A Kingdom Strange : the Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke (Nonfiction: James Horn) c. 2010

Summary: In 1587, John White led 117 men, women and children to Roanoke Island off the coast of Virginia, with the hope of establishing an English colony. A month after arriving, facing diminishing supplies, White returned back to England to persuade the expeditions powerful backer, Sir Walter Raleigh, to evacuate the colonists. War with Spain, however, meant that White was unable to return to Roanoke for another 3 years. He would never see again the family and friends that he left behind. Historian Horn unravels the history of the colonization attempt, and provides theories to account for the colonists disappearance. 

Review: As a historian, in particular one affiliated with colonial Williamsburg, Horn certainly knows his territory. He is at his best when chronicling the history of the colony up to its demise. The story falls apart a bit at the end, where Horn attempts to provide an authoritative epitaph for the settlement. Using second-hand tales gathered by later English settlers 20-30 years after the disappearance, Horn presents the reader with the story of the colony’s end. Given the treatment that rumors of gold and riches receive (and rightly so) earlier in the book, it’s difficult to lend a lot of credibility to similar accounts at the books end. Yet this is what the author attempts in conjuring his conclusion, plausible though it reads, out of thin air. It’s not, for the most part, great or earth-shaking research, but it is a fun quick read.

Read-a-likes: For more upbeat reading of the first English settlers, Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick and Jamestown, 1544-1699 by Carl Bridenbaugh are worth a look. For something a bit lighter but set in the same-ish time and place, Deceptions by Marilyn Clay or Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper are worth a look.

Availability: This item is available at the Lake Bluff Public Library as a book. Click here to check on the availability.


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