Jamestown, Virginia

After leaving Kill Devil Hill, we went to Jamestown for a couple of days. We decided that we would spend our time at the historical Jamestown, instead of the reenactment Jamestown. It was a great decision. Jamestown is famous because it was the first permanent English colony in America, and there are two historic Jamestowns. The oldest one, where the first fort was build, was on land that was eventually donated to the Association for Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. The second Jamestown was relocated on land just outside the fort, on land is now part of the National Park system. Each organization had its own lecturer, and we learned a ton of information.

Our first tour was in the National Park, outside the old fort. Our guide told us that the first colonists consisted of 104 men and boys, all funded by the Virginia Company of London. The company was looking to make a profit so they didn’t want stir up the natives. They ordered the colonists to not start farming in a big way (Indians were sure to know this meant bad news), not to let Indians know how many colonists died in battle (leading to burying more than 1 person in a grave) and not to displace natives (which would lead to fighting). This last part caused the colonists to pick a spot that was not occupied, but they didn’t realize it was unoccupied for a good reason: no fresh water. Each new well was only good for a few months, and they were in the middle of a great drought. The best the colonists could do was to make and drink rum. But the combination of seawater and alcohol caused serious dysentery, which killed a lot of people. 

Everything in this area is a reconstruction, but everything is reconstructed over the original site. The mounds running along the roads were property lines, and in the fields they used ditches to mark individual fields. I leaned they made bricks without a kiln by creating “brick clamps”, which meant stacking the raw bricks, piling firewood around them and setting the whole thing on fire. 

And our guide told us that several of the colonists were indentured servants. Sometimes very poor parents would indenture their children simply as a means to ensure the child had food. The child's master was supposed to provide food, clothing, and maybe experience that would be useful later. It didn't always work out that way. Richard Fretborne, an indentured servant, wrote a letter to his parents about how utterly terrible his life was, with non-stop work, rags for clothes, and only peas and water gruel to eat. The only bright spot was that “Goodman Jackson” gave him a small cabin and some food when he could. Richard closed by begging his parents to find or borrow money to redeem his contract so he could come home. That's a mighty rough letter to send to your parents, made rougher by the fact that Richard was dead by the next April.  

Our second tour was in the Jamestown fort. Since this area is not part of the National Park, an archeologist was our guide. We learned that the mounds just outside the fort area are actually the remains of earthworks created by the Confederate Army in 1861. They scraped dirt from the Jamestown site to create 10’ mounds. So now archeologists are only allowed to date artifacts in the earthworks back to 1861, even though they know they are older.

And here's what I think I heard about the church: 
The first church services were held outdoors.
Then they built a rough barn-like structure; it burnt in 1608.
Then they build a wooden church with a brick foundation; it burnt in 1676.
Then they build a brick church; it burnt.
Then they build another church, using the walls and fountains of the previous church. It “fell to ruin” in the 1790s (except the tower) and its bricks were reused to build the present graveyard wall. The foundations of those last two churches are visible inside current church.  

So the tower is the oldest standing structure, dating back from the 17th century (although the top part has been reconstructed).
The wall around the churchyard encloses several tombstones and grave covers. I learned that they were probably all imported from England, which means only wealthy people could afford them. Some of the inscriptions were quite wordy, but my favorite belongs to William Sherwood: “Here lyeth William Sherwood that was born into the parish of White Chapel near London. A great sinner waiting for a joyful Resurrection.”

When the colonists first landed, they didn’t think they would need a fort. But after the first Indian attack, they built that fort in 19 days. The outside fort wall, called a palisade, formed a rough triangle shape, with the longest side along the shoreline. 
They also put up barricades, with stick frames and 2’ thick mud walls and a thatched roof. Only “footprints” of any of these structures remain, where the soil is a mixture, instead of undisturbed soil. 
Inside the church 3 men put on a reenactment, where a soldier met with two brothers of Pocahontas to discuss the peace they hoped her marriage would bring about. I don't know the names of the characters, but the actors were Cody and Warren, and they were quite good.
Pocahontas is one of the most famous people associated with Jamestown, and she has been famous a long time; the lovely stature of her at the entrance was put up in 1922. 
She was a frequent visitor to Jamestown and there is an antidote of her as a little girl, cartwheeling naked through the center of the town. Apparently Pocahontas simply enjoyed these newcomers, and visited often. John Smith wrote of her as "a child of tenne years old ... not only for feature, countenance...but for wit and spirit, the only Nonpariel of his Country.” There is some question if she really saved his life, but she certainly improved relations between her people and the colonists. Eventually she was kidnapped, converted to Christianity and married John Rolfe. Warren is a member of her tribe, and he said that among the tribe, her life is not considered remarkable because she was doing exactly what tribal princesses were supposed to do - build alliances. Even the kidnapping wasn’t unusual. It happened occasionally between tribes and if the captive wasn’t killed, they were usually adopted into the tribe, creating relationships between tribes. Looking at it in this light, her actions were quite traditional. 

However, he was very disapproving of Chanco, who has a commemorative plaque in the church. Chanco was a young Indian who lived with a colonist and, as part of a coordinated attack on the colony, was supposed to kill him. Instead he warned him, and therefore the fort, of the impending attack. The colonists had time to prepare for the fight, which stopped the raiding that had already destroyed other areas. Warren called him a traitor and his plaque should be removed. I understand his feeling, but truthfully, even if Chanco had behaved otherwise, it would not have changed much in the long run.

What Pocahontas is most famous for, a romance with John Smith, probably didn’t happen. But the legend lives on - even in the church, her commemorative plaque is right next to John’s. 
And poor John Smith - all many people know of his life is a fictional romance with an Indian princess. But I learned that John led a very interesting life. Apparently while he was a soldier in Hungary he was captured, taken to Turkey and sold into slavery in Russia, where he killed his owner and made it back to England. In America he led a 3,000 mile expedition in an open boat to map the Chesapeake Bay waters, he was Governor of Virginia, and he wrote the early history of Virginia. And apparently he was a very good leader at Jamestown; it seemed to all fall apart shortly after he left.

Inside the fort the archeologists dug out three burial sites, and one contained a teenage boy.  An archeologist named Danny told us that he was the one who found an arrowhead by the boy’s leg bone. Immediately the excavation leader got the records and read that in the very first Indian raid, a 14 year old boy was killed. So this was the grave of the first Jamestown casualty. The grave is not open now, so this is part of the archeological documentation.
The current excavation is a kitchen area, mostly underground. There would have been a low ceiling, about a foot above our guide's head. Two ovens are built into the corners. 
This was filled in, or maybe caved in, around 1610, which is known as “The Starving Time”.  That was when the drought got worse, there were no fish in the area, the Indians killed anyone who tried to go hunting, and the supply ships brought more people but no supplies. The colonists ate their dogs and horses, but that wasn’t enough. And here is where the Jamestown legend got a new wrinkle. When they cleaned out the trash used to fill in this area, they found bones of a young woman with the same butcher marks as the dog and horses bones. The Smithsonian folks came out and verified that she was cannibalized. The only good thing is that it almost certainly happened after she died. There is no way yet to identify her, so she has been named Jane. I think it's ironic that this 14-year old girl, probably a maid, who was handled so poorly after her death, will probably become the most famous person in Jamestown. 

There is an enormous amount left to excavate in the area. And a little further out is the remains of the Glass House, where, for a short time, colonists made glass. It wasn’t a very successful venture, but today they have a glass-making shop that gives demonstrations and creates beautiful glassworks. 
We enjoyed this trip tremendously because we learned so much. People are pretty much the same everywhere, but the lives they live can be vastly different. It is impossible to know for sure how we would survive in another time; I don't think I would do well, but I am so grateful to people who took up the challenge. One of the most evocative images was these little stick crosses, against the background of the sea. To me, this is the real story of Jamestown.

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