1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy by James Horn

1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy by James Horn

James Horn comes to the blog today with a non-fiction title that stretches back to the nascent moments in American Democracy and the odd juxtapositions of freedom and slavery in the story narrated by Dan Woren


Focused on the Jamestown colony established by the Virginia company along the banks of the James River, the tale here examines the first gathering of a group of citizens: landowners in good standing with the company and the colony, and their first steps to a representative governing body, all while the worst choice in those early days are heading to the shore in the form of a privateer taken by pirates and carrying the first slaves from Africa to the Americas. And this is actually why I grabbed this title – the moments when greed and profit overrode compassion, honor, morality and sense, and to see just why (or how) such a thing could happen. Jamestown is a quickly forgotten chapter in American History, and most only know it for the failures – not that the colony actually survived and thrived for near on 100 years, the first English settlement on what would become US Soil.

Horn carefully presents the political and social dynamics, all intricately woven with commercial and financial interests, contrasting the model created here with the British influence with the Canadian model of a more trading-post style, or the Dutch settlements of New York, as the model here in Jamestown quickly outpaced the others in terms of success and wealth, and set a precedent that would reverberate for years to come in the America South, incorporating the tendency that humans have to look at those who are ‘different’ as something to be feared, dismissed or subjugated, as they are not ‘as worthy’ as those who come from the ‘discoverers and settlers’ of the lands. But, there were reasons, not all of them directly related to the “goodness’ or ‘evilness’ of the people in charge, but were responsible for things going horribly wrong nonetheless, if serving to provide a loose framework for the America we live in today. Mixing in a fairly easy-to-understand style with the occasional run on sentence, or moments and questions left unanswered after a focus on one particular person or moment or another, this isn’t a solidly “I have the answers” now book, but a gateway into a better understanding of a chapter in history that is often misunderstood.

Narration for this story is provided by Dan Woren, and his voice clearly presents the information and moves listeners through the text without muddling up the works. There is a ton of information provided here, some opinions and plenty of moments that were real ‘I never knew” moments, all holding interest and furthering questions for more digging into points made or situations unearthed. While the book is fairly chronological, it starts to unravel a bit in the last quarter or so, which did require a bit more attention as the material was unfamiliar to me, but when I finished it the pieces mostly fell together, with only the lingering questions about what became of Sandys and some thinking on the lasting echoes of the choices made then that still are relevant to today’s climate.

Stars: Overall: 4 Narration 4 Story 4

1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy by James Horn

Title: 1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy
Author: James Horn
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction, Setting: American
Narrator: Dan Woren
Published by: Best Books, Hachette Audio
ISBN: 1549171135
Published on: 16 October, 2018
Source: Hachette Audio
Pages: 288
Audio Length: 6 Hours: 47 minutes
Rated: four-stars
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See this Title on Goodreads

An extraordinary year in which American democracy and American slavery emerged hand in hand

Along the banks of the James River, Virginia, during an oppressively hot spell in the middle of summer 1619, two events occurred within a few weeks of each other that would profoundly shape the course of history. In the newly built church at Jamestown, the General Assembly--the first gathering of a representative governing body in America--came together. A few weeks later, a battered privateer entered the Chesapeake Bay carrying the first African slaves to land on mainland English America.

In 1619, historian James Horn sheds new light on the year that gave birth to the great paradox of our nation: slavery in the midst of freedom. This portentous year marked both the origin of the most important political development in American history, the rise of democracy, and the emergence of what would in time become one of the nation's greatest challenges: the corrosive legacy of racial inequality that has afflicted America since its beginning.

A copy of this title was provided via Hachette Audio for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.


About James Horn

James Horn is the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. He is author and editor of five books on colonial American history, including A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America and A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.


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