Title: Surviving Jamestown: The Adventures of Young Sam Collier
Author: Gail Langer Karwoski
Major Themes: Colonial America, Jamestown, John Smith, Virginia
Synopsis: John Smith’s page boy lives through the voyage to Virginia and the first few years of the first permanent English settlement in North America.
We have recently started a study of American History. I think it’s going to take us a few years to get through, because we’re finding a lot of interesting books to read together! One that I discovered, which I had never heard of before, is Surviving Jamestown. It turns out to be a very interesting piece of historical fiction, although there are a number of scenes that I didn’t appreciate.
Sam Collier is a servant, or page, of John Smith. As such, he joins the group of adventurers who are bound for Virginia to found a settlement and discover riches for England. As the three small ships set sail, he was happy to find a new friend in one of the other boys on board, Nate Peacock, a servant of one of the gentlemen in the group. Sam greatly admires John Smith and loves to listen to the tales of his adventures being taken captive by the Turks. Not everyone on board likes his master, though, and long before they reach the New World, Smith is accused of mutiny and put under arrest. He is eventually freed, but will he ever regain the respect of the men?
After they finally arrive in Virginia, everyone is shocked that John Smith is appointed, in sealed orders from the Virginia Company, to be part of the Council who rule the new settlement. The gentlemen are aghast that someone lower in rank than themselves might be able to order them around! When Smith turns out to be the only person able to trade with the Indians for food, he is grudgingly allowed onto the Council—but will he be allowed to stay in that position? And when sickness strikes and the settlers run out of food, will anyone even survive? As things get really bad, Sam starts wondering if he and Smith are being hardened by their experiences, to the point that they don’t care about other people.
This account follows the actual events of the first couple of years of the Jamestown settlement pretty closely, as far as I can tell. We enjoyed reading this book, which really brought to life the conditions faced by those early settlers in America. There were a number of scenes, as I mentioned above, that I didn’t like, but they were true-to-life. Just be aware of them before you hand the book to a child.
WARNING: In chapter 3, John Smith is threatened with hanging, and there is discussion of how the natives in the West Indies use poison arrows and are cannibals. Chapter 4 describes an attack by the Indians in Virginia. Chapter 5, page 64 has the exclamation, “By God.” In chapter 6, a boy is killed by Indians, men are injured in attacks, and a boy uses the word “curse”. In chapter 7, men die of fever. In chapter 8, one man threatens to kill another and there is a fight with the Indians. Then there is a fight between the settlers and a man ends up being executed. In chapter 9 a man is tortured by the Indians. This was graphic enough that I did not read it aloud.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15