- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

JAMESTOWN, Va. — Thousands of visitors yesterday gathered to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in America with concerts, cultural and artistic demonstrations, and military drills.

President Bush is to speak today, the closing day of the festivities and the actual anniversary of the settlers’ arrival at this swampy island.

Visitors yesterday ate funnel cakes, watched demonstrations of a swivel gun, and explored the replica Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery ships that 105 settlers lived on for 144 days as they traveled the Atlantic Ocean before landing on the banks of the James River on May 13, 1607.

“How would you like to sleep on one?” Dennis Schultz, 40, asked his 9-year-old daughter, Madison, after they walked through the Godspeed replica.

She paused.

“It would be kind of cool to sleep on it for a night, but not for too many days,” she said.

Actors in period costume held court on the banks of the James River for people who wanted to know their thoughts on air conditioners, the state of the world today and 17th-century bathing methods.

Capt. John Smith told the curious that early settlers exchanged children with the Indians because the youngsters could pick up the language faster than their parents and that “there was much opportunity here, prosperity and chances for success.”

Smith, played by Dennis Farmer, also drew a big laugh when he shared with the crowd that stingrays “taste like chicken.”

A replica of the 28-foot boat Smith used to explore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries shoved off with plans to stop at more than 20 spots in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the District before returning to Jamestown on Sept. 8. The crew will attempt to complete the trip entirely by oar and sail.

Hundreds of spectators gathered to watch the boat depart yesterday morning from the triangular fort at Historic Jamestowne. Archaeologists found the fort’s remains, long thought to have been washed away, in the mid-1990s. Since then, they’ve unearthed more than 1 million artifacts.

Dozens of visitors ringed the fort site to watch archaeologists sift through the soil and show off some of their recent finds, including a sword that was among armor and weapons buried in a well that became a trash pit.

“I love it because I didn’t know much about this area,” said Mary Jane Nichols, a 47-year-old religious-education director from Loudoun County.

The New Hampshire transplant said the big birthday commemoration helped to tell a story often overshadowed by the joyful turkey-leg tales of the pilgrims who landed in Massachusetts more than a decade after English settlers landed in Jamestown.

“Everybody talks about the pilgrims, not about Jamestown and this area,” Mrs. Nichols said.

Commemoration activities also took place at the nearby Jamestown Settlement museum, which has a replica of the fort, and at Anniversary Park, a former campground across from the museum.

Tony award-winning actor James Earl Jones read stories from the book “John Smith Escapes Again” for about a dozen children and a crowd of about a thousand. R&B; singer Chaka Khan and bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs also performed.

Gisele Rivera, a consultant in her 40s , compared the Jamestown history to a family.

“Good or bad, this is how we got where we are today,” the Fairfax resident said. “It’s kind of like a family. We may not like everything about our country, but this is our country.”

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