‘Jamestown’ TV Series: Silly, Or Gripping Period Drama?

A friend recommends the PBS series “Jamestown” which ran from 2017 to 2019. “Life was tough in 1619, especially if you were a woman traded to be married. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fight back…” It is available from PBS and from numerous streaming services.

It received mixed reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

British and Irish media critics also offered mixed impressions, as summarized by Wikipedia: an expensive soap opera, but fun. One critic questioned the accuracy of the show, especially its portrait of women. Another said it was “absurd, generic or risible.” Still another found the show to be a “silly but gripping period drama.”

The historical significance of the Jamestown settlement should not be lost: it started out as a colony of more than 100 settlers in 1607, on the James River, named in honor of King James. They suffered from malaria, and became ill from drinking river water. Their early dreams of discovering gold were dashed. They spent too much time searching instead of growing food. They were miserable and many starved to death in the winter of 1607-08. John Smith brought some much-needed reality to the colony, laying down the law that those who did not work, would not eat, and persuading the Powhatan tribe to trade corn.

In 1608, about 800 more colonists arrived in Jamestown.

But tensions with the Powhatan Indians grew. They stopped trading and attacked the colonists. They had to remain in a fort they built to be safe. They nearly starved, and ate rats, mice and snakes. Only 60 were still alive in 1610.

In 1613, John Rofle developed a high-grade tobacco that the colonists learned to grow, that became popular in England, and made the colony financially successful. The Virginia corporation thought of the colonists as employees, but they wanted a share of the profits. The corporation responded by letting the colonists own land, giving each individual who could pay their way to Virginia a 50-acre land land. If colonists couldn’t afford to pay in advance for the land, they were encouraged to work as indentured servants.

Annoyed that Virginia’s governor represented the corporation’s interests back in London, the colonists pressured for more local control. The Virginia Company decided that burgesses, or elected representatives, of the colonists would meet once a year in an assembly, beginning in 1618. It became the House of Burgesses in 1642, the first representative assembly in the American colonies.

The story of Pocahontas, daughter of the Powhatan Native American chief, is largely mythology. She was captured by the colonists and held for ransom in 1613 at age 16. She was forced to convert to Christianity and baptized under the name Rebecca. While Rolfe did marry her, at age 17, and she bore a son, Thomas Rolfe, at age 18, she died in England in 1617 at the age of 21. Thomas Rolfe was a symbol who helped establish peace between the Native Americans and the colonists.


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