Day 11: Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Jamestowne was the first permanent English settlement in North America; it was established in 1607; a town was constructed around the fort in 1619. It is located Jamestowne Island, on the James River, just off of the Coast of Virginia. It was designated as a National Historic Site on December 18, 1940, and is a part of Colonial National Historical Park.
The first couple of years brought cooperation between the colonists and the Native Americans, who taught them how to plant crops and farm. However, the relationship went south, and most of the Native Americans were wiped out by warfare. The colonists had a difficult several years, and about 80% of them were wiped out by starvation and disease.
The second group of colonists included Polish and German artisans who set up a glass factory; glassware was one of the first export products from the colony. There were also a couple of women – the first European women to join the settlement.
Some of the “household” names associated with Jamestowne include Captain John Smith – a colorful character who went from murdering his master in England to mapping the river system near Jamestowne, learning the native language, and being elected the first Governor of colonial Virginia. John Rolfe brought tobacco seeds from Bermuda, one of the first successful export crops, and married the daughter of a local Native American chief, Pocohontas.
The town was deliberately burned during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, but was rebuilt. In 1699, when the capitol of the Virginia colony was moved from Jamestowne to Williamsburg, the settlement was abandoned, although there were some plantations on the island into the 1800s.
It was a beautiful sunny day when Jon and I visited; we arrived about 10 am and watched the orientation film in a cool theater with seats all around – the movie is projected on the wall above the seating. We did a brief tour through the museum and then headed out to the site.
I was surprised at how swampy the site was – we walked across a raised walkway over the swamp, home to several turtles! They were so cute! Once we were on the island, we checked out the fort site first. There are a few reconstructed buildings and some archaeological sites to check out, as well as the grave sites of several of the original colonists.
We also saw the ruin of the Jamestowne Church – it was built in 1639 (although I believe it was the fourth church on the site) – the nave was built to commemorate the 300th anniversary in Jamestowne in 1907. The day we were there, there was a drone on site – we found out later that it was shooting footage down the chimney of the church to assess its stability.
We wandered around the rest of the site and checked out the plantation house ruin, as well as the reconstructed foundations of various buildings at the site. We also relaxed for a bit near the James River, enjoying the view and the float plane that was landing on the river.
We also toured the Voorhees Archaearium, the museum on the site that contains historical artifacts from the settlement. They also have two skeletons from the site and the stories from how they died. One died from a gunshot in the leg; the other skeleton was a captain at the fort.
Most interestingly, the museum had an exhibit on Jane; she was a fourteen year old girl who died and was cannibalized, most likely during the “starving time”. There were a few of her bones on exhibit that showed evidence of the cut marks that indicate the cannibalization. It was an interesting exhibit, and I appreciated their candid way of dealing with such a sensitive subject.
Then we headed over to the cafe for a delicious lunch, probably the best museum cafe food we had on the trip. I had the U.S. Grant wrap with dried cranberries, turkey, walnuts and blue cheese spread with a side of orzo pasta and a slice of wonderful key lime pie. Jon had the Union – a hummus veggie wrap with cole slaw and a Legend Brown Ale from a Richmond, VA brewery.
Although there is very little of the original site visible, it was fascinating to see the site where colonial history in North American really began.