The Two Jamestowns, Virginia
By Candyce H. Stapen
What was life like for the first English pioneers in the New World? Find out by exploring Virginia’s two Jamestowns. Historic Jamestowne marks the original 1607 site, the first permanent English community. Adjacent Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum, recreates the fledgling outpost complete with interpreters in period clothing.
At Historic Jamestowne, established 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, we watch the summer archeologists—college students-- carefully maneuver their trowels in a three-foot deep pit, most likely a well. It has yielded up
a jug, an earring, a gold ring, a musket firing mechanism, horse bones and a rare slate with New World flowers and birds.
The wine bottles, brass candlesticks, clay pipes, potshards and tailors’ shears displayed at the Archaerium, the site’s museum, detail more of the first colonists’ daily lives. JR, the skeletal cast of 19-22 year-old man with a musket shot still embedded in his leg, testifies to the era’s dangers.
Remarkably, the head archeologist, William Kelso, discovered the original post molds, remnants of the stains left in the ground by the decayed wood of the fort’s palisades. Two rows of rough wood planks recreate the perimeters. You can walk the settlement led by Dr. Kelso on a special, one-hour “In the Trenches” tour, held 10 a.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month from April through October. Reserve ahead for $30 tour open to ages 10 and older.
If Historic Jamestowne provides the outlines, then Jamestown Settlement fills in the specifics. In the museum’s galleries, learn about the three cultures that met on Virginia’s soil—the English, the Native Americans and the Africans brought as slaves. You can look through an astrolabe, an early navigational tool, to find the north star; watch “From Africa to Virginia,” a film about the slave trade; and also compare images of Pocahontas from early paintings to a cell from Disney’s popular movie named for the fabled Powhatan Indian maiden.
Outdoors, explore three recreated areas. At the Powhatan Indian Village, watch costumed interpreters perform daily tasks such as tan animal hides, weave baskets or make pottery. At the pier on the James River, view the replicas of the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery. Onboard the Susan Constant, you can go below to see the sailors’ bunks and talk with the captain who tells you tales of the arduous four and-a-half month journey. Within the fort, visit the thatched roofed storehouse, guardhouse, church and other buildings. At select times, watch a blacksmith forge tools or a soldier fire a musket.
Together, Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement provide an engaging look at the place where America took root.