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Big Chief Elizabeth: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America
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Big Chief Elizabeth: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  530 ratings  ·  52 reviews
In April 1586, Queen Elizabeth I acquired a new and exotic title. A tribe of Native Americans had made her their weroanza—a word that meant "big chief". The news was received with great joy, both by the Queen and her favorite, Sir Walter Ralegh. His first American expedition had brought back a captive, Manteo, who caused a sensation in Elizabethan London. In 1587, Manteo w ...more
Paperback, 344 pages
Published October 19th 2001 by Picador (first published 2000)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,084)
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Jason
After traveling to the Outer Banks last summer on vacation and actually walking over the territory that the first colonists lived on, I had to learn more. If, like me, you have been to this remote area of N. Carolina and you want to learn more, start with this book.

What is most useful about this book, and there are many useful qualities, is that it does give a fair amount of background to the political and social scene of the late 1500's. After reading this book, I realised that our astronauts h
...more
Kressel Housman
I chose this book with my usual criterion for history books: several reviewers said it “read like a novel.” Unfortunately, I don’t agree. It focused on the personalities behind the early American colonies, which definitely helped, but I found my mind wandering fairly often. Also, since the quotes from the primary sources (the “dialogue” of history books) were written in Elizabethan English, it was a bit of a chore to get through all the odd spelling. The history itself is worth the effort, but b ...more
Jim Drewery
Giles Milton offers up an account of the early days of English exploration and its halting attempts at colonization in North America, in his third “non-fiction” offering, entitled Big Chief Elizabeth. The book centers largely around the determined efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh to establish an English colony in the New World during the Elizabethan era of the late sixteenth century. but provides plenty of background on the exploits of other famous and not so famous English explorers of the era as ...more
Jim Drewery
Giles Milton offers up an account of the early days of English exploration and its halting attempts at colonization in North America, in his third “non-fiction” offering, entitled Big Chief Elizabeth. The book centers largely around the determined efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh to establish an English colony in the New World during the Elizabethan era of the late sixteenth century. but provides plenty of background on the exploits of other famous and not so famous English explorers of the era as ...more
Darren Anderson
This is another fantastic work courtesy of Giles Milton. Why couldn't the history books in school be this interesting? It is remarkable how smoothly he transitions between the stories of so many fascinating characters - and there are a lot of them. They are all there - Raleigh, Smith, Grenville, Elizabeth, James, Drake, Pocahontas, etc. but no account I've read blends all their stories as masterfully as this one. It was a hard book to put down, and one that I wished would keep going. Thankfully, ...more
David
May 14, 2014 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adult readers with a strong interest in history, biography, geography, sociology and anthropology.
Recommended to David by: Available to member of the Folio organization
Shelves: history
I stumbled upon the book in a quarterly offering. It sounded interesting and since I knew nothing about Jamestown and the settlement of the Outer Banks, I thought this would be a good place for me to start. Luckily, I chose the absolutely perfect book. It's seriously researched and written. I learned so much about our early history (US) and, at the same time, the history of England during Elizabeth I's reign and that of King James.

A few pages into the book I had to laugh when it turned out that
...more
Lucynell
The attempt to settle the New World is one of the most spectacular undertakings of the Age of Discovery and it would take a bad writer to mess it up. Here we have a good example of how one can do that. Quoting from contemporary sources is awesome, retaining the Elizabethan spelling is not. It makes for frustrating reading. Then the author dwells on minor subjects and characters for longer than necessary and rushes over others. It is often unfocused and moving back and forth in time serves absolu ...more
Tony
BIG CHIEF ELIZABETH: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America. (2000). Giles Milton. ****.
This is a narrative history in just over three hundred pages of events that are usually covered in ten pages or so in standard history texts – the first attempts at colonization of the American wilderness. The driving force in this history was Sir Walter Ralegh. We learn early on that “Ralegh’s name was spelled by both himself and his contemporaries in dozens of different ways, inc
...more
Erin
Big Chief Elizabeth is a non-fiction account of the English colonization of America. It's such a fast-paced and entertaining story that it reads more like fiction at times. I found it difficult to put down.

The story draws from historical accounts of the English efforts to colonize America, frequently citing journals, government papers and long-forgotten texts. The central figure in the story is Sir Walter Ralegh, who was a hugely important figure in Elizabethan England and devoted to establishin
...more
Isabel
I noticed on the back of the book, people refer to it as a "story." When I looked at the bibliography, I think I figured out why: the author used a lot of secondary sources. As a result, this is not a stuffy catalogue of facts collected from ship manifests and court records. It's a pretty juicy little tale full of details like John Smith "wearily nodding his head" and King James "scratching his codpiece." I suspect neither of those actions were documented, but they do flesh out the story nicely. ...more
Steve
I've just read this on the back of reading another book on American history, 'Savage Kingdom' by Benjamin Woolley. In contrast to that book, Big Chief Elizabeth is more of a popular history. It's ultimately a true story, told as a story. It mentions historical sources and has a fairly comprehensive bibliography at the back but doesn't have the many pages of accompanying notes that some other history books I've read do. It was less concerned with the politics and detail than the general overview ...more
Steve
Milton has produced a more entertaining follow-up to his previous outing in charting the history of Elizabethan voyages of discovery to America. Cabot's discoveries in 1497 had sparked intense interest in the possible riches to be made across the Atlantic, and even during the reign of Henry VIII this vision had drawn ambitious adventurers to it. In 1536 a wealthy London merchant, Richard Hore, inspired by the appearance at court of a captured South American native from William Hawkins' expeditio ...more
Caroline
This book explores the Elizabethan colonisation of North America, stretching from John Cabot's voyage in 1497 up to the finally successful settling of Jamestown in 1611 - although the real focus of the book is Walter Ralegh's repeated efforts to establish a permanent colony at Roanoke. You have to admire his persistence, and that of the colonists - no fewer than four attempts were made, most ending in death and starvation and disaster.

This isn't an especially scholarly read, and I do question so
...more
Dale
Growing up in the late 20th century as the world came more and more to resemble the much-invoked global village, I really took for granted the size and scope of the planet. I knew I could get on a plane and fly anywhere in a day or less, and wherever I got off the plane I'd be able to spend some travelers' checks on food, lodging and postcards. Even in history class, when learning about the age of exploration and the difficulties of crossing the Atlantic, I absorbed the information but never rea ...more
Meg
Probably the best part of this is all the primary sourcing that Milton does. Probably the worst part is how little context is given to colonialism, particularly in regards to prevailing philosophies about conversion and colonist/native interaction. And in general there's very little sense of popular opinion regarding these colonies, just a summation of upper-class intent and obstacles. Plus the author seems to be a little enamoured of Sir Walter Ralegh, and on top of that he straight up disses J ...more
T P Kennedy
A concise and perfectly readable account of the first English colonists in America. He's very strong in sketching the leading personalities behind the drive to colonise. The account of the politics back in England behind the colonisation is very well done. It's a bit weaker in sketching the impact of the colonists on the Indian way of life. Equally too he describes the mystery of the lost settlers of Roanoke but I'd have liked more coverage given to this. It's good but I'd have preferred a longe ...more
Lisa
Interesting account of the early attempts at English settlement in the New World. For those who vaguely remember learning about the 'lost colony' at Roanoke, this book goes into detail about the planning (or lack thereof) that went into the colony, its accidental planting at Roanoke when it was intended to be further north in the Chesapeake Bay area, and the political reasons why the colony was left to fend for itself for so long. It also gives a summation of a few theories as to what happened t ...more
Emily
Slightly overblown (do you really have to use Elizabethan language in the quotes--and there were a lot of quotes), but ultimately an informative easy read, well researched. It would have been a great resource for my US History classes.
Elizabeth
This is a history book - not a novel, not historical fiction. Excerpts from diaries of those people who were there blended with facts from the historical record. It is a very good book.
Jenny
What a fantastic book! I loved that the author told the story from both the Colonists and the English point of view. It started off a bit slow when he was explaining who everyone was, etc. but once the story got to the settlement at Roanoke I was hooked. I wish it had gone even further to explain how things progressed from 1610 - 1776. I want to know more!
C.G. Worrell
The amount of research that went into this book is staggering, but Giles Milton manages to tell the story in a way that's fresh, approachable, and suspenseful. I devoured this 350 page book in two days, sitting on pins and needles to learn the fate of the early colonists. These people had a suicidal sense of adventure, or nothing to lose (but their lives). The mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke still tugs at the heartstrings 400+ years later. I also liked how the author presented the Native A ...more
Andrew
This book provides a great account of the early years of the American colony. I've seen some of the other reviews mentioning that the Elizabethan English detracts from the story, but I actually found it made it more compelling to have first-hand accounts throughout the book, and Milton has done well to incorporate these in a way so that the book still reads like a novel. The situations the early colonists found themselves in was so precarious that you realise any of these small events could have ...more
Elizabeth Burgess
While history was one of my least favorite subjects in school (second only to PE), I really enjoyed this book! I found it quite a page-turner - anxious to find out what would happen to each batch of potential colonists. I very much enjoyed the direct quotes taken from the explorers' journals (found on almost every page.) The only downside for me was, at times, I found something just a tad annoying in the author's phrasing, word choice, etc. (This only occurred once every 50 pages or so) I now fi ...more
Rebecca Radnor
Incredibly readable; history presented as story telling. The book goes in depth into characters often overlooked in our history texts, such as Thomas Harriet, a close friend of Sir Walter Raleigh's who was his resident geek and solved a lot the technological problems Raleigh had realized had hindered British sailing to that point. It also explains exactly what John Rolfe's contributions were. Learned a few things, especially about Harriet, and had other facts clarified as they are put into the w ...more
Jeff
Unfortunately, it promises more than it delivers. Taunting us throughout the book with the prospect of what happened to the settlers in the failed Roanoake colony, only in the epilogue does Milton actually explain what he knows. It's a tragic, and fascinating piece that actually raises far more questions than it answers. Too bad Milton went about answering questions no one had asked, instead of the one thing that everyone would have loved to learn more about.
Rene
Aug 29, 2010 Rene rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
I thought that this book was a wonderful saga of how the English settled in the New World. The book covers stories of Sir Walter Raleigh and talks about how the state of Virginia was named after the " Virgin Queen "; Queen Elizabeth I. I found the details of all the expeditions a bit grafic for me and read past them swiftly. The story is a great one and I would recommend this book.
Abbey
From the hapless bumbling of Sir Humfry Gilbert and his faulty map-reading - it's no surprise if you've never heard of him - to the flamboyant, self-marketing Sir Walter Raleigh, the large cast of characters seems like an experiment in juxtaposition: put this person in the vicinity of that person, and surprising things happen.

Aamir Syed
Essential for anyone trying to understand how the English colonization of North America started and bred. Surprisingly, 'piracy' on Spanish 'treasure' ships was the prime Atlantic interest for English (including Virgin Queen) during those days and smoking/tobacco was the very first export from US of A (then Virginia)
Fraser
Excellent and easy to read as Milton is very adept at keeping things moving along so well. The interesting facts are never skipped over and the narrative holds the various characters and events together. I learned quite a bit more about Elizabethan attitudes and values as a result of reading this book. First class.
Adrian
History of failed attempts at colony making between 1584 and 1616. Gilbert, Grenville and Raleigh journeys all well covered. Milton's thesis is that British colonies only stood a chance once they were put on a war footing. And then the real killing started.
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British writer and journalist Giles Milton was born in Buckinghamshire in 1966. He has contributed articles for most of the British national newspapers as well as many foreign publications, and specializes in the history of travel and exploration. In the course of his researches, he has traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, Japan and the Far East, and the Americas.

Knowledgeable, insati
...more
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