Historic Jamestown: The Latest

Since last Wednesday, I’ve been in one of my favorite areas of the country: the Historic Triangle of Virginia. Staying just down the road from Colonial Williamsburg, I’ve had the honor and opportunity to show some college students the most significant sites in early American history. Last Thursday and Friday, we focused on Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. There are actually two sites: the re-created settlement to show what it probably looked like and the original site where the archaeological digs continue.

At the re-created site, there’s a fantastic museum—huge and full of detail—describing what life was like in the world of that day, both here and across the ocean in England and Africa. If you were to take in everything documented in the museum, you would already have a full university-level course on the era.

Powhatan Village 1Outside, there’s a Powhatan village where you can learn about how the natives lived at the time. Since they didn’t have a written language, we are left with the English interpretations of their culture. A few things are certain, though: it was hardly a representative republic and spiritual darkness dominated. That’s not a very politically correct thing to say, I realize, but the “confederacy” created by Chief Powhatan was not exactly voluntary and no one in the community was promised life after death except for chiefs and high priests.

Discovery 1Down at the dock, you can see replicas of the ships that brought the adventurers from England. The most amazing aspect is the small size of these ships. I would never venture out on the Atlantic in one of these. Here’s a picture of the smallest of the ships, the Discovery. It’s almost a miracle it could survive any storm that might have arisen.

Jamestown Archaeology Dig 4The original site, just a few miles away, is fascinating for those of us who want to see and touch the actual history. Here is where Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas walked. Here is where the Starving Time of 1609-1610 reduced a struggling foothold in the New World from approximately 500 souls to only 60 by the spring of 1610. And here is where archeological digs have been underway for nearly twenty years, uncovering mounds of evidence from those early days. We were able to witness the ongoing project and hear one experienced archeologist tell the tales of what they have unearthed.

One of the newer discoveries is the site of the very first church built at Jamestown. It took nearly two decades to find the exact spot, which is now marked off. Crosses are planted where key individuals of the colony were buried at the front of the church. I thought it might be “historic” to get a picture of our group standing at that spot.

Jamestown First Church Site 2

I’ve been to Jamestown many times, but I learn more every time I’m there. I plan to share more of this Historic Triangle experience over the next week or so. Our other stops include Colonial Williamsburg itself, Yorktown, Berkeley Plantation, Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home), Montpelier (James Madison’s home), and a number of sites in Richmond. What a privilege to combine my “job” with a vacation.