Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Jamestown, Virginia - National Park Service Site

There were many things in the Williamsburg, Virginia area that we could have done in addition to going to Colonial Williamsburg. We did not have time for much more, but we did spend a day at National Park Service's Jamestown Island. This is the original site of the first English settlement in North America. No - the first was not Plymouth Rock.

In 1607, Jamestown was established as a business venture to make the Dutch East India Company very rich back in London. They thought that there was gold to be found. What they eventually discovered and made their wealth on was tobacco. This is where the story of Pocohontas comes from - and it is true. This is where the men starved the first winter and while many died, some resorted to cacannibalism to stay alive. The site is part of the National Park Service under the name Historic Jamestowne and it has been in operation for over a century. This site is not to be confused with Jamestown Festival Park which is an attraction not far away. Jamestown Festival Park is a living history recreation of Jamestown and none of it is original and it is not located on the actual island. It is a very nice and very interesting attraction, but if you want to see the "real" thing - you need to go to the NPS site on Jamestown Island.

For many, many years the site was presented primarily with the area called "New Towne", where the settlement matured into a bustling town. It was always presented that the site of the original settlement and fort had eroded into the James River which you are immediately at the edge of. The guides would always point out to the river and say that is where the fort must be and it is long gone. Then they would shrug and say, "We just don't know." As you toured the grounds they would also point out the Confederate Earthworks. These are dirt mounds built into a fort by the Confederates to defend against a Yankee attack from the river. I recall asking a guide, why has there not been archaeology done under the Confederate Earthworks to see if there is any remains of the original settlement's fort. She smiled and told me that the ground is still sacred to the South and it would be disrespectful to that history to disturb it. I always had a feeling that if they dug they would find the fort right there. I was just a kid. I told my parents and really no one else at the time. Later touring it with my wife, I told her about it too. It seems that I was not the only one that felt this way. Archaeologist, William Kelso, had this same idea. He was able to do something about it and in the early 1990's (this is that recent and it is still going on) exploratory digs were made under the Earthworks and guess what - I was right. They found the fort - all of it. The Jamestown Restoration Project run by the APVA with the National Park Service has been digging and finding remarkable things including skeletons that tell a great deal of a story of the past that has been unknown until now. What they have done on the site is place markers and log representative structures where parts of the fort and buildings were. They are still digging and still finding buildings and artifacts.

There is a museum building on the site that houses all of the artifacts to display them to visitors including two of the skeletons. The building in itself is unique as the where the building has been placed was the site of the First State House in North America. The foundations are there under the building but rather than cover this historic find up, they have built the building on cement piers above the ground and placed glass in some of the floor areas so that you can see what lies beneath. This happens to be the building that we were in when the hurricane hit - and this unique construction lent a part to our feeling like we were swaying back and forth as the earthquake shook.

National Park Service has rangers give tours of the grounds. There are guides stationed all around the fort site to explain what has been found, what is being found, and what they are hoping to find. What you will see takes a bit of imagination to appreciate. There are no buildings to walk through with the exception of the remains of a brick church that was built after the settlement became established. But if you watch the archaeologists dig, you may just see something taken out of the ground that has not been seen by human eye in more than 300 years.

I recommend going here and spend part of the day. After you see the real thing, go to Jamestown Festival Park and see what it looked like to the settlers. You will meet some along the way and there you can go aboard reconstructions of the three ships that brought the settlers from England in 1607. They also have a very good musuem.

Now, would you like to hear how Meryl caused the earthquake? Really... Ok, below you see a photo of a section of burials of original colonists that were found on these spots. Each died during the first year of the settlement. The remains were found by the archaeologists, studied and then put back where they were. Each grave is marked with a metal cross and you can see these in the photo -

it is the custom of people who are Jewish to place a rock on a grave stone just as others would leave flowers. As there are few flowers in the desert in the Middle East and plenty of rocks, this makes sense. As we walked past this burial area - and you can walk through if you wish - Meryl, who is Jewish, went over to look at the crosses and told me that she had an overwhelming need to place a rock on one of them. She told me that they looked so lonely and she needed to let them know that people still care. OK, I said, if you really need to then go ahead. And she picked up a small stone and placed it on the crossbar of one of the crosses. She paused for a moment and we walked on toward the museum which we wanted to visit. As we walked away from the crosses, I commented that the Church of England colonist beneath that cross must be spinning now with the Jewish rock on his/her grave marker. We laughed ... It was not too long after that, when we first entered the museum and started to look in the first display case that the earthquake hit. As I have described the building swayed and the lights hanging from the ceiling started to swing. After it stopped and we recovered from the experience, Meryl said to me, "Did I do that?". "Huh?", I said. "Well, you said that person must be spinning, maybe he really was upset by it." Well, maybe so because we walked past that cross a little while later and the rock was gone. So, if anyone asks, why did that earthquake in August 2011 happen in Virginia - well the answer is, "It's Meryl's fault."

1 comment:

  1. Shalom Meryl,that was an interesting story,and a very thoughtful gesture on your behalf,both of you should be commended on this wonderful site,it is educational and entertaining,and as someone who has benefited from Robert's kind answers via email,thank you both so much,keep up the great work.