The Virginia Venture is an innovative exploration of how a wider public of women, children, and men across English society contributed to the foundation of the first permanent English colony in America: Jamestown, Virginia. Drawing on sources from dozens of archives in the United States and England, it provides a fresh perspective on how capital and labor were mobilized to help build the colony—not from the perspective of elite investors alone, but from the point of view of ordinary people across the country. Women and the laboring poor have been overlooked in these efforts: The Virginia Venture brings them center stage.
As well as exploring how society at home supported colonization, the book examines the impact that colonization had on English society, including changes in attitudes and behaviors—from the provision of poor relief to domestic tobacco cultivation. The book shows that as English society became more tightly invested in colonization in America, this sparked contestations over the prioritization of “English" and “American" interests. English social history in the seventeenth century cannot be understood without this imperial perspective. The Virginia Venture is essential reading for scholars of English social and imperial history and early American history. It draws on the methods of transatlantic history, showing the intimate connections between England and America, but it is deeply rooted in the social history archive of England. It demonstrates how English archives can be used, to their fullest extent, to illuminate this crucial period of American history.
Misha Ewen is Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Bristol.
"In The Virginia Venture, Misha Ewen breathes life into a long and tired conversation about early seventeenth-century English colonization and the Virginia Company, centering women’s networks and motivations, the role of England’s poor and marginalized, and conversations about colonization that ripped through smaller English communities....Ewen’s reconstruction of networks, and the sheer variety of source material on a range of English people who leave differing im‐ pacts on the archive, is a testament to her skill. Her success also reminds us that there is still original and creative work left for us to do."
[T]his excellent book provides a persuasive and well-supported argument that the idea of 'America permeated
English society, from the humble hearthside of a rural laborer to the House of Commons.' By paying attention to English people traditionally excluded from narratives of the early empire, including women and the poor, and reading sources in capacious and creative ways, Ewen provides scholars with many ways to reconsider our understandings of early seventeenth-century England. The Virginia Venture is a welcome addition to historical scholarship that has long neglected the early 1600s as a period of imperial change.
~The William and Mary Quarterly
"This colourful and well-researched study explores the relationship between England and its first American colony in its early years. It does this from the English perspective using a wide range of printed and manuscript sources: personal letters, ballads, sermons, broadsides, travel accounts, legal records, royal proclamations, petitions, and recipes explain how Virginia was incorporated into English everyday life....As the colonial enterprise brought ‘texture and colour’ to English society and imagination, so Ewen enriches our knowledge of this period of expanding horizons and shifting identities."
~Family & Community History
"Based on impeccable archival research and rich in detailed illustrative material, The Virginia Venture presents a fascinating portrait of the myriad social and economic connections that shaped how people interpreted and intervened in the emergence of an English Atlantic. This beautifully written and crafted book makes a major contribution to the literature on English colonization in the first half of the seventeenth century."
~James Horn, author of A Brave and Cunning Prince: The Great Chief Opechancanough and the War for America
"In this lucid, colorful and original study, Misha Ewen paints a portrait of early Virginia not just in relation to England but through it, from the perspective of the eastern side of the Atlantic. Many skillfully drawn vignettes of the everyday form a bigger picture in The Virginia Venture, demonstrating how extensively the colony lived in English consciousness and culture before it was fully viable, and how in the end this interest was crucial for its success."
~Malcolm Gaskill, University of East Anglia
Shortlisted for the Gladstone Prize, granted by the Royal Historical Society