MAROONED: Jamestown, Shipwreck, and a New History of America’s Origin, Joseph Kelly, Ph.D.

30 October, 2018

“The U.S. loves its creation myths, and this mythmaking, myth-breaking history gives us a new character, Stephen Hopkins… Though Hopkins and those like him left few records, Kelly fleshes out the available glimpses with a vivid, detailed description of the settlement and its English and Native American contexts…Kelly’s dynamic narrative brings Jamestown to life and shows how history reflects the present as well as the past.” ―starred review, Booklist

For readers of Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, a groundbreaking history that makes the case for replacing Plymouth Rock with Jamestown as America’s founding myth. 

We all know the great American origin story. It begins with an exodus. Fleeing religious persecution, the hardworking, pious Pilgrims thrived in the wilds of New England, where they built their fabled city on a hill. Legend goes that the colony in Jamestown was a false start, offering a cautionary tale. Lazy louts hunted gold till they starved, and the shiftless settlers had to be rescued by English food and the hard discipline of martial law.

Neither story is true. In Marooned, Joseph Kelly reexamines the history of Jamestown and comes to a radically different and decidedly American interpretation of these first Virginians.

In this gripping account of shipwrecks and mutiny in America’s earliest settlements, Kelly argues that the colonists at Jamestown were literally and figuratively marooned, cut loose from civilization, and cast into the wilderness. The British caste system meant little on this frontier: those who wanted to survive had to learn to work and fight and intermingle with the nearby native populations. Ten years before the Mayflower Compact and decades before Hobbes and Locke, they invented the idea of government by the people. 150 years before Jefferson, they discovered the truth that all men were equal.

The epic origin of America was not an exodus and a fledgling theocracy. It is a tale of shipwrecked castaways of all classes marooned in the wilderness fending for themselves in any way they could–a story that illuminates who we are today.

“[A] stimulating history of Jamestown . . . a superb portrait of the founding, combining brilliant detail with epic sweep.” ―Starred review, Publishers Weekly

“An insightful re-examination of the 1607 Jamestown settlement . . . Kelly’s lively, heavily researched, frequently gruesome account gives a slight nod to Jamestown as the ‘better place to look for the genesis of American ideals.’” ―Starred review, Kirkus Reviews

“Joseph Kelley’s Marooned is a tale of intrigue, betrayal, and redemption from American’s colonial past. It is also a moving reimagining of the American story. Kelley’s history of Jamestown shows that America is a community born of marooned colonists, escaped slaves, and native inhabitants thrown together by an accident of history, and that the creed of liberty inscribed in the nation’s founding is not a foreign importation, but the unique inheritance of this potent brew.” ―William Egginton, author of THE SPLINTERING OF THE AMERICAN MIND

“Joseph Kelly’s Marooned re-tells the early American story with salutary attention to Native Americans, non-elite English settlers, and the dramas of shipwreck, maroonage, and self-determination. Familiar figures such as John Smith and Pocahontas get reinvented in the bloody story of Jamestown’s struggle against famine and incompetent leadership. Most excitingly, he offers new figures for the first English Americans, especially the rebellious commoner Stephen Hopkins, who lived, labored, and sometimes resisted authority in Bermuda, Jamestown, and eventually Plymouth Rock. Hopkins’s desire for liberty and struggle against aristocratic despotism make the marooned commoner a powerful figure for what was newly American about the early English experience of the New World.” ―Steve Mentz, author of SHIPWRECK MODERNITY: ECOLOGIES OF GLOBALIZATION 1550-1719