Saturday, April 23, 2011

The origins of this country - Historic Jamestowne. November 7th, 2010

After a long day in Philly, a long drive 'home' to DC and a good long sleep, we woke up to our final morning in the nation's capital.  After 11 days here, we were finally going to be saying goodbye. Yes, we could have spent another entire week in DC and still not seen it all, but enough was enough.  It was time to move on.

As we crossed the bridge into Virginia we waved one last time at the National Mall.  That's the Capitol way over on the right and the Washington Monument on the left.  It was a beautiful day and a beautiful sight!


Our next destination would be 'James Towne', the first permanent English settlement in America and the original site of Jamestown colony.  I know, some of you might be thinking, hey, I though Plymouth was the first settlement?!  Plymouth certainly does get most of the modern attention but James Towne was settled in 1607, The Mayflower arrived in what is now Massachusetts in 1620.  The Jamestown folks also claim the first Thanksgiving btw.  Notice I also said it was the first permanent ENGLISH settlement.  St. Augustine in FL can rightfully claim it's the *earliest* permanent settlement in America, but it wasn't English, it was Spanish.  All these folks, Jamestown, Plymouth and St. Augustine, take these facts, and often misrepresentations, very seriously indeed......

Anyway, back to James Towne.  It was indeed the very first permanent English settlement in America.  It is therefore viewed as the birthplace of Virginia AND The United States of America (since the US was founded by descendants of the British, not the Spanish. We could also argue the whole 'descendent' thing, but we won't).

Unlike Plymouth, James Towne was settled by those seeking fortune not religious freedom.  The settlement was funded by the Virginia Company of London as means to increase their profits.  They saw America as a land of opportunity for exploitation.


They arrived by boat on this shore.  The land was swampy, the air moist and the resources they hoped to exploit were not readily available.   The Natives were not too welcoming either.  Life was hard to near impossible.  Most of the settlers died during the first 5 years.


Based on very recent archeological findings, this is what the original settlement looked like.  It wasn't until 1994 (!!) that the lost earliest fort was actually excavated and unearthed!  Until then, the theory was that river erosion had washed it all away.  Excavations are still in progress at the fort.


This is what the general area looked like.

The only large structure that currently stands is the remains of the church.  Way off to the right is a statue of Captain John Smith, the very first governor of Virginia.  Despite his rough and tumble characteristics, he was a solid leader who apparently managed to do a good job understanding the needs of both the Natives and the settlers, eventually.  The settlers initially failed to find their fortune.  Combined with the inability to grow anything worth eating or trading AND the 'food siege' imposed by the Natives, this time period is referred to as 'The Starving Time'.  Cannibalism had almost taken hold....


Outside of the fort is the original well dug by the early settlers.  Once dried up, wells were often used as garbage dumps, hence today they become a great source of artifacts and information.

Then there's Pocahontas of course, apparently depicted here looking absolutely nothing like she really did.  This is just what the artist thought she should look like.  Kind of like Disney.

So who was she really?  Having never seen the Disney movie (honest!), I can't compare reality to fiction, but here's what we learned.  She was the favorite daughter of the local Powhatan chief.  A year after the settlers arrived she had begun to make frequent trips between Jamestown and her village, often bringing gifts of food.  Captain John Smith, the governor, believed she saved his life twice during the first few years of the colony.  In 1613 someone decided it would be a good idea to kidnap her and keep her as a hostage in Jamestown.  While there she was given lessons in Christianity, was converted and baptized.  All in a day's work.....


The next year she married John Rolfe, the man credited with the idea of growing tobacco and practically single handedly saving the colony, literally and figuratively.  Thanks to him prosperity settled in and the future United States of America's existence was secured.  In hindsight anyway.  That's quite a bit of credit I'm giving him, but without the successful tobacco industry taking hold, the settlement would have likely died off.....

Thanks to said prosperity, Jamestown expanded to well beyond the fort walls.  More people came and grew tobacco that was then sold in England.  Below is an example of an upper class neighborhood, or what's left of it.  By 1660 row houses were actually built to accommodate more people.


Poor Pocahontas btw died a couple years later in England, leaving John alone with their son.  Not worry, he soon married a young British lady, the daughter of a one of those successful Jamestown businessmen.

A cool little feature here at Historic Jamestowne National Park is this little thing -


It's like a point and shoot guide to the area.  Point the big camera at a ruin and a short reenactment of what happened in that building shows on the screen above.  Puts a face, or many, on all that happened here.

Back in the visitor center we explored some more of the displays.   Plenty of artifacts to be examined and investigated!


Once we had our Jr. Ranger badges in hand we headed to an interesting living display in the park.  On our way there though we wandered into a huge bamboo forest in which we obviously had to play for a while.


Glass blowing was one of the ideas the Virginia Company had come up with to earn their fortunes out here.  It didn't go so well for them (at first anyway), but this guy sure does a great job.  The area abounds with what is needed to make glass: wood and sand!


Other than the history behind it, it was just plain cool to watch.  No pun intended ;-).


You might be thinking how could we not have stopped and visited some Civil War battlefields given the areas we were driving through are so rich in Civil War history.  Well, this decision was partially dictated by the kids and partially dictated by our time constraints.  As I mentioned earlier, we were due in FL by a specific date. But really, the deciding factor was the kid's statement, complaint really, that they were tired of hearing about wars and death.  The DC memorials and monuments had burned them out in that sense.  Given those kinds of feelings we decided to save the hard core Civil War stuff for a later time in their lives.  Why torment young souls, especially when they specifically ask not to be?

Don't get me wrong, they do know about the Civil War and we did talk about it here as well (since there were various Confederate earthworks we came across while walking around).  But actually visiting battle grounds and discussing strategy and such, not to mention the nitty gritty gory details?  No, that we just passed on.

For now.

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