Year 2 Day 141 Jamestown Settlement


Today, we took the ferry across the James River and explored Jamestown.  Well, we actually never made it to the Jamestown National Park, where the original Jamestown was established.  We hope to stop there tomorrow on our way to Yorktown.  Where Jamestown original stood is an archeological site and we have been told there is nothing to see above the ground since none of the structures no long exist.  Instead, we explored the Jamestown Museum and reconstructed settlement.  I must say, this is the one of the best, if not the best, museum we have ever visited anywhere in the world.  That is a statement I do not make lightly.  If you are ever in this part of the US, it is well worth the effort to come over to Jamestown and visit this.  What make this museum so special is that it is a combination of outstanding and accurate outdoor reconstructions; a series of docents dressing in period costumes who are very knowledgeable, patient and friendly; a series of large indoor galleries that you walk through that are based on distinct periods of time that are relevant to Jamestown and the area surrounding it.  It presents information from various views: the English, the Native Americans, and the slaves.

Before I post the pictures of what we saw, I will present a brief history of Jamestown and its significance to us in the US.  Much of what I present below was just plagiarized from after vetting it using three different sources and from what we learned during our visit.  I have augmented it with some of my own insights.

After Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage in 1492, Spain dominated the race to establish colonies in the Americas, while English efforts, such as the “lost colony” of Roanoke (1587), met with failure. In 1606, King James I granted a charter to a new venture, the Virginia Company, to form a settlement in North America. At the time, Virginia was the English name for the entire eastern coast of North America north of Florida; they had named it for Elizabeth I, the “virgin queen.” The Virginia Company planned to search for gold and silver deposits in the New World, as well as a river route to the Pacific Ocean that would allow them to establish trade with the Orient.

Roughly 100 colonists left England in late December 1606 on three ships (the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery) and reached Chesapeake Bay late the next April. After forming a governing council—including Christopher Newport, commander of the voyage, and John Smith, a former mercenary who had been accused of insubordination aboard ship by several other company members—the group searched for a suitable settlement site. On May 14, 1607, they landed on a narrow peninsula–virtually an island–in the James River, where they would begin their lives in the New World.

Known variously as James Forte, James Towne and James Cittie, the new settlement initially consisted of a wooden fort built in a triangle around a storehouse for weapons and other supplies, a church and a number of houses. By the summer of 1607, Newport went back to England with two ships and 40 crewmembers to give a report to the king and to gather more supplies and colonists. The settlers left behind suffered greatly from hunger and illness since they arrived well after the planting season had begun and they did not have time to build a settlement, clear the land and till fields to grow crops.  It was only through trading with the Algonquian tribes that dominated the area that kept the small settlement alive.  The Native Americans in the area were organized into a series of smaller local tribes, each with one or more chiefs.  However, they were part of a larger, well organized society which was controlled by the head chief, Wahunsenacawh.  He was called Chief Powhatan by the English and it was he who determined that his nation would welcome the English for purposes of establishing trade to enrich his people with the remarkable iron goods, arms and other goods that were not part of their society.  It was their trading food with the settlers that kept the settlers alive through the first winter.

However, not every local chief supported the position taken by Chief Powhatan.  This was especially true of those chiefs whose tribes were in the most contact with the English.  This was because of the societal differences between the two groups and the customs and beliefs they were raised with.  Also, there was political infighting between Chief Powhatan and his brothers, especially his youngest brother, Opechancanough.  Opechancanough argued for attacking the settlers and eliminating their presence in their lands.  This led to periodic hostilities between the Native Americans and the settlers.

John Smith was critical in establishing a positive influence with Chief Powhatan.  He played a major role in minimizing hostilities while in Jamestown.  However, he was forced to return to London after receiving very serious gunpower burns in late 1609.  Without his presence, the relationship with the Native Americans deteriorated so much that trading ceased and skirmishes increased.  Without adequate food for the winter, the settlers suffered starvation and disease and many died.  Things were so bad that some unburied the dead and cannibalism occurred.

Just when the surviving colonists decided to abandon Jamestown in Spring 1610, new settlers with supplies arrived from England, eager to find wealth in Virginia.  This group of new settlers arrived under the second charter issued by King James I.  This charter provided for stronger leadership under a governor who served with a group of advisors, and the introduction of a period of military law that carried harsh punishments for those who did not obey.

In order to make a profit for the Virginia Company, settlers tried a number of small industries, including glassmaking, wood production, and pitch and tar and potash manufacture.  However, until the introduction of tobacco as a cash crop about 1613 by colonist John Rolfe, who later married Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas, none of the colonists’ efforts to establish profitable enterprises were successful.  Tobacco cultivation required large amounts of land and labor and stimulated the rapid growth of the Virginia colony.  Settlers moved onto the lands occupied by the Powhatan Indians, and increased numbers of indentured servants came to Virginia.

The first documented Africans in Virginia arrived in 1619.  They were from the kingdom of Ndongo in Angola, West Central Africa, and had been captured during war with the Portuguese.  While these first Africans may have been treated as indentured servants, the customary practice of owning Africans as slaves for life appeared by mid-century.  The number of African slaves increased significantly in the second half of the 17th century, replacing indentured servants as the primary source of labor.

Upon the death of Wahunsenacawh in 1618, his next younger brother Opitchapam officially became paramount chief. However, Opechancanough, the youngest brother, had achieved the greatest power and effectively became the Powhatan.  Relations between the Native Americans and the settlers quickly got worse when the settlers started establishing new settlements in the area.

In March 1622, the Powhatan made a major assault on English settlements, killing some 350 to 400 residents (a full one-quarter of the population). The attack hit the outposts of Jamestown the hardest, while the town itself received advance warning and was able to mount a defense.

In an effort to take greater control of the situation, King James I dissolved the Virginia Company and made Virginia into an official crown colony, with Jamestown as its capital, in 1624. The New Town area of Jamestown continued to grow, and the original fort seems to have disappeared after the 1620s. Though the Powhatan people continued to mount a resistance (Opechankeno, by then in his 80s, led another great rebellion in 1644), the colony continued to grow stronger, and his successor Necotowance was forced to sign a peace treaty that ceded most of the Powhatans’ land and forced them to pay an annual tribute to the colonial governor. In 1698, the central statehouse in Jamestown burned down, and Williamsburg replaced it as the colonial capital the following year.

Here are the many photos we took while exploring this wonderful museum.










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