Benjamin Woolley

Writer, Broadcaster and Academic

Savage Kingdom

Four centuries ago, and fourteen years before the Mayflower, a group of men - led by a one-armed ex-pirate, an epileptic aristocrat, a reprobate cleric and a government spy - left London aboard a fleet of three ships to start a new life in America. They arrived in Virginia in the spring of 1607, and set about trying to create a settlement on a tiny island in the James River. Despite their shortcomings and against the odds, they built Jamestown, a ramshackle outpost which laid the foundations of the British Empire and the United States of America.

Drawing on new discoveries, neglected sources and manuscript collections scattered across the world, Savage Kingdom challenges the textbook image of Jamestown as a mere money-making venture. It reveals a reckless, daring enterprise led by outcasts of the old world who found themselves interlopers in a new one. It charts their journey into a beautiful landscape and sophisticated culture that they found both ravishing and alien, which they yearned to possess, but threatened to destroy. It shows them trying to escape the ‘Savage Kingdom' that their homeland had become, and endeavouring to build one of the most glorious nations under the sun.

An intimate story in an epic setting, Woolley shows how the land of Pocahontas came to be drawn into a new global order, reaching from London to the Orinoco Delta, from the warring kingdoms of Angola to the slave markets of Mexico, from the gates of the Ottoman Empire to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

'A swashbuckling saga...sprightly and vivid.' Los Angeles Times

'In his addictively readable narrative, Woolley not only deconstructs the myth of Pocahontas to reveal a more complex truth, but also tells the multilayered story of how a ramshackle outpost of Jacobean England sowed the seeds of what eventually became the most powerful nation on earth.' Sunday Times

'Benjamin Woolley tells this story in direct, engaging prose, spreading before us a panorama, not just of the lives of the settlers and the natives and of the vacillating cordiality and hostility of their encounter with each other, but of the politics, intellectual climate and international relations which formed the wider context. His book is a delight.' Spectator