- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

JAMESTOWN, Va. — Capt. John Smith wouldn’t have recognized the place.

One corner of a replica of Jamestown’s triangular fort was filled yesterday with lights, cameras and about 150 students for a live, one-hour Webcast about America’s first permanent English settlement.

Organizers estimated more than 1 million students and educators from the United States and about a dozen other countries logged on to participate in “Jamestown Live.” The production originated from the Jamestown Settlement living-history museum, near the site of the original fort.

“This is America’s hometown, where America started, so it’s pretty cool,” said Kori Caswell, 13, a seventh-grader from Hannibal, Mo. She was among the “student ambassadors” selected to travel to Jamestown to represent the states, the District, a Department of Defense school in Germany and the U.S. territory of American Samoa. The live audience also included students from across Virginia.

The program is part of an 18-month series of events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 with the arrival of 100 men and four boys from England.

“The journey of three ships from England changed the world,” touching off the mixing of three cultures — American Indians, Europeans and Africans — host Gwen Ifill of PBS said at the Webcast’s start.

The program also included pre-taped segments showing student reporters interviewing historians, an Indian chief, an astronaut and others about Jamestown’s legacies of representative government, cultural diversity and the spirit of exploration.

Some of the analysts also appeared personally to answer questions, including one from a boy in the audience who wanted to know what the Indians called the nearby James River.

“That’s been a bone of contention among our people for the last 400 years,” said Stephen Adkins, chief of Virginia’s Chickahominy Indian tribe. Indians, he said, still call the river the Powhatan in honor of the powerful leader who ruled a large chiefdom at the time the English settlers arrived.

Afterward, students in the audience said they learned a lot.

“It was very informative, and they did it in a fun way,” including performances of songs with historical themes, said Wendy Clay, 13, an eighth-grader from Blackstone, Va. “I liked hearing the story of Jamestown told from [the perspectives of] different people,” not just the settlers.

She said she learned about how much the Indians did to help the settlers. And she was surprised to find out that the first Africans to arrive in America, at Point Comfort near Jamestown in 1619, were indentured servants, not slaves.

Rex Ellis, vice president of the Historic Area at Colonial Williamsburg, explained during the Webcast that laws didn’t establish slavery until 1680, making uncertain the status of those Africans who came earlier.

“There were a few parts that were a little hard to pay attention to, but it was mostly entertaining and engaging,” said Tiffany Mills, 14, of Charleston, S.C. “Overall I thought it was good.”

The results of an online quiz about Jamestown during the Webcast showed there is more to learn.

While 74 percent of the respondents answered correctly that the Colonists were instructed to search for gold, only 23 percent knew that the elected representatives who first met in 1619 at Jamestown were called “burgesses.”

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