- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

HISTORIC JAMESTOWNE, Va. — Organizers are busily piecing together Jamestown’s 400th anniversary even as archaeologists here each day unearth new shards of the history that the 2007 celebration will endeavor to tell.

Historians and organizers of the quadricentennial say there is much more to the country’s first permanent English settlement, on the banks of the James River, than the popular stories of Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas passed down through generations in Virginia.

For example, colonists said one of the New World’s first Thanksgiving prayers after they landed here in the spring of 1607.

“It’s one of the most important national sites, because it’s our beginning,” Virginia preservation activist Paula K. Neely says.

Jamestown’s founding in 1607 predated by 13 years the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth in Massachusetts. It served as the first capital of Virginia and as the seat of the state’s first representative government until 1699, when the major statehouse burned down and the capital was moved to nearby Williamsburg. Jamestown ceased to exist as a town by the mid-1700s.

The settlement was sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, whose stockholders hoped to make a profit. The settlers managed to endure great difficulties for years and their venture became economically viable through cultivation of tobacco as a cash crop.

Today, the Historic Jamestowne site and the Jamestown Settlement-Living History Museum, although run by different organizations, are working to educate the public about the town’s significance and place in history. The historic site is located at the end of Colonial Parkway in Williamsburg; nearby is the museum, administered by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Both entities also are working with the state-run Jamestown 2007 organizers to plan the celebration.

U.S. Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, began the planning in 1996 as governor. He wanted the celebration to educate the country about Jamestown’s history and promote tourism and economic development.

Events will highlight the state’s cultural traditions and homegrown crops, including peanuts and wines.

“Many of our most treasured traditions evolved from the founding of Jamestown — representative government, free enterprise, individual opportunity, common law and cultural diversity,” says Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat. “This historic commemoration will be an occasion to rededicate ourselves to the continuing work of freedom, and to ensuring that all citizens share fully in the bright promise of America.”

Mr. Allen recently helped secure the 67 congressional co-sponsors necessary to authorize a Jamestown commemorative coin. Two versions — one in gold, the other in silver — are expected to be released in January 2007.

“These funds will help ensure that Jamestown’s 400th anniversary celebration will be a fitting tribute to the birthplace of American democracy and Virginia, the cradle of American liberty,” Mr. Allen said after the Senate passed the bill authorizing the coin in July.

Historians also credit Jamestown with giving birth to manufacturing in America. Settlers ran a successful glass-blowing factory, and remnants of the first furnace they used are at the site.

Organizers have lofty goals for the anniversary, which begins in May 2006 with a promotional sail along the East Coast and culminates in December 2007 with a gala salute.

They want Queen Elizabeth II, here for the 350th anniversary in 1957, and local celebrities to attend the America’s Anniversary Weekend celebration scheduled for May 13, 2007.

The date marks the 400th anniversary of the day that three ships — Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery — arrived on Virginia’s shores with the first 104 men and boys.

Organizers envision a massive national celebration featuring President Bush, state and national lawmakers, a 1,607-member choir and a 400-piece orchestra.

Between May and October 2006, a replica of the ship Godspeed is scheduled to make a 90-day voyage up the East Coast, stopping at ports such as Alexandria, Baltimore and New York City.

Organizers plan a National Teach-In for November 2006, when children will learn about Jamestown through a grade-specific curriculum developed for about 90,000 schools.

At Jamestown, the Archaearium and other new permanent exhibits will showcase artifacts and tell visitors about the Europeans, Africans and American Indians who lived at Jamestown.

Archaeologists are at work each day, trying to piece together what occurred here in the early 1600s.

There is a mistaken belief that all of the original settlers died from starvation or disease within the first two years. In the winter of 1609, most settlers starved after a severe drought and battles with Indians. But, by 1613, new settlers had arrived. Within several years, the settlement became a thriving society, partly because of the successful tobacco trade.

More than 500,000 objects have been excavated over the past 10 years since Ms. Neely’s group, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, began the dig.

Volunteers and archaeologists discovered a tower from the church where the first House of Burgesses met in 1619. It is the lone piece of architecture still standing at the historic site.

In 1996, archaeologists unearthed the foundation of James Fort, a discovery that amazed most historians, who thought the ruins of the settlement had been washed away centuries earlier. About 20 percent of the fort has been excavated.

Other discoveries include rooms where prominent statesmen likely lived. Archaeologists found fragments of pots and Chinese porcelain, as well as pieces of cobblestone and Bermuda limestone that once made up hearths.

Archaeologists jokingly refer to the site of the old rooms as “Uptown.” They find bags of artifacts each day, among them tokens and wine bottles that reveal cultural and socioeconomic trends.

Two years ago, archaeologist found a well dating to 1617 and a full suit of armor that had been preserved in the well’s water. Historians believe the well was used as a trash can.

They also unearthed the remains of a young man, whom they nicknamed “JR 102C.” A resin casting of his remains will be displayed in the Archaearium in 2006.

Renewed attention to Jamestown includes television and the movies. The History Channel will air a one-hour special on Jamestown at 8 tonight. “The New World,” a movie starring Colin Farrell and Christian Bale, is set for release next November.

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