Surviving Jamestown: The Adventures of Young Sam Collier
Gail Langer Karwoski
Illustrated by Paul Casale
Ages 8 to 12
Peachtree Press, 2001, 1-56145-239-4
Sam Collier is sure that he is “the luckiest boy in England” because he is going to be one of the first people to settle the new English colony in Virginia. He has heard all kinds of stories about the new land and he imagines that he will soon be living in a place where there are “rivers of gold” and where the natives are “as gentle as small children.” What could be better than to be John Smith’s servant bound for a wondrous land full of riches.
It isn’t long however before Sam is beginning to wonder a little about the nature of this voyage. Soon after they leave England his own master’s life is threatened when John Smith is accused of inciting a mutiny. Sam quickly comes to see that the high born “gentlemen” will not tolerate someone of John’s social position advising them on what to do. On reaching Virginia, these same gentlemen will not allow John to be a member of the council. At the same time they refuse to work, clearly feeling that it is beneath them to do any of the menial work that is required to build their new settlement.
This is only one of the problems that the settlers have. Far from being “gentle” and “simple” people the local Indians have a complex society and many of them are not pleased to have the Englishmen on their land; they attack the settlers ferociously at every opportunity. Others are friendlier, giving the English gifts of food and trading with them. Over time Sam comes to appreciate that the English could benefit by watching the Indians and by learning from them.
The boy also comes to see that John Smith is not quite the man Sam thought he was and Sam has to accept that his master has flaws and faults just like any other man. Against the backdrop of hardship, disease, starvation, and death, Sam grows quickly forming precious friendships and discovering where his own inner strengths lie.
Gail Langer Karwoski is truly skilled at bringing history to life. Though very little is known about Sam Collier and the other boys who helped found the Jamestown settlement, she manages to give her characters great depth and complexity. The experiences of the settlers are presented in their true, often very disturbing form, and readers are left with no illusions about how hard life was for the English people who first tried to call Virginia their home.
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