Because it was recently Thanksgiving, I want to write about Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the United States. Although not directly part of the Thanksgiving story, the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 paved the way for the English settlers, known as the Pilgrims, to established Plymouth Colony in 1620. (Thanksgiving originated from the latter group’s story.)
English males arrived in what is now known as Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, because the English were competing with the Spanish, who had already settled in different parts of the “New World.” They named their settlement “Jamestown” in honor of their King, James I. This was the same James after whom the famous King James Bible translation of 1611 was named. The settlement was on a peninsula near the Atlantic coast.
Jamestown’s history includes a rocky relationship with the Native American tribe, the Powhatans, who were already living there. The most famous Powhatan is probably Pocahontas, because of the writings of one of Jamestown’s future governors, Captain John Smith. According to him, Pocahontas did not allow her father, the Powhatan chief, to kill him after he was captured. John Smith was a prolific writer, but he was also an exaggerator, so nobody knows how much of his writings are fact or fiction. Pocahontas eventually married another Jamestown settler, John Rolfe, but she became ill and died around the age of 21, while visiting England with him.
The English were ill-equipped, so many died of starvation and disease at Jamestown. Additionally, cultural clashes with the Powhatans led to fighting between the two groups. However, once life became more stable for them, English women started joining the men. In 1619, the English brought African captives to Jamestown. They became the first recorded Africans to live in North America.
If you visit Jamestown, you have the option of seeing two sites. The first is Historic Jamestowne, which is owned by the National Park Service and contains the original site of the English settlement. Today, it is primarily an archaeological site, because not much of the site is still visible above the ground. However, there is a museum there that houses objects that archaeologists have found at the site.
The second site is about a five-minute drive away from Historic Jamestowne, and is called Jamestown Settlement. Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum. That means that the site replicates what Jamestown would have looked like in the 1600s, and has historic reenactors walking around the site, providing tours and answering questions. The reenactors are dressed as both English settlers and Native Americans. The Native American reenactor that I met was actually of Native American decent. The site also includes replicas of the three ships that brought the first English settlers to Jamestown. Visitors can go inside of them.
Jamestown Settlement is pricier than Historic Jamestowne, but does include duo-ticket deal options for the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which is owned by the same organization as Jamestown Settlement. This museum is thirty minutes away from Jamestown and is in Yorktown, where the Revolutionary War (the U.S.’s war for independence) ended. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to visit that museum. However, I believe that they do Revolutionary War reenactments there.
Jamestown’s importance in history is evident by the fact that it paved the way for the eventual English domination of most of North America. The English legacy still lives on, not only by how it influenced the governments of both Canada and the United States, but also in the fact that English is the primary language spoken in North America today. However, Spanish settlers clearly won dominance in Mexico, Central, and South America, as Spanish is the primary language spoken in those areas today (Brazil, which speaks Portuguese, is a notable exception.).
P. S. Although this is completely unrelated, I wanted to mention an update. In a previous post, I wrote about how I discovered a letter from 1933 in a book that I was cataloging. Well, I was able to track down the grandson of the letter’s recipient, and return it to him! https://arkeh.travel.blog/2019/11/17/library-detective-work/
Sources and Further Reading
“Jamestown Settlement.” Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. https://www.historyisfun.org/jamestown-settlement/ (accessed November 29, 2019).
“A Short History of Jamestown.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/a-short-history-of-jamestown.htm (accessed November 29, 2019).