Williamsburg Stories and Tips

Jamestown(e) - The British Arrival to America

Democracy Photo,

Jamestowne was the birthplace of Virginia having been settled in May 1607 by English settlers. Although others had landed in what is now the United States, the settlement at Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the new world. It became the capital city for the Virginia Colonies until the end of the 17th century. In 1699 the capital was moved to what would later be called Williamsburg, named after King William III of England.

Today Jamestown (no "e" at the end) has two areas for visitors to explore, one operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia (The Jamestown Settlement) and the other by the US Park Service (Historic Jamestowne). Additionally, with the 400th anniversary celebration taking place during the time of our visit, Anniversary Park was the central point for historical exhibits, dramatic reenactments depicting history in Colonial Virginia, and musical performances. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the opening day’s festivities on May 11, 2007 which included the US Postal Services issue of the new commemorative stamp in honor of the 400th Anniversary of the Settlement at Jamestown.

Because much of what we saw and did was a "one-time" event, I won’t focus a lot of this review on those activities. I will say, however, that the attention to detail and the wealth of information provided through the exhibitions, stage shows, and other exhibits were nothing short of impressive! I especially enjoyed the dramatization of a school teacher’s lesson in democracy. Through her oration, several important figures from America’s history appeared to share and discuss their beliefs and philosophies regarding democracy in the United States. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Harry Truman were all portrayed, with background speeches also provided by Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, and John F. Kennedy. The 45-minute program was well scripted and performed.

In September 2003 the US Park Service’s Visitors Center at Historic Jamestowne was destroyed by Hurricane Isabel. While I only vaguely remember that old building, I am certain that the new building (which only opened last year) is better for the crowds of tourists and visitors anticipated in 2007. There is a large theatre where a short 20-minute historical overview of Jamestown is provided in the newly produced movie "1607: A Nation Takes Root" as well as a rather extensive gift shop. Additionally, through April 2008 there is a special collection museum open to the public called "The World of 1607" which will feature four different exhibits throughout this quad-centennial year. Artifacts have been assembled from museums and private collections around the world from the year 1607. Unfortunately photos were not permitted in the museum so you will have to go and see the beautiful jeweled items, amour, and art for yourself. Also in the new visitor center is a very nice cafeteria that features a full array of menu and beverage items plus indoor and outdoor seating.

The other area of interest that is open beyond the 400th Anniversary and throughout the year is the Jamestowne Archaearium. Just opened last summer, the Archaearium is a 7,500 square foot interactive exhibit area where visitors can view items found at Fort James and other areas around Jamestowne during archaeological there. There are over 1,000 items on display as well as the excavated area of the Statehouse that stood in Jamestowne in the late 17th century.

While at Historic Jamestowne you will also want to check out the area where James Fort was found back in 1994! Originally thought to have been washed away over time by the James River, archaeologists found the site of the original fort very recently. They have spent the last 13 years excavating a site that has produced over one million artifacts. There is also a Glasshouse where you can watch glassmaking as it was done during colonial times. Perhaps the most interesting area here is the original foundation of the 1608 Glasshouse where craftsman manufactured the glassware used by those 17th century residents of Jamestown.

Other points of interest at Jamestown Settlement are the Powhatan Indian Village, the "new" Fort and replicas of the three ships (Susan Constant, Discovery and Godspeed) that landed here in 1607.

You can buy passes at the visitors’ center for $10 per person over the age of 15 and are good for seven days. They include Yorktown Battlefield and Cape Henry Memorial. Annual passes for these three historic areas are $40 and covers not only the pass holder, but their immediate family members too.

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