Book Reviews: The Wealth of Jamestown
Loved reading about Jamestown residents, and the intrigue involved. Clothing details, the reality of slavery, women’s rights in the colony as compared to England, the accumulation of wealth, politics, romance, this book has it all. Really wanted the story to continue. Was most surprised about James Blair! He was not the man I thought him to be. Be sure to read this book!!
—Carol Schmidt, Williamsburg, VA
This is a great story about a part of our history that is so familiar, yet still far away. A romance set in colonial times, the story describes strong men and powerful women who face the challenges
of a harsh world filled with warfare and piracy. The reader will be a part of a great adventure of colonial Virginia.
—Brian A. Moore, Mayor, City of Petersburg, Virginia
Everyone loves a great read. And this is a great read! It’s got everything a reader craves: intrigue, suspense, power struggles of the mighty and the commoner, and the tantalizing clashes of love and money. It’s the inside story not taught in the schools — one of the most tumultuous and exciting periods in history. Louis XIV is on the throne of France, England has just fired a king and hired William and Mary as new monarchs, and Virginia simply wants to sell its tobacco, while pirates threaten commerce on the seas. And the reader is on the inside of the entire theatre of action on both sides of the Atlantic!
— Dr. Richard Oliver, founder and CEO of American Sentinel University, former business executive and college professor and author of a number of bestselling books.
It is a privilege for Jamestown Settlement to have been part of the inspiration for Barbara McLennan’s latest work. Through her fictional account, a period of Virginia’s history is vibrantly retold.
— Philip G. Emerson, Executive Director, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
Great book, enjoyed reading about Jamestown. I did not know much about Jamestown, and was happy to receive this book as part of the first reads books. I loved how the author included historical figures from Jamestown in the novel, and also how she included a genealogy in the back of the book about them. After reading this book I want to learn more about Jamestown, and it’s founding members. I shall be recommending this book to my friends and family that love history.
—Aimee, Goodreads Review
Author Barbara McLennan has come up with an interesting book, and even more interesting, it covers a little tapped mine of American history: the time around 1685-1700, or, to put it in recognizable terms, the time of George Washington’s grandfather. Very few books, fiction or non, are dedicated to that time frame. One jumps from Columbus to the Pilgrims and then to ol’ George.
But this block of time, when Virginia was the oldest and wealthiest of Britain’s colonies, and becoming wealthier by the year, was a time of hardship, a time of experiment and a time of building. Men were rugged and tough. Challenges and fights to the death were common – over trivial causes. Women were just as tough – but in a different way. They were smart and savvy, and were appreciated for those virtues. In those days of boundless distances, men were away for long periods and it would be the wives who not only ran the home, but the plantation or the business.
Jamestown, circa 1685, had been around for nearly eight decades. Ships from England were arriving regularly with new settlers and manufactured goods in exchange for the commodity of Virginia wealth: tobacco. Tobacco had become such a major gold mine, as it were, that goods were bought sold with tobacco as the unit of currency.
The Wealth of Jamestown is peppered with a very large cast of characters, all real, and a few perhaps “enhanced.” But the real people, the Colonial Governors, preachers, and wealthy plantation owners with descendants whose names are well known throughout history, have been immaculately researched, and shed some light on this unilluminated time. Nicholsons, Byrds, Carters, Blairs, Harrisons, Parkes and Custises are names that today are household names in Virginia.
The book discusses not only governors and merchants and planters, but the thriving business in piracy – or, as the pirates considered themselves, merely merchant sailors who a) skirted the French ships that were equally interested in helping themselves to the continent, and b) skirted the laws they believed did not apply to them.
Central to the story is a love affair that had been thwarted by an arranged-for-money marriage. As expected, the marriage was unhappy, so Sarah and William merely “skirted” those laws as well. But the love story is coincidental to what the author is looking to do, and becomes a vehicle for telling the intrinsic tale: how the colony of Virginia operated, how it grew, how the rule of law took hold when Jamestown was the capital of Virginia, and, of course, how it became wealthy.
Author McLennan was wise when she chose to write historic fiction: it gives her far more latitude in stating her point. And, of course, it makes for a much livelier read. Key to good historic fiction, of course, is the “plausibility” issue. Might this have happened? Was it in keeping with the characters? The times? The issues? Might these people have known each other and interacted as portrayed? With the exception of using more modern language, everything in The Wealth of Jamestown rings true.
It is a solid good read – not only for history lovers, but even for middle and high school readers who, sadly enough, are usually required to learn history on their own. Barbara McLennan makes it pleasant to learn!
—Feather Schwartz Foster, for CHESAPEAKE STYLE, Warsaw, VA
’Wealth of Jamestown’ draws back curtain of time
Author Barbara N. McLennan draws the curtain of time back in this historical novel, letting us look through the window of the most affluent and notable citizens.
McLennan focuses on a small circle of friends and family connected to the Rev. James Blair and his wife, Sarah Harrison Blair. Theirs is a story of love, power and politics.
The story begins in 1685, right before the Blairs are married, when Sarah is only 17. At the opening of the book she is engaged to the sheriff of Yorktown, William Roscoe. Though in love with Roscoe, Sara is pressured by her family to marry Blair. The story continues as Blair, obsessed with founding a college in Virginia, works to start the College of William and Mary. His pushy, pompous manners and single-minded obsession to start a college and be its first president made a lot of influential colonists angry and unwilling to help him.
Blair also went on a couple of long voyages to England in pursuit of the college, leaving Sarah to run the home and plantation, her inheritance, on her own.
McLennan helps us see that the colonies had some very strong women. Rules in the colonies were a bit different than in Europe, and women of substance, education, and birth had a strong influence on the culture and the society that would become America. “The Wealth of Jamestown” is a book of historical fiction that brings to life the inhabitants of Jamestown and the colonies in the 1600s. An entertaining read, especially for those who love early American history.
McLennan’s work and education seem to have had a strong influence on her writing. According to her website, she holds doctorate and law degrees and has penned five other books and numerous academic articles. A former docent at Jamestown Settlement, McLennan currently assists the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in preparing for the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. She is also on the board of the Chesapeake Bay Writers organization.
Elizabeth Macfarlane of Yorktown loves reading and learning and says she “started writing just as soon as I could put letters together to form words.
—Elizabeth Macfarlane, HRBooks contributor, DAILY PRESS, Newport News, VA
The Wealth of Jamestown covers the time between 1685 and 1700 using a romance between the plantation owner’s daughter, Sarah, and the young sheriff, William, of Yorktown to illustrate an early history of Virginia. McLennan who serves as a docent at the Jamestown Settlement incorporates many historical characters using her extensive research to enliven a time most are barely aware of.
The first few chapters, with its plethora of characters and actions unfamiliar to modern life, feel dense and confusing at times. However, the reader is then rewarded with a charming love story and a fascinating historical overview. One realizes that with the appalling loss of life through disease, birthing, dueling and skirmishes with Indians encouraged by the French, the survivors, both men and women were strong and resourceful. Many plantations were overseen by the women in the families because of the death or temporary absence of the men.
McLennan especially brings to life James Blair, villain, husband of Sarah and clergyman with political connections. The reader will dislike him as much as his contemporaries disliked his rigidity and single-mindedness. Although Jamestown was eventually deserted, many of the characters enmeshed within the story were the antecedents of the founders of the United States. The Wealth of Jamestown painlessly presents an early and difficult time in American history.
—Judith Helburn, Story Circle Books
The Wealth of Jamestown is tobacco and the streets are paved with gold. Tobacco was the medium of exchange in the late 1600s. Some planters became so focused on their money crop that they planted tobacco in the dirt streets and roads. With no way to print money and no banks, the colonists used tobacco notes to transact business. So, the streets were literally paved with gold.
McLennan, a docent at Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum located less than one mile from the actual landing site in 1607*, uses historic facts as the basis of her story. Her joy in explaining the origins of our country to thousands of annual visitors, led her to research more details about the major players and events from 1607 to the early 1700s. This book is factual and humorous as McLennan explores human interactions in the growing colony.
By the late 1600s the colony had spread from Jamestown and the capitol moved to Williamsburg and Jamestown remained the shipping center. By this time the colonists considered themselves Virginians. England was where they did business. What happened there had little or no impact on Virginia. Certain natural leaders served in the General Assembly* while becoming wealthy from their golden crop. Benjamin Harrison was one such influential colonist.**
This story revolves around the love triangle between Sarah Harrison, William Roscoe, a business man and sheriff, and the Reverend James Blair, a preacher in the Church of England. Sarah engaged to be married. However, Mr. Harrison determined that her marriage to James would offer the Harrison’s more power. Being an obedient daughter, Sarah married the minister.
Everyone knew that James did not find women attractive and that Sarah and William were still seeing each other. Sarah was well-read and an astute business woman who managed the Blair household, properties, and business dealings. James, having no head for business, spent his time as minister of Williamsburg’s Church of England, attempting to consolidate his power and build a college. After lengthy negotiations in London, Blair returned to Williamsburg with a charter to build a college. He managed to draw a salary as president of the college that had not yet been built. This alienated his few remaining supporters. Yet, he persisted and eventually the College of William and Mary was constructed.All of these circumstances led to unusual situations as Virginia.
The Wealth of Jamestown is the first of a three-book series that is fun to read and meets Virginia’s Standards of Learning. The next two books continue to follow the Blair’s and Harrison’s as they forge business relationships and meet with unsavory characters.
*That site soon became the primary center of commerce in Virginia. Jamestown had an elected General Assembly in 1619, a full year before the Pilgrims sailed from England. Historic Jamestowne is a national park and the site of major archeology discoveries.
**Two of his descendants became presidents of the United States, Benjamin Harrison VIII and William Henry Harrison.
—Sharon Dillon, energywriter.me
Just finished reading “The Wealth of Jamestown”. One word: excellent! I don’t think I’ve ever read a book of historical fiction before. I really enjoyed it. Chapter one hooked me, and it was off to the races.
While there were a lot of characters, it was manageable. I never felt I was going under. The scholarship is evident, but not preachy. The author speeds the plot along. I am a very slow reader, but found this a quick read for me (two days). Decent readers could read it in one day. I learned a lot about a cast of characters who shaped the town in which I live.
I thought including the Genealogy was great. It seems the author took most liberties with Miss Sarah…who goes from a possible half-wit to heroine. I suppose a woman who could say “no obey” at her wedding shouldn’t be underestimated. And I’ll never look at the Indian school again without thinking of the monster, James Blair, possibly taking liberties with the young Indian boys. One certainly doesn’t hear this side of the man when taking a tour of the Wren Building.
A fine read… I recommend it wholeheartedly. Well Done!
—J.K. Thompson, Williamsburg, Va, Amazon Reviewer
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