All memory is selective, for nations as for individuals. The year 1620 is etched into Plymouth Rock and the minds of most Americans as the birth date of this country. We hallow austere Pilgrims with a day of national gluttony. The Mayflower is iconic — the name of a moving company, a luxury Washington hotel and a recent best-seller.
But can you name the three ships that landed English colonists 13 years before the Pilgrims? Identify one person aboard, other than John Smith? Explain why they came and what happened to them? Jamestown’s 400th birthday arrives this year with a fleet of books to stir Americans from their historical amnesia. This awakening should be a snap. The saga of early Virginia has knights, knaves, shipwrecks, naked Indian dancers (cooing to sex-starved Englishmen, “Love you not me?”), and plenty of smoking and drinking. It’s pulp fiction compared to the family-friendly tale of pious Pilgrims dining with gentle Indians.