Thursday, August 20, 2015

Revisiting History April 25-26 Part I Jamestown VA

We left Nancy and Camden that afternoon and headed into Virginia.  The rural route was pretty and we drove through some small towns on some small roads with our BIG rig with no problem. Then we drove through Norfolk at rush hour but managed with the GPS and 2 maps to find our way to the campground without too much delay other than one where roadwork forced us onto a really busy and SLOW route.  Our campground was in Williamsburg and we'd planned to see Colonial Williamsburg along with Jamestown and Yorktown.  However, this was the first campground we didn't really love because our site backed up to a relatively busy main road and was bordered on the other side by Amtrak tracks.  Now I know how often Amtrak runs that route and it runs quite a bit at night.  The first night I woke up each time it rumbled through but was able to sleep through the next two.

The lack of sleep meant that I did not want to get going too early-even if Phoenix had woken me at 5am to go out-and it took awhile to get in gear.  We reviewed our options and after looking at the prices of a day at Colonial Williamsburg we opted to skip it.  Don and I have both been to a number of historical recreated places and CW seemed on the commercial side, not to mention expensive.  We are more interested in history and not buying reproductions. I'm not sure if that is really fair but with limited time and knowing we wanted to see the other 2 plus we had to do food shopping we left the final decision to later.  So, first we went to Jamestown Settlement. It's a living history museum that has based much of what it has recreated on the finding at the site of the original Jamestown Settlement administrated by the NPS.

The three ships the came to Jamestown: Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery

We were impressed first of all with the timeline museum that leads through the building out to the back where the tour begins.  It does not focus only on the settlers but begins with pre-Columbian artifacts, has extensive exhibits on the Paspahegh Indians that lived in the area, and powerful exhibit about the first ship of enslaved Angolans who arrived in 1619, as well as a street scene from 1607 England which gives an idea of what life was like for the settlers before they came.  

The first is a visit to a recreated Powhatan village.  The guide is a historical interpreter dressed in the clothes a Powhatan of 1607 would have worn except that this day, our guide admitted, was colder than he'd thought and he had not worn his leggings and was cold.  After seeing the reed covered houses, demonstrations of how food was preserved, deer skins were tanned and a dug out canoe as well as a ceremonial circle of carved wooden heads and hearing about Pocahontas...

 Clamshells were used as tools to scrape the wood after it was burned and hollow out the canoes...
 which were not used only for work but also racing

 There is no conclusive evidence to show what these circles actually were 
but it's believed they were for some kind of ceremony

We moved on to the recreated fort and began to hear things that were putting our memories from school on end. Specifically: Jamestown is the first permanent English colony in what would become the US and the system of government -representative- established in Jamestown would become the basis for the one we have today.  But wait...wasn't it Plymouth?  As another historical interpreter at the NPS site would say "There was a war in the 1860s and the winners liked the Plymouth/Mayflower story better." I will not go into all the details here but it is interesting hearing the story of Jamestown and realizing that it is one we really don't hear very often.  (Oh, and for anyone who only knows the Disney version of Pocahontas, it's well worth finding out the real version,too.) 

After the fort we went down to see the reproductions of the 3 ships that brought the colonists. The Susan Constant and Godspeed carried most of the passengers while the Discovery brought the supplies.

Susan Constant stern

Susan Constant bow

Godspeed with Discovery behind her

and then to lunch at the cafe which was really quite good. 

We then drove over to the Historic Jamestowne which is the actual site of the landing and settlement by the members of the Virginia Company.  As we learned more about the commercial aspect of the enterprise I began to understand how different the story of the Pilgrims at Plymouth is and, I think, is treated as "more" what the US is all about.  It somehow sounds better to present a story about people escaping religious persecution and "finding" a new place to live than about a bunch of men who came looking to make money by exploiting the resources in a new land, but aren't both of these equally as much a part of the history of the US?   

 At the Welcome Center we watched a brief film and then spent a good half an hour listening and talking to a man from Living History Associates, who plays the role of John Rolfe. From the Welcome Center there is a walkway across a pond- replete with wildlife but we saw only painted turtles sunning themselves and covered with pond slime- leading to the site.  

The path then leads around the "new" town which grew through the years from the original fort site. It was here that the Virginia General Assembly, the oldest representative legislature in the Western Hemisphere, was first held in 1619.  In 1643 the Assembly divided into 2 bodies: the Council of State, made up of members appointed by the British King and the House of Burgesses, whose members were elected by the voters (white, men) from Jamestown and the surrounding counties in the colony.  This bi-cameral legislature would be at its strongest in the 1660's-1670's but after Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 it lost much of its independence.

At one point, when the quick money crops of sassafras and tobacco (which people were actually even growing in the streets of town) threatened the struggling silk and wine industries, the General Assembly required that each plot owner plant 4 mulberry trees (for silk) and 20 vines for wine.  Oh no! "Big Government!"

As you walk around the town the ruins of buildings are visible but the bricks are actually reproductions as the originals have been re-covered to preserve them.  

Near the river there is a statue of Capt. John Smith who was certainly an intriguing man.  Having just finished King Philip's War : The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict (by Eric B Schultz) I was struck by how the actions of one or a few men determined the relations between the settlers and the native peoples in the area.  King Philip's War, of course, took place in Massachusetts but in both (all) cases the ideas and attitudes behind the problems were universal.

From the "new" town the path leads over to the site of the fort where there are excavations going on.  There are new discoveries being made every day.  Near the church is a statue of Pocahontas, the daughter of the great chief of the Powhatans, Wahunsenacawh, or Chief Powhatan,  and wife of John Rolfe.  Beyond that is the Arcaearium which is a museum of the artifacts that have been recovered.  Two of the most interesting parts were the areas devoted to the Native peoples and the one covering the early years of the colony-specifically 1609-10, called the Starving Time.  Turns out a bunch of adventurers from London knew little to nothing about how to keep themselves and others alive. There is a reconstruction of a woman's head and several other remains.

We had eaten lunch before we went to the Archaearium so after we'd finished looking around we decided we had time to drive the quick road called Island Drive which encircles Jamestown Island. (<-- Click that link to get an overview of the entire area.) But, as with all our plans they changed quickly.  Virtually as soon as we entered the shady road we saw a man standing at the side of the road looking into the trees with binoculars. We stopped to ask him what he was looking and and what followed was an incredibly interesting and rewarding 2 hours.  It turns out that he is fascinated with nature and spends virtually all his free time watching and recording birds, wildlife and sunsets wherever he is, including at home. Even when his time is not free, as he kept telling us, he "should be home cleaning the garage because the guys were coming over to watch the game and his wife was not going to be happy, " he was out.  This particular day he was looking at the various Bald Eagle nests to see how the eaglets were progressing.  After spending a good bit of time talking and watching some of his videos (on his phone) he said it was really time for him to go.  BUT, as we drove away he pulled up alongside us and said he'd show us some of the nests.  We saw a buzzard's nest, and he taught us how to tell the difference between a bald eagle and buzzard (and osprey) in flight.  Eagles keep their wings straight out, buzzards have a wide v formation and ospreys "do whatever they darn please."  We stopped to see 2 more nests before we came back around to the parking lot and this time the nest nearby was active.  3 eaglets with no evidence of parents at any time but we stood and watched for a good long while waiting.  Finally we all decided it was time to leave, but Ralph saw two more opportunities.  The first was an eagle sitting in pine trees and the next was back out on the Colonial Parkway and the eaglet was peering over the nest at us.  Finally, since the afternoon was fast waning we said goodbye to this wonderful man who'd shared so much of his day and knowledge with us.  Now when we drive along we know if we are seeing an eagle or not.  And then to top the day off, as we drove away we saw a nest near the road.  Two ospreys were flying to it and they landed one atop the other before the second one flew off.  Quite a treat.

2 of the 3 eaglets

A buzzards nest

                                                           Bald Eagle in a pine tree

Eaglet watching us watch him

                         Ospreys coming in for  landing together

Our day was done and we headed back to the campground with a quick stop to do some grocery shopping and plans to see Yorktown the next day...

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