Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Historic Jamestown

Traveling the Colonial Parkway is scenic and quiet (no commercial vehicles) with "pull-over" areas to view historic markers. (Every square inch of this area is "historic"!) The Parkway connects Yorktown, NW of Willamsburg with Jamestown, SE of Willamsburg making exits available to all the local roads & highways. When checking the website the night before we visited to find fees charged, we found that there was a detour on the Parkway because of repairs on the Powhatan Creek Bridge. A boating accident severely damaged a support on the bridge. Our pass to National Parks, a gift from our daughter & family, allowed us a free pass. The nominal fee is well-worth a visit to the area.

The Jamestown National Historic Park includes a 15 minute film at the visitor's center, a walking tour of the area, a museum showing the articles that have been found, working archeologists digging in the area and a driving tour of the island. A Glasshouse is just inside the entrance to the park. Artisans demonstrate the 17th century glassblowing. Glassblowing was one of Virginia's first industries, started in 1608 by German and Polish craftsman. The glass was not made for the colony's windows, but was to be shipped back to England because of a glass shortage.

It was very hot & muggy the day we toured, but there was a great breeze blowing off the James River. We saw barges and ships traveling the river and the local ferry making it's trip! An awesome feeling to know that 400 years ago the grassy area where we were standing was a busy port and town with industry that included blacksmith, fishermen, iron smelters, tanners, tile makers, apothecary, potters, brick kilns and a brewery!

The first ship with 104 colonists anchor on the James River on May 13, 1607. They establish the colony of Virginia, with Jamestown as capital, under a charter granted by James I to the Virgina Company of London. England was dealing with an economic depression.

England had an inheritance system that allowed only the eldest son to inherit the family estate. This made land ownership in England a vain hope for the majority of the population whether rich or poor. Many of the Virginia colonists were younger sons who longed to own land! About half of the colonists sent were considered "gentlemen"! The Virginia frontier challenged the traditional roles and expectations of these colonists. The laborers and craftsman expected the gentlemen to help them. The gentlemen did provide military protection. Later one ship carried 9 women to help the colonists.

An Active Dig inside the Jamestown Fort

Examples of Finds:

The archeologists studying the rings on the bald cypress trees in the area discovered that the colonists arrived at the start of a long drought in the area which would explain some of the problems they encountered in the early years.

Jellons were essential for commercial transactions for over 50 years. They were a brass coin-like object that was moved over the lines and spaces of a counting board with 4 horizontal lines denoting units of 1's,10's,100's & 1000's. This was similar to an abacus. This is the origin of our saying about purchasing "over the counter"!

Coins with edges cut off. They had pieces cut off to provide small change to customers. The piece cut off was worth its weight.

Only spoons were found because forks were not used in that time period.

Old wells were full of various items because they were used as a "dump" after the water was not drinkable.

Even bones & skeletons from graves were found. The archeologists work like the CSI to discover the identity of the person.

Brick foundations uncovered are mapped and recovered with earth to preserve the original brick. They make bricks and stack them on top of the earth to show what was discovered.

There was a time that tobacco was grown in the streets of the town!
Each family was asked to grow several mulberry trees for silk worms and 20 vines for grapes to make wine.

The working archeologists had their wheel barrows lined up under a shade tree along the edge of a bank on the James River. They had screens on top to shake dirt through to expose the artifacts. The wheelbarrow of discarded dirt was dumped into the river and the artifacts collected, cataloged, treated to preserve them and added to the museum.

Old Jamestown Church

This church built in 1907 is attached to the brick tower that was erected in 1690. It is the only surviving 17th century structure at Jamestown and one of the oldest English-built edifices standing in the U.S.

Over the 400 years there were at least 6 different churches built on this site in the fort. Each was built to replace the one that was burned or destroyed during war.

John Smith in the General History of Virginia, 1624, writes a description of Rev. Robert Hunt, the first minister at Jamestown. "With the water of patience, and his godly exhortations, but chiefly by his devoted examples, quenched those flames of envy and dissension."

America's first legislative assembly convened in July 1619 in the church in Jamestown. During the 6 day meeting the General Assembly levied a tax to pay for the service of its members, passed laws covering trade with the Virginia Company, laws on church attendance and for personal punishment for misconduct and agricultural diversification statutes.

A view of the inside of the old Jamestown Church. How would you like to sit for an hour or so on these benches? Perhaps that is why they had to make laws concerning church attendance!

Check last-years blogs on Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown. The settlement is a living history museum offering a full-scale re-creation of the fort and a Powhatan Indian Village, but the actual Settlement has a different feel. Both are worth the time to visit!

After a good night's sleep we start up the highway to find the James River Plantations!

Thanks for following our adventure!

Prairie Schooners

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