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Day 89 - Jamestown (Photo's Added)

We visited Historic Jamestown (place of the actual 1607 settlement) and spent the whole day there.

sunny

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 108 RT
Weather - Cold & overcast in the morning, then the clouds burned off and it was quite pleasant & sunny the rest of the day.
Camped at - Still staying at the nice Thousand Trails campground (and we did visit the hot tub when we got back)

Confessions:

I'm getting older, the Colonial Parkway has NO lights, NO painted strips at edges or center, very hard to drive at night if you're not familiar with it - and if your eyes are getting old! Maybe it's time I hung up the old keys, Mom could drive back?

Narrative:

Today we decided to visit 'Historic Jamestown'. This is the actual location of the first permanent English settlement in America. I included the name in quotes, because nearby is a Virginia State facility called "Jamestown Settlement" which is slightly different (we visited that on Saturday). 'Historic Jamestown' is run jointly by the National Park Service and the "Association for Preservation of Virginia Antiquities", or APVA.

Following Columbus (re)discovery of the new world in 1492, Spain was becoming rich exploiting her colonies in south. France also started establishing colonies in the north to exploit fur trade and England wanted a part of the action. In 1585, an attempted settlement on Roanoke Island in present day North Carolina failed (the 'lost colony'). In 1606, King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Companies to establish a new colony north of area's previously settled by the Spanish. The Virginia Company was formed by investors who hoped to get rich on the venture and sold stock to raise money on that premise.

In December 1606, they sent three ships from England with 104 Men and boys to locate a place suitable for a new settlement. There were no women aboard as this was initially considered a military adventure (they were seeking Gold, Glory and God - the three 'G's). The ships arrived in April 1607 and spent about three weeks looking for a suitable place to build a settlement. They needed to find a place that wasn't already occupied by natives, a place far enough upriver and out of view of the Spanish (who claimed all of the new world for themselves, whether they'd settled it or not), and also with deep enough moorage for their ships. None of the sites they investigated were perfect, but the Island they choose was the best fit they could find. The James River is deep enough along the edge that they could tie thier ships up to trees on the island (also a reason that end of the island has eroded).

On May 14, 1607 they tied up their ships off of James Island, as they named thier new home. They immediately set about building a small base, which eventually became a three sided fort covering about one acre. This was the primary settlement (called Fort James after their king) for the next few years. Eventually, people started locating their homes outside the fort walls and the 'new town' developed to the east. Jamestown continued to grow and develop and remained the colony's capital throughout the 1600's, but there were also a lot of problems associated with the location (bugs, lack of fresh water, etc). After the town burned done in the 1690's, they decided to move the capital to nearby Williamsburg. Over the next 50 years or so, people began to abandon Jamestown and eventually it became just a tobacco plantation. As the buildings disappeared and the island's shoreline eroded, most people thought the site of the original fort had been washed into the James River, although they did know approximately where it had been and also where the town itself had been.

In 1994, the APVA began excavations where they thought parts of the fort might have still survived on the island and almost immediately started finding artifacts. In fact, only a small corner of the fort had been lost and the archeology had added a great deal of knowledge about the settlements earliest days. Although this is still an active archeological dig, the site is open - both for the original fort and also the 'new town' area just outside it.

When you first visit the 'Historic Jamestown' site, you walk across this foot bridge over a pine and tar swamp. The colonists tried to harvest the pine & tar for use in shipbuilding. It was only one of many ventures they tried, but the colony was unable to turn a profit on most of these ventures. (You can see the fort walls in the background).

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At the end of the bridge is a memorial set up to commerate the site. This is where the ranger tours start.

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We joined a tour that had already started, so missed some of the early lecture - probably just as well, it was very cold at that point so we didnt' want to sit around too much. The ranger did take us by a statue of Pocohontas. Popular folklore had her saving Capt. Smith's life - but some folks now think that doesn't make very much sense. Capt. Smith was known to embellish or make up things, so it may or may not have been true. What is known is that Pocohontas was her father's favorite daughter and when she married John Rolfe, one of the colonists, it brought peace for a few years anyway.

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Next to the statue is a very nice looking brick church. Not surprisingly, this is not original to the site but was built in the early 1900's on approximately the same site of a 1640's church. They also attempted to build it using drawings from the 1600's, so it may be somewhat like the original. The tower on the far end is original - it is the only remaining 1600's structure on the island and is from about 1640. There was a church in the original fort prior to this, but it was wood. The 1640's church was a later replacement built of brick that would have also been more for the town that had grown up outside the fort.

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Finally, we went through the fort itself. Of course, all signs of the original buildings have been lost for centuries (it has been 400 years afterall). However, archeologists have been able to locate where the walls actually were since when wooden posts rot or burn, they leave different colors and traces in the soil. Here is a diagram showing the location of the fort superimposed over a photograph of the island as well as the portions that were lost to the river erosion:

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The reconstructed walls are built using the same types of materials and methods. Only the walls and a frame for one building have been reconstructed. The corners are still open and sections are roped off while the archeologists (and archeology students) continue their digging.

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In the center of the site is this statue of Captain John Smith. He was a very interesting person and important to the survival of the early colony. While the initial colonists worked hard to build their fort, they really wanted to search for gold and silver and get rich like the Spanish had done. Captain Smith realized earlier then the rest that they needed more practical work to survive and instituted some rather harsh punishments for anybody who didn't. He is also credited with helping negotiate with the local Powhatan tribes to trade for food (although some feel his story about being saved by Pocohontas is an exaggeration. Unfortunately (?) for the colony, he was injured and returned to England in 1609 for medical treatment, although he continued to promote the colony and wrote about the new world in England. He also returned to New England later on a mapping expedition.

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The ranger guided tour ended at the fort (you don't have to take a guided tour to visit the fort however, and after the tour you are invited to continue your visit as you wish). Mom and I were both cold, so elected to visit the Archaearium next.

This is a museum just outside the fort area. It was built on top of the foundation for the old state house that burned down in 1698. They have built this on raised platforms so it doesn't disturb the original foundations or other burial locations found at the site. The Archaearium is where the artifacts found at the site are displayed, as well as interpretive displays. However, they don't allow photograph's so I haven't got much else to post on that.

We spent quite a bit of time in the Archaearium and somehow, when we got out the cold, overcast morning had burned off and turned into a very pleasant - mid 60's and sunny! Mom was pretty tired however and elected to return to the main visitors center while I elected to explore the 'new town' area. A few brick foundations are visible (from previous excavations) and fairly thorough interpretive signs dot the area. Houses were built as the settlement grew and a number of wharfs and warehouses built along the waterfront (warehouses were small then, much like a garage of today). The colonists started making bricks, at first mostly for fireplaces and hearths then later on for brick homes. They also tried a number of enterprises to help turn a profit for the Virginia Company.

Here is an example of what one of the earliest houses might have looked like and a foundation as it looks today:

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Later, about 1650, a 'Row House' was built where three homes shared a common wall. These were built out of brick, so leave a little more substantial foundation.

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Also, in the new town area are the remains of a1750's plantation house - not really part of Jamestown, but interesting none the less.

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In the first few years, nothing was very successful and the colony would not have survived except for the food they traded for from the Powhatan and supply ships from England. In 1609 there was a drought and the Powhatan didn't have enough food to supply the colonists. Since many of the early colonists were soldiers, they weren't very good at hunting and fishing - and as relations with the natives grew worse, they feared leaving the fort to hunt as they were being killed. The winter of 1609-10 has become known as 'the starving time'. The Virginia Company did send more supplies and colonists managed to keep the colony afloat while they kept looking for a way to make a profit. Among other things they tried glass, silk & wine making. They did send raw materials back to London (iron ore, wood, ?) but not enough to offset the cost of supporting the colony.

John Rolfe arrived in 1610 and started growing tobacco from seeds he'd brought over. Tobacco had been grown in Virginia by native peoples but it wasn't as good as the sweeter variety that the Spanish were selling. John Rolfe's experiment worked and he started shipping large barrels back to England. This was so successful that people started growing tobacco in the streets. It became the 'golden' crop that finally started making money for the colony and defined the development of Virginia in many ways.

OK - I guess that kind of jumped around a bit, may try to fix it later.

Anyway - there are also some artifacts on display at the main visitors center that you can photograph. Here is an oven from the original fort area they dug up during their excavations.

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Also this piece is from 1675 - it is the handle from a pewter spoon cast in America about 30 miles SE of Jamestown. You can still see the makers mark on the end of the handle. This is one of the earliest (if not the earliest) pewter pieces that can positively be identified as being made in America.

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Hm, this stuff is really, really old and all very impressive - but kind of makes the Fairbanks House up in Massachusetts even more so - there we have an intact, whole wood frame house still standing from the 1640's!

This took a long time to write, we learned a lot about Jamestown today that I probably didn't capture very well here - there's just too much. We stayed so long that it was getting dark by the time we left. On the drive back to the RV campground, Mom got out to get some sand from the James River, which gives us a nice parting shot for tonight I think?

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Posted by jl98584 19:11 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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