Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jamestown, Virginia

The day following Yorktown (November 18th), we again met my mother and explored a second site of the Historic Triangle: Jamestown.

There are two parts to seeing Jamestown.  The first is run by the state of Virginia and is called Jamestown Plantation.  It is a replica of the original Jamestown settlement, and it is great for kids.  They have a replica of the old fort, a Powhatan village, and replicas of the ships that brought the settlers to Virginia (among other things).  We had been to that part of Jamestown in the past, so this time we decided to visit the part that is run by the national park service: Historic Jamestowne.

Historic Jamestowne is the site of the original James Fort.  Built in 1607, James Fort protected 104 settlers who arrived on the land grant chartered by King James I to the Virginia Company of London.  By summertime, many colonists died from disease and starvation.  This is where the legendary story of Captain John Smith and the Powhatan princess Pocahontas took place.

Sidebar:  A bit of history about Pocahontas.  She was instrumental in the survival of the colonists, for her father the king wanted to wage war on the settlers.  She helped prevent it from happening, and it is said that she personally saved the life of Captain John Smith.  After being captured and held for ransom by the colonists, she was baptized into the Christian church then later married colonist John Rolfe.  She took a journey to England where she was introduced to society and became quite a sensation among the English.  She did have a son with John Rolfe named Thomas.  Among Pocahontas’ descendants are former First Ladies Edith Wilson and Nancy Reagan.  Unfortunately, Pocahontas died of an unknown cause while in England, and her burial site is unknown.

By the year 1610, only 30 of nearly 300 James Fort colonists were still alive.  The winter of 1609-1610 came to be known as “the starving time”, and it is suspected that cannibalism took place at the fort.  But in 1610 new settlers arrived, and the colony started to thrive.  By 1619 elected burgesses meet in the church in “Jamestowne” – America’s first representative assembly in British North America.  However, in 1622 members of the Powhatan attacked the English settlement, and 347 settlers were killed - one-third of the population.  In 1624 King James I revoked the Virginia Company’s charter and Virginia became a royal colony.

The history of Jamestown continues beyond this, but these events laid the groundwork for Jamestown to become a thriving colony throughout the 1600’s.

We started our day by visiting the museum and watching a “theater in the round” movie about the founding of Jamestown, which was very good.  The actual historic site of the original fort is mostly an archaeological excavation site now.  While we were there, we saw the active digging taking place and noted the spots where skeletons have been excavated.  We also saw some areas where the original walls of the buildings have been located.  There are memorials and statues all around the area, and it is interesting to see it all.  Still standing in its original spot is part of the Old Church.  A memorial chapel has been erected around it, but the original church tower still stands.  It was striking how SMALL the original fort actually was.  I cannot imagine 104 colonists living in such a condensed area of land!  After we saw the site of the original fort, a short walk nearby is an “archaearium” where we saw many artifacts and a few skeletons in their final resting places.  Photography of the skeletons was not allowed out of respect for the deceased.  As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed to say that I took so few pictures that day.  I think I was too taken with just enjoying the day and not so involved in documenting it.  My apologies!