- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

JAMESTOWN, Va. — Queen Elizabeth II is coming to this historic site to help commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing here of 104 Englishmen, establishing the first permanent English settlement in America.

The settlers landed on May 13, 1607, four years after the death of England’s other Elizabeth, the monarch, the Virgin Queen, for whom the Colony and then the state were named. The settlement was named after Elizabeth I’s successor, James I.

Elizabeth II’s visit is planned for May 3 and 4, a week before the signature event being hailed as America’s Anniversary Weekend. President Bush has been invited to participate as well. Tickets are being limited to 30,000 persons per day to commemorate America’s beginning, which occurred 13 years before the Mayflower docked at Plymouth Rock.

Participating that weekend will be retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, honorary chairman of the event; actor James Earl Jones; and entertainers Bruce Hornsby and the Noise Makers, Chaka Khan, and Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder.

Events, including historical pageantry and ceremonies, musical performances and children’s entertainment, will be held at three locations: Historic Jamestowne, the site of the actual landing; Jamestown Settlement, where outdoor re-enactments and indoor exhibits help re-create the life and times of the early 17th century; and Anniversary Park, across the road from Jamestown Settlement and site of a special artisans village with blacksmithing, pottery making, glass blowing and more.

A rare sailing on the James River of the replicas of the three small ships that made the voyage from England — the Susan (or Sarah) Constant, Godspeed and Discovery — is planned May 12 as well.

Historic Jamestowne, a National Historic Site managed by the U.S. Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), includes the original site where the men of the Virginia Co. of London stepped ashore. James I had granted proprietorship to the investors in the Virginia Co.

Nearby is Jamestown Settlement, which opened in 1957 for the 350th anniversary as a living-history museum. It is owned by Virginia and operated by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. New permanent exhibits, an introductory film and revitalized living-history areas present the story of 17th-century Virginia and its Powhatan Indian, English and African cultural origins. The exhibits draw on a wealth of historical information revealed by recent archaeological and documentary research.

On site are reproductions of the fort, buildings and ships associated with the founding of Jamestown.

Re-enactments here draw visitors into the realities that faced those first stout settlers, who spent 4½ months at sea aboard boats smaller than Winnebagos and years suffering through drought, famine, fire, disease, harsh winters and Indian attacks.

Both locations offer insight into what life was like 400 years ago. Yet history is not the long suit of most Americans, considering that many don’t remember vinyl records or leaded gasoline, much less what they may have been taught about world events of the 17th century.

Consider that Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, 115 years before Jamestown. In the early 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were at work. In 1588, the English navy defeated the vaunted Spanish Armada. William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” was not performed until 1611. German Johannes Kepler and Italian Galileo Galilei were studying the heavens. The Spanish were plundering South America, and the French were establishing Montreal and other northern regions.

In 1606, the Virginia Co. of London was formed by charter from James I. Its charge was not only to found a settlement, but also to find gold and other riches, to spread Christianity and to search for a passage to India. In essence, it was established to make money, a goal it failed to reach.

On Dec. 20, 1606, the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery sailed from London for Virginia. Visit their replicas at Jamestown Settlement, and you’ll be struck immediately by their small size.

Costumed interpreters relate that the passengers were confined below deck and had to live atop supplies, making for little head space and very cramped quarters. Only one man died on the lengthy crossing.

Mike Litterst of the National Park Service, spokesman for the Colonial National Historical Park, site of the landing, suggests that the formation of the Virginia Co. was just a blip on the streets of London. Historically, however, if Jamestown had not been settled, it’s fair to say that America would not be the same country it is today.

Jamestown Settlement spokesman Tracy Perkins agrees, pointing out that the seeds of America were sown here. The 400th anniversary, she says, offers “the opportunity to look back at your American roots, even if you’re not from America. Learning about your history, where the nation started, gives you a sense of where you are. Learning about America’s beginning, the struggles and the things people had to overcome in the 17th century gives you some appreciation of what you have now.”

She also is quick to point out that Jamestown was not just an English experience but that three cultures converged here: English, Indian and African.

“Yes, the English are very important; this is the birthplace of America, … but we now have evidence, archaeologically, that the Virginia Indians were here 10,000 years before the English arrived,” Mr. Litterst says. “So what we’ve attempted to do is make it a much more inclusive story and also tell the story that Jamestown is where the first Africans arrived, in 1619.

“They came on a Dutch man-of-war; they were traded for provisions. We don’t know much beyond that … but without question, in 1619 they take the first step in what would become a slave society by the end of the 17th century. That’s a hugely important story.”

Also sown here were the seeds of representative government, our legal system and a common language: English.

In Jamestown Settlement’s Robins Foundation Theater, a new docudrama film, “1607: A Nation Takes Root,” is shown at regular intervals, presenting an overview of the first two decades of the Virginia Colony.

Running the length of the 30,000-square-foot building is the Great Hall, with exhibition galleries offering a chronological journey from 1600 to 1699, when the capital of Virginia was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg.

The first of three galleries introduces pre-17th-century Virginia and provides overviews of the parent cultures, with full-scale dioramas portraying a Powhatan Indian setting; a dwelling in Angola, homeland of the first Africans in Virginia; and an English streetscape.

The formation of the Virginia Co. is explained through exhibits on European overseas trade and colonization and advances in shipbuilding and navigation. A short film, “The Crossing,” describes the 1607 voyage to Jamestown.

The second gallery explores the relationship between English settlers and the Powhatans. Exhibits show early English expansion, economic enterprises and the introduction of tobacco as a cash crop.

The first documented Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, and although they may have won their freedom, slavery followed for later Africans who were used as cheap labor on tobacco farms. “From Africa to Virginia” shows African encounters with Europeans, the impact on African culture and the development of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The political, social and economic development and expansion of the Virginia Colony during the 17th century, while Jamestown served as its capital, are comprised in the third gallery. An elite planter class emerged as tobacco cultivation began to dominate all forms of business. Short films describe the evolution of the Colony, focusing on cultural diversity, common language and representative government.

For all the masterful presentations and exhibits inside, the heart of Jamestown Settlement is found outdoors, in the re-enactments.

First up is the re-created Indian village, based on archaeological findings at a site once inhabited by Paspahegh Indians, the Powhatan tribal group closest to Jamestown. Here fires are smoking, deer hides are hanging, guides — all costumed — are hoeing, weaving, cooking, carving, knapping arrowheads, forming pottery — and answering questions. Visitors can step inside the dwellings made of sapling frames covered with reed mats, touch the cookware, sit around the campfire and, in general, get a feel of what it was like to be part of the village.

Especially popular are the docked replicas of the three Jamestown ships. Boarding one elicits a question: Could I do this? Quarters were uncomfortable at best. Dysentery, scurvy and seasickness were common; the one man who died on the voyage succumbed to heat stroke suffered in the Caribbean.

Throughout this year, a vessel representing the Elizabeth, a ship known to have made several voyages from England to Virginia between 1613 and 1625, will be at the same pier.

Jamestown Settlement also has a riverfront discovery area that focuses on the vital role of waterways in 17th-century travel, commerce and cultural exchange. Discovery stations provide information about water transportation and economic activities, including navigation, boat building, fishing, commodities, construction and trade. A popular hands-on attraction is working on a dugout canoe.

James Fort is a re-creation of the triangular wooden palisade that protected the settlement from 1610 to 1614. At nearby Historic Jamestowne, archaeologists have traced the original fort walls; a portion of the fort is covered by water as the James River encroached on the shore.

Inside the fort here at Jamestown Settlement are wattle-and-daub buildings with thatched roofs. Teeming with activity are an Anglican church, a governor’s house, armory, storehouse and blacksmith’s shop.

Costumed interpreters lead demonstrations such as firing a matchlock musket. Children especially like trying on armor and learning how to wield weapons of the era.

Very close to Jamestown Settlement, at what is considered the original site, Historic Jamestowne, visitors can walk the ground of those first settlers.

Historic Jamestowne preserves and interprets the site of America’s birthplace. Visitors can witness archaeology in action at the 1607 James Fort excavation; tour the original 17th-century church tower and reconstructed 17th-century Jamestown Memorial Church; take a walking tour with a park ranger through the original settlement; and watch costumed artisans at the Glasshouse.

The site features a new visitor center and also the Archaearium, a state-of-the-art museum interpreting historic archaeology at the site and the rediscovery of James Fort.

Talk about historical clues: So far, the site has yielded about 2 million artifacts; about half have come from excavation at the fort, started in 1994, and about 1,000 of those are on display in the Archaearium. Exhibits in the new visitors center include about 250 found objects.

“Not a tour goes by when someone doesn’t come up … and tell me they’ve traced their roots to this spot,” says one of the site interpreters.

On a windswept February day, the wind coming off the wide James River was a mild testimony to what those first settlers must have faced during the “starving time,” the winter of 1609-10.

Archaeological digs have discovered new graves, but the Memorial Cross, one of the solemn sites here, marks the shallow graves of hundreds who perished, nearly 80 percent of those settlers who came during the early years.

Indians befriended the settlement by providing food and instruction for living off the tidewater soil. Then there’s the courtship of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, which marked a period of peace. A bronze statue of Powhatan’s daughter has been erected here, its hands worn smooth and shining because it is said that touching it will bring good fortune. The peace ended when Indian land was taken away slowly by expansion of the Colony.

Recent research by archaeologists of Jamestown Rediscovery has revealed not only the original walls of the fort, but workers also have unearthed more than 250 feet of two palisade wall lines, the east cannon projection (bulwark) and three filled-in cellars.

Archaeologists also have found what appears to be the footprint of a barracks and are building a replica that will be made of mud, studs and a thatched roof.

Also here is Jamestown’s first church, built inside the fort but razed by fire in 1608. A second church was built, and Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married in it. A third wooden church was built during 1617-1619 on a foundation of cobblestones capped by thick bricks. Those bricks can be seen, protected under the glass, from the floor of the present church.

The 1617 wooden building burned also, but not before it hosted the first legislative assembly in North America, the House of Burgesses, on July 30, 1619.

The construction of a brick church began in 1639 and finished sometime after 1647. It, too, burned, but its bell tower remained as the only 17th-century structure still standing at Jamestown, and one of the oldest English-built structures in the United States.

The present Memorial Church was built in 1906 by the National Society, Colonial Dames of America, just outside the foundations of the earlier churches.

Gene Gallelli of Manteo, N.C., loves visiting the area. He explains his fascination this way: “I have what I can only describe as an ‘evolutionary emptiness’ that wants to know where I really came from. Was there a Gallelli or Mangone aboard some ship long ago that saw Jamestown before it was colonized?

“Is it that link, however subtle or spiritual, that really brought [my wife] Pat and me to the Outer Banks with a six-time-a-year longing to visit the Williamsburg-Jamestown area? Probably not, but I can’t rule it out completely.

“I think, if we are honest with ourselves, there are ‘connections’ that can’t be proved or documented between all of us and those who wandered and were lost foraging for food and shelter in places now called Jamestown and Manteo (site of the Lost Colony of 1585-87).”

The English colonization of America started four centuries ago, May 13, 1607. The rest of the story is America’s history. Walk the land where we began; go to Jamestown.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide