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Blood on the River: Summary & Characters

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  • 0:04 The Founding of…
  • 0:44 London, England
  • 2:10 Land, Ho!
  • 3:23 New World Rivalries
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson gives a summary of the book 'Blood on the River: James Town 1607' by Elisa Carbone. We'll go over a brief summary of the story and then learn about the main characters in the book.

The Founding of Jamestown Colony

Can you imagine leaving your home and traveling across the ocean to an unexplored 'new world'? This is exactly what happens to 11-year-old orphan Samuel Collier in the novel Blood on the River: James Town, 1607, a 2006 novel by Elisa Carbone. The story is told through Samuel's perspective, as the author introduces readers to well-known historical figures including John Smith, Chief Powhatan, and his daughter, Pocahontas. Amid famine, war, mutiny, and other conflicts, the novel covers the founding years from 1607-1610 of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia through the eyes of young Samuel.

London, England

Blood on the River opens in London, England, in 1606. Following his mother's death, Samuel lands at an orphanage run by Reverend Hunt. The Reverend chooses Samuel for an important task - they join a mission for the Virginia Company, a commercial organization seeking riches and opportunity in the new world. Gentleman officers and common laborers sign seven-year contracts with the company. Reverend Hunt is a missionary hoping to spread holy Christian teachings.

Samuel is appointed to the position of page or servant to Captain John Smith. Smith is a criminal with a rough past who has joined the expedition in hopes of starting a new life in the new world. Since Captain Smith bridges both gentleman and commoner classes, he is uniquely able to appeal to the colonists as a political ally, but the officers consider Smith a liar and a traitor. Smith is put in chains on several occasions and sent to the gallows more than once. Samuel, Hunt, and Smith board the flag ship Susan Constant and, in the company of the Godspeed and the Discovery, begin their transatlantic voyage.

On the long journey across the Atlantic, Samuel forges alliances and grievances below deck with his fellow pageboys, Richard, James, George, and Nathaniel. The leading officers include Sir Wingfield, a high-ranking officer in the Virginia Company; Newport, the one-armed captain of the Susan Constant; Gosnold, captain of the Godspeed; and Ratcliffe, captain of the Discovery.

Land, Ho!

On April 26, 1607, the voyagers finally make landfall in Virginia. The construction of the Jamestown colony ensues in May. Wingfield is elected the first President of Jamestown. Colonists explore Virginia in search of gold and silver but always come back empty-handed. In June, Captain Newport and his crew return to England, promising to return later that fall with more provisions.

Colony of Jamestown
Jamestown

Famine and Mutiny

Over the course of 1607, disease and famine strike Jamestown, eliminating half its population. Wingfield is caught hoarding food and removed from his position as president. Captain Ratcliffe takes his place. Captain Smith gradually rises in the ranks and becomes the designated person to trade with the natives. In December, Smith leads an expedition upriver, but when the party returns several weeks later, Smith is not among them. By January 1608, only 50 colonists remain. With depleted food stores, a group of officers mutiny. They attempt to take control of the remaining ship, the Godspeed. They're leaving the remaining commoners in the colony to starve. Captain Smith returns in the nick of time, accompanied by a group of Powhatan Indians. They prevent the mutiny and desertion of the officers.

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