- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2007


Organizers of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, say they have strived to make the 18-month commemoration and main-event weekend a realistic recollection of history that set the course for the United States.

“Whether you are of English descent, African decent, Powhatan descent, Irish, Scottish or Polish descent, the country we live in today, its stamp was essentially set at Jamestown,” said Terry Bond, 47, a re-enacter at Jamestown Settlement.

The commemoration will include a visit May 1-3 from Queen Elizabeth II, which will be followed by the May 11-13 weekend at the Jamestown Settlement and adjacent Anniversary Park. The weekend events will include exhibits, re-enactments and music from a 400-piece orchestra. About 90,000 visitors are expected to attend.

President Bush plans to participate in the celebration, but specifics of his May 13 visit were not announced.

“The president’s participation in Anniversary Weekend festivities underscores the pivotal role Jamestown played in our nation’s history and helps further focus the world’s attention on Jamestown’s legacies — representative government, free enterprise and a culturally diverse society,” said Stuart W. Connock, chairman of the Jamestown 2007 steering committee.

Thomas E. Davidson, senior curator for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, said organizers, as well as historians, now can give a more accurate account of the early settlement, in part because the past 15 years have yielded more archaeological artifacts than the previous 385 years.

“It is our job to put out the best information from that period,” he said. “Regrettably, in all these sorts of histories until really the 1890s you don’t see much of the native voice. Most of this is seen strictly through the eyes of the British. It still can muddy the waters today for historians who are trying to figure out what happened.”

Organizers also asked for help from members of the country’s black and Indian communities.

The results include new exhibits at Jamestown Settlement that address why the anniversary is not being advertised as a celebration.

“It is more a commemoration than a celebration because as America began to create its own identity as a republic, it also made the decision to do it under a system of slavery … that maintained itself throughout the 17th and 18th centuries,” said Rex Ellis, vice president of the Historic Area for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The commemoration includes information about contributions blacks and other minorities made toward sustaining early colonists and lectures at each of Virginia’s historically black colleges.

The publicity campaign for Jamestown 2007 began in May 2005 when thousands of people came to the Old Town waterfront to see a replica of the Godspeed, the ship that brought the first English Colonists to America.

The floating museum sailed to 10 major East Coast ports and attracted more than 450,000 visitors.

“The idea was to take Jamestown on the road, using the Godspeed as the ambassador,” said Jamestown 2007 spokesman Kevin Crossett.

The start of Jamestown 2007 dates back to the mid-1990s when Republican George Allen was governor and appointed a commission to start planning anniversary events. In December 2000, Congress passed the Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission Act, which directed the Interior Department to appoint 16 members to plan and develop programs and activities for the anniversary.

Most of the money has come from Virginia residents buying Jamestown 2007 license plates. The federal government gave $2.4 million and the state gave more than $100 million — including about $70 million to renovate Jamestown Settlement, a 50-year-old museum with galleries and living-history exhibits about a half-mile away from the settlement. Recent estimates put the total cost at $200 million.

Though the Jamestown settlement started 13 years before the one in Plymouth, history has not been kind, in part because Jamestown was a business venture.

Still, the early Virginia settlers survived starvation, disease and sporadic war to forge the birthplace of American democracy.

“Our understanding of the beginning of English America tends to be weighted heavily toward New England,” said James Horn, author of “A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America.”

“This commemoration gives us an opportunity to address the balance,” Mr. Horn said. “Those 13 years were important. It is at Jamestown where the hard lessons are learned.”

In 1606, King James I gave the Virginia Company, a group of London entrepreneurs, the right to establish an English settlement in the Chesapeake region.

Men lured by tales of finding gold, vast land and a seafaring route to the Orient jumped at the opportunity. In many instances, they swapped years of service for a one-way ticket to the New World.

“I think the attraction of getting rich quick was significant in their decision to leave, and I think that accounts for them signing up for a fairly dangerous journey,” Mr. Horn said. “It is almost similar to signing up to join the Army. You sign up for a number of years, and in a sense you see how it does and where it takes you.”

In Virginia, they quickly learned that pleasing stockholders on the other side of the Atlantic while surviving in the unfamiliar region was no easy task.

Within 12 months, more than half of the colonists had died — the result of drought, starvation, disease and fighting with Indians who had lived there for centuries.

Mr. Horn and other historians say the colony survived largely because of the leadership of Capt. John Smith, a boastful man and experienced soldier who in 1608 established the motto: “He who does not work, will not eat.”

“It was not an easy task,” the narrator says in a new Jamestown Settlement museum introductory film “1607: A Nation Takes Root.” “The colony held on, trading with the Indians for corn when they could. Taking it by force when they could not.”

In 1609, after Smith got hurt and returned to England, relations with Indians deteriorated even further. Angry at settlers for stealing food and worried about the effect the settlers would have on their lives, the Indians pinned the English inside James Fort during the winter of 1609-1610.

“Afraid to venture beyond its palisades because of the threat, the colonists remained within the fort,” the narrator also says in the film. “Some died of fevers, but most simply starved. They ate their horse, dogs, rats, their boots.”

By the time another round of supply ships came in May 1610, only 60 of the approximately 500 Colonists remained.

Disheartened at the sight, leaders decided to return to England. But as they sailed down the James River, the crew of an incoming fleet of three ships carrying reinforcements and supplies ordered them to turn around.

Sporadic warfare continued with the Indians until 1614, when Pocahontas, the daughter of an Indian chief, married tobacco merchant John Rolfe, according to historical accounts.

By 1616, more than 2,000 pounds of the “golden weed” were being shipped to England. In 1620, 40,000 pounds were exported.

The new trade also brought slavery. Historian say the first 20 African slaves arrived in 1619 aboard an English ship flying under a Dutch flag.

“By 1650, few white laborers were interested in going to the colony from England,” an exhibit plaque at Jamestown reads. “Still, the tobacco economy was labor intensive and planters needed help. They were expensive to purchase, but lifelong labor was considered a worthwhile investment. By the 1660s there was a clear demand for slaves, and slave ships arrived more frequently.”

An interactive exhibit shows how the growth of the colony also hurt the Powhatan Indians.

Pushing the exhibit’s “1608” button shows red dots representing Indians villages along Virginia waterways from the James River north to the Potomac River. Pushing the “1625” button shows how the blue dots, representing early English colonies, replace all but one Indian village along the James. The final button shows that by 1675 the English lined almost every plot of land along waterways, and the Indians had been pushed inland.

“It all began here, for North America at least,” Mr. Ellis said.

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