A Special Moment in Time
Replicas of the ships that made the Atlantic crossing in 1607 are shown at Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum adjacent to the Historic Jamestowne site.*
Jamestown Commemorates 400 Years
By Susan J. Young and Hal Gieseking
In May 1607, three small wooden ships sailed across the Atlantic from England, tied up at an island along the James River, and founded the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. The result was Jamestowne (spelled with the Queen's English), the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
Jamestown (spelled as Americans know it) is putting on quite the 400th anniversary bash this year. Throughout the year, cruisers who call at the Port of Norfolk for a day ashore will find myriad options for visiting the area, just an hour's drive from Norfolk.
Facts and Perspective
In talking about Jamestown’s 400 years of history and a razzle-dazzle upcoming anniversary celebration, let’s get our facts straight. It’s important to recognize that Jamestown was not “discovered” by the English.
Native Americans already were living in southeastern Virginia, had a vibrant culture and were a vital part of the landscape. Native Americans were also an integral part of Jamestown’s history in those early years.
The area around Jamestown is still a pristine area of natural beauty, attracting birds and other wildlife.*
What the men who ventured out from England “founded” was the first permanent English settlement in the New World. They brought both European culture and the roots of democracy to Virginia’s shores. Jamestown became the site of our nation’s first representative government, free enterprise system and culturally diverse society -- with Europeans, Virginia Indians and Africans participating.
Another interesting fact? Jamestowne originally was spelled with an “e”. That was the Queen’s English, so to speak. Today, we simply call it Jamestown. We’ll use that spelling throughout most of our coverage. One exception is for discussions of Historic Jamestowne, as that’s the official name of that U.S. National Park Service site.
Who’s involved with the commemoration? Honorary chairman of the 18-month Jamestown 400th Anniversary commemorative program is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are serving as honorary chairs of a year-long series of university-based conferences in Virginia about the future of democracy.
Tourism planning has been vigorously under way for years, handled by national, state, regional and local tourism organizations. Dozens of events are planned not just in Jamestown, but throughout Virginia.
Even native American groups are participating, seeing the events as a way to educate the American public about tribal history, culture and contributions to early America. Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy Indian tribe, is a member of the Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission
At Jamestown Settlement, docents explain the lifestyle of native Americans in the early 1600s.*
Jamestown shore excursions from cruise ships usually include a visit to both Historic Jamestowne (757-229-1733 or http://historicjamestowne.org) and the adjacent Jamestown Settlement (www.historyisfun.org) history museum.
Historic Jamestowne, operated by the U.S. National Park Service, is the site of the original Fort James. It remains the center of ongoing archaeological excavations.
Chances are you'll have a good guide to escort you around the Historic Jamestowne site, but some guests may, alternatively, be offered the chance for a brief self-guided tour; pick up a helpful map at the Visitor's Center.
Following are impressions and suggestions for touring the Historic Jamestowne site, provided by travel writer Hal Gieseking, who lives in Williamsburg. He has authored several books about the site.
New at Historic Jamestowne are a visitor center with exhibits, multimedia introductions and costumed interpreters. Many surprises -- some hysterical, some historical -- await.
- At the Glasshouse, you'll see a 17th century glass factory restoration. Here, craftsmen blow molten glass into everything from ornate vases to colonial sugar bowls. Once cooled, the glass creations make a cool souvenirs you might buy right on the spot. The recreation of a 17th century Glasshouse is shown at right; craftspeople on site often are demonstrating glass blowing.*
- Pocahontas’ metal statue with an outstretched cold hand guards the entrance to the re-created James Fort, built in 1607 by 104 men and boy settlers from England. Once thought to have been swallowed by the James River, the site was rediscovered in 1954 by archeologists. And they just kept digging, recovering over a million artifacts!
Free wheelchairs are available with your drivers license as security. However, the gravel/crushed oyster shell paths make it hard to push wheelchairs. Use the grass! (Editor's note: We did push a wheelchair with great difficulty late last year at this historic site.) At left is a view of the pathways typical of Historic Jamestowne.*
The boardwalk that ends at the white Tercentennial monument is usually the starting point of tours conducted by National Park rangers and historic interpreters in period costumes. You may meet John Rolfe. The white Tercentennial Monument shown at right was erected during previous commemorative festivities at Historic Jamestowne.*
- Many tours end where America began, near the James Fort entrance. Check out the imposing statue of a well-fed Captain John Smith, the no-nonsense General Eisenhower of his day who told the settlers, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat."
- Stop at basement-size excavations along the way. Every weekday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. archaeologists spoon and sift fragments of the settlers’ lives: pieces of armor here, a mouth harp there, even wine bottles marked by the owner, “J.S.” John Smith? Writer Patricia Cornwell called these digs “the autopsy of America.”
- Walk out the fort's entrance and you’re in sight of the Archaearium, the new on-site archaeology museum. It displays more than 1,000 artifacts unearthed at 1607 James Fort. Each of the thousand artifacts here tells a story. Example: Iron padlocks once helped settlers protect their few belongings in chests stored in the lockless barracks.
- You will "meet" a woman's skeleton at the Archaearium. Her face has been re-created by forensic scientists from her skeleton. Sent from England in about 1620, the woman's goal was apparently to "land" a husband. It's doubtful she had any trouble getting a date or a husband in Jamestowne's all-male colony.
- Traveling with children? Depending how much time you have at the site, the museum’s front desk can help kids go on an artifact scavenger hunt wearing bracelets with pictures of pottery, weapons, and 17th century coins. (Editor's Note: There may not be enough time for this on most cruise line shore trips, but you might ask the guide if you're bringing children.)
- Getting hungry? No need to starve like those early settlers. Stop at the Dale House Café, rch across from the Archaearium. Enjoy salads and sandwiches on the brick patio with a James River view.
One facet of Historic Jamestowne that visitors find fascinating on the drive to the Visitor's Center is that the site itself looks much as it did in the 1600s -- with wild, natural beauty, forests and wetlands.
Historic Jamestowne has many pristine eco-areas. You'll view the area's natural landscape much the way the settlers did upon landing.*
History Can Be Fun
Created for the 350th anniversary of Jamestown, Jamestown Settlement (www.historyisfun.org) is a superb year-round living history museum.
Fresh from a $70 million renovation, the settlement is a family-friendly attraction with many edu-tainment options that make history come alive for kids and adults alike.
So if you visited the Historic Jamestowne site but couldn't quite get your hands (and your mind - given the lack of visual elements) around "what happened there" 400 years ago, never fear. Most cruise excursions to the Jamestown area include a visit to this museum.
One highlight -- of particular interest to families with children -- is that Jamestown Settlement has exact replicas of all three ships that made the sailing in 1607. You can meander down to the Elizabeth River and climb onboard. One of the replica ships is shown above.*
As you climb onboard, "sailors of the early 1600s" (docents) attired in period clothing eagerly explain the rigging and how the sails operated on the voyage. These "sailors" also explain to visitors about life onboard during the challenging voyage to America.
Within a natural park-like and forested setting, several other engaging areas of the settlement will delight visitors. One is an authentic Indian village.
Native Americans (again docents in period attire) will explain how the natives cooked, slept, washed clothing and did other chores of everyday life. Kids love ducking in and out of the village dwellings.
In another area, you can watch "settlers" creating longboat canoes. Most impressive for many visitors, though, is the large re-creation of Fort James.
Again, you'll find many "settlers" and "soldiers" explaining life in the fort during the early 1600s. The fort boasts authentic, made-to-scale buildings. You might even see a craftsman working on the roof to "thatch" it. Or, you might gather round a cookfire to learn what foods the settlers ate.
A settler living in Fort James is depicted at right, and the cannons on one of the ships docked at the settlement is shown below.*
Editor's Note: On a recent visit to Jamestown Settlement, we felt the docents actually understood their mission – as opposed to the lackluster attitude by docents at some other living history attractions we've visited.
All the settlement's docents we encountered were friendly and exceedingly helpful with directions and information. They were particularly good with children.
Once you've walked through the outdoor areas, head inside. The attraction's 30,000-square-foot interior galleries feature well-explained and visually interesting exhibits.
This spring, a new exhibition, “The World of 1607,” debuted. You'll view major artifacts from museums, libraries and private collections from 10 countries. Showcase pieces are a 15th-century copy of the Magna Carta and a 16th-century African ivory carving.
The entry to Jamestown Settlement gives way to 30,000 square feet of exhibit space as well as entree to multiple outdoor living history areas.*
For the complete schedule of Jamestown anniversary events and other celebratory activities throughout the year, visit www.Americas400thAnniversary.com.
*All photos above are owned and copyrighted by Susan J. Young, SouthernCruising.com™. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.