- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 13, 2007 is the Quatercentenary of the founding of Jamestowne (the original spelling). Why is this 400th anniversary relevant for us and why celebrate it? While those who have set the agenda for the Quatercentenial events in Virginia choose to call it a “commemoration,” many others will honor it for what it actually was: the seminal incident that introduced the opportunities for the economic and political innovations and enterprise that became our American Dream.

It is true that the antecedents of some of the most shameful chapters in our history, such as institutionalized slavery and the devastation of Indian tribes, had their genesis there. But, whatever other issues some may want to put a glare on, the major fact remains that Jamestowne is where the tap root was planted for many of our most cherished rights and privileges for which we fought our Revolution and since have defended for 231 years. This is cause for a major national celebration, not just a mere commemoration.

The new proliferation of books and articles on Jamestowne are reacquainting us with the mid-May 1607 landing and tribulations of the first permanent and enduring English colony in America. We have new evidence of the Colonists’ lives, experiences, attitudes, habits and possessions from the treasure trove of 17th century artifacts unearthed from the archeological digs of the first James Fort and nearby Algonquian settlements.

We also must recognize the desperate societal conditions in England that drove the Colonists to risk affliction, famine and strife in the New World. Their ambition for relief from rigid class systems, economic deprivation and dislocation and tedious years of war was the engine that drove them to establish through perseverance and tenacity what were then new and alien concepts of opportunity and self-determination, and that would become called the seedbed of the American nation and its first experiment in democracy.

There, at Jamestowne, they set the first kernels from which we grew our nation’s political and economic development. By 1620, or within 13 years of their landing, the settlers had cultivated some of our most profound and enduring legacies, including the common citizen’s right to own private property; the principle of common law as the foundation of our legal system; civilian control of the military; an elected representative legislature and self-rule; the free enterprise system as the form of the American economy; new freedoms from European traditions that had bound many generations to their ancestors’ trades, classes and economic conditions; English as the common language of the new American nation; and, most importantly, a determination to succeed or the American “can-do” spirit.

With that determination, generations of the descendants of those Jamestowne pioneers also established the unique element of our American culture: a persistent striving for freedom to better ourselves with property, innovation and enterprise.

Most meaningful for us Americans, though, is their legacy of the great westward migration that spread a new American nation to the western edge of the continent. Jamestowne’s pioneers’ economic motivations and goals have resonated across four centuries in the migrants that first pushed out America’s frontiers from Virginia to the Carolinas and Georgia, to Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, and then on to Illinois, Texas and, finally, California.

In their book, “Bound Away,” cultural historians David Hackett Fischer and James C. Kelly describe exactly how the Virginia Diaspora of the 18th and 19th centuries became the American westward pioneering movement. We have taken the Jamestowne Colonists’ intrepid and molding vision to the far corners of our continent in pursuit of land, opportunity and fortune. Joined by immigrants from many other lands and cultures, we have merged diverse traditions and customs to seek economic and social betterment.

Our own American culture of innovation and enterprise continues to resonate from that Jamestowne adventure. As we truly celebrate the founding of that first Colony 400 years ago, we should appreciate its legacies and that the seeds and roots of our own national aspirations for opportunity and self-determination our American Dream were planted there.

James H. McCall is an amateur historian and a founding trustee of the new Jamestowne Historical Foundation. He also is a descendant of early Jamestowne settlers Richard and Isabella Pace, lives in Solana Beach, Calif., and can be reached at jameshmccallyahoo.com.

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