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Jamestown, England's first permanent New World settlement

© By Mike Keenan
  It's a remarkable year in North America for both Canada and the United States. Not only are there concurrent political battles, but we also commemorate each nation's historical founding. In Canada, Québec City celebrates its 400th birthday, marking the arrival of the French, and the United States shares a similar birthday with the arrival at Jamestown of France's arch enemies, the British. Only 20 minutes down the road from Williamsburg, the Historic Jamestowne (Colonial National Historical Park) is a must-see.


     Guided tours of the first permanent English settlement in the New World are offered from the Visitor Center which also features a film, museum of original 17th-century artifacts and a museum shop. A self-guided walking tour takes visitors to the statues of Pocahontas and John Smith, remains of the 1639 church tower, and brick outlines of the original town. Interpreters assist at the archeological excavation of the 1607 James Fort site and at the gallery displaying artifacts found at the excavation area.
     As I arrive late afternoon, hundreds of school children are actively enjoying the site, delighted with the many exhibits such as the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery - re-creations of three ships that brought the English colonists to Virginia in 1607 - moored at Jamestown Settlement's pier for visitors to explore and learn about the ships and the long four-and-a-half-month voyage from England.


     In 1607, 13 years before Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, a group of brave or foolish 104 English men and boys established a settlement here on the banks of Virginia's James River, sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, whose stockholders hoped to make a profit from the New World. The community survived terrible hardships in early years and today, I witness their story and that of the Powhatan Indians whom they encountered.
     The school children and I explore the life-size re-creations of the colonists' fort and a Powhatan village, and we tour a riverfront discovery area, learning about European, Powhatan and African economic activities associated with water. To assist us, as in Colonial Williamsburg, there is an ample supply of costumed historical interpreters who describe and demonstrate daily life in the early 17th century. There is a unique museum of 17th-century American history and culture located adjacent to the entrance of the original site. In fact, there is so much to do and see here that one could easily spend a half day at this settlement.


     Here, I make a few historical discoveries of my own. First, despite what I was led to believe by the sultry lyrics of jazz singer, Peggy Lee, Pocahontas and John Smith were not America's Romeo and Juliet. There never was a love affair between the two. In 1607, she was 10 years old; Smith, 27. It was John Rolfe, not John Smith she married in 1614.
     Then, at an archeological exhibit in the Natalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, I learn who shot JR. No, not actor, Larry Hagman, from the popular CBS 1980 TV show, Dallas. JR, in this case, refers to Jamestown Rediscovery 102C, the first burial unearthed inside the fort, with his skeleton on display. JR appears to have been a gentleman, bones revealing he was not accustomed to hard work and the fact he was buried in a coffin confers status. It appears a bullet pierced his lower right leg, smashing the bone, probably severing an artery and killing him. X-rays and ballistic tests clear the Native Americans, indicating a European.
     As I tour the original 17th-century church tower and reconstructed 17th-century Jamestown Memorial Church, I sense how lonely it must have been for the settlers back then. Yet, their primitive fortifications and makeshift shelters survived, and later, with a nine-day bombardment of British forces in nearby Yorktown, Cornwalis surrendered on October 19, 1781, the last major military action of the American Revolution, granting independence to the American colonies after a six-and-a-half-year struggle. That brings us fast forward to our respective democracies in action.


Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

If you go
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Visit Jamestown: http://www.jamestown1607.org/
Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center: http://www.historyisfun.org/
Visit Williamsburg: http://www.visitwilliamsburg.com/williamsburg-attractions/jamestown-settlement/index.aspx?gclid=CN_rpeOC3pUCFRLoxgodQVjFWw
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamestown,_Virginia
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Jamestown_(Virginia)

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