
and Religion (Oxford, 1612). This book and the map were later
incorporated into his great synthesis, The
Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles
based the map on his own exploration of Chesapeake Bay, and he incorporated
native knowledge for the regions beyond his own travels. The boundaries
between the two kinds of knowledge are indicated by a series of Maltese
Smith's map an appropriate platform from which
to offer our own analyses of Jamestown's surviving records. Each essay
offers links to contemporary illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare
Library's rich collections. Click on the highlighted sites to find the
essays and their further links.