Blood on the River: James Town, 1607

Brief Description: 12 yo British boy, enlisted as a page for Captain John Smith, joins the voyage to settle Jamestown, Virginia. Sequel is Poison in the Colony.

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Historical Era: ,

Date Range: 1606-1610

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Original Publication: 2006

Suitable for Grades: 5-8th

Target Audience: Middle Grade

Librarian's Review

Samuel Collier is an eleven-year-old orphan in London with meager prospects and an outsized temper when he is recruited to be Captain John Smith’s page for the Virginia Company’s profit-seeking expedition to start a colony in the New World. After brief introductory scenes in London, the story gets underway with 104 passengers spread among three stinky, rat-infested ships sailing to Virginia. The sea voyage is difficult so a brief stop on the paradise island of Nevis with its hot springs and plenty of food provides a nicely depicted relief. Young Samuel adopts a hostile attitude toward the other two boys on the ship, but learns a powerful lesson from Captain Smith about the necessity to cooperate in harsh conditions.

It is the first lesson among many that Samuel will learn as Captain Smith seems to be the only competent leader at the Jamestown settlement. Life at the new settlement is not easy. The people face many dangers from the wilderness, sickness, lack of food and from the wary Native Americans, who are sensitively portrayed. Some of the other English settlers are minor lords who know nothing about survival in the wilderness and moreover expect to be served. The Reverend Robert Hunt also has important moral lessons to impart to Samuel. The author does a fantastic job of imagining what young Samuel might be thinking and feeling as he experiences this incredible but dangerous time in a new Virginia.

If you are interested in learning about one of America’s earliest settlements, I highly recommend this book. Samuel Collier, whose name really is on the passenger list for the Susan Constant, is a young boy about whom not much is known, making him an ideal vessel for the author to explore the history. Most of the characters in the novel are based on real people. The introduction to each chapter is a quote from actual primary sources, which can lead to a good discussion on reliable source materials. Other material includes a map of the Chesapeake Bay area and an author’s note about her sources and where her fiction deviates from the historical record. You can also find a study guide here on Elisa Carbone’s website. Other educational materials pertaining to events in this novel can be found at the National Park Service’s website for Historic Jamestowne and Fort Monroe (which is called Point Comfort in the novel.)

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