Saturday, May 12, 2007

400 Years Ago this weekend some dudes from England sailed up the Powhatan River (now the James), said this is out of the sight of those dangerous Spaniards: let's set up here. James Fort saw some terrible times, sprouted New Town to the west, and faded as the capital of the royal colony moved to Williamsburg.

Today, Phiance and I scurried east on I-64 bright and early -- well, overcast and early -- and stepped out of all the PBS specials and books into live-action history.

Curiously, the satellite parking lot we chose ("Yellow") turned out in fact to be Eastern State. But our timing was great and there was no wait to pay or to board a school bus for a ride to Jamestown Settlement. As dedicated history nerds, from there we got ourselves on the next school bus to "The Island" -- i.e., Historic Jamestowne. At the site of the 1607 fort, we heard archaeologists speak on the ongoing work uncovering the fort than generations of us learned was lost to the River. "I loved your book," Phiance said to Dr. Kelso himself slipped out of the current dig after a quick look at an area that might be the site of a 1609 well. We saw a bits of a sword and bones from a meal sticking out of the ground. By the River workers doing inital sifting showed us a faceted green bead and brass(?) aglets. Awesome.

The new Archaearium, a striking copper-clad building that floats above the ground, houses the infamous ear picker, a replica of the skeleton found with a bullet in the leg, a bit of a shoe, buttons, ceramics, beads brought for trade, and all the other wonderful finds. We also some cool interactive viewers, where Phiance befriended a couple from Gloucester, with whom we later shared a river-side picnic table. Visitors point the view camera out the window and are offered choices of videos on the thing in the viewfinder.

Noon found the sun fully out and us in the shade of a holly tree to listen to Martin Gallivan, the archaeologist on the Werowocomoco project. I've been following the story of the work to uncover Powhatan's town since my friend was asked to join the Indian Advisory Board. With his back to the James, Dr. Gallivan outlined the project clearly and with enthusiasm. His computer slides appeared on a jumbotron kind of thing to his left. We had a great view of him, as nearly no one sat in the sun-warmed seats in front of us, and I enjoyed gazing off towards the River or into the trees as he spoke. I started to feel badly that so few people came to hear him, but as I gazed round behind me, I could see dozens more people in the shade.

Dr. Gallivan was followed by the Indian drum Four Rivers. Voices joined the beat as I was again looking to the River, and that was the most moving moment of the day.

The Island has been transformed since we visited two years ago, so as we ascended to the obelisk erected in 1907, I paused once more to take in the look of 2007. It remains bizarrely park-like, but the layers of history felt clear to me. The crowds were modest.

At "Jamestown Settlement" visitors find a Powhatan village, a reconstruction of Jamestown, and some replica ships. Oh, and a huge new visitor center, and a cool International-style brick tower from celebrations in 1957. And very large crowds, whether for our timing, or for other reasons. We breezed through, traipsing aboard the stuffy Susan Constant and then climbing back uphill.

We crossed the road to what I am rather sure is a campground, known to a generation or so of CK biking unit alumnae from their big trip. Today, it was covered with the sort of stages and demonstrations and food that I know from the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival, the Atlanta Olympics, or the Folk Festival. At this point, I was getting hot and cranky, then we missed the performance of fellow Richmonders the Indigenous Gourd Orchestra, so we called it a day. Phiance did schmooze with the Gourd's CD-sellers about getting them on WRIR, so I guess that's good.

To make it home, a fast food milkshake seemed in order, and then as long as we were on Route 60, we took it most of the way home.


Carbone, Elisa. Blood on the River: James Town 1607. Viking, 2006.

Custalow, Linwood. The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History, From the Sacred History of the Mattaponi Reservation People. Golden, CO. : Fulcrum Publising, 2007.

Dean, Catherine. Historic Jamestowne: America's Birthplace: Commemorating 400 Years, 1697-2007. Lawrenceburg, IN : Creative Company, 2006.

Lange, Karen. "What Would You Take to the New World?" National Geographic 211, no 5 (May 2007): 56-67.

Mann, Charles C. "America, Found & Lost." National Geographic 211, no 5 (May 2007): 32-55.

Webliography by a colleage; print sources are those PDFs at the top, one for adults, one for kids.

Kelso, William M. Jamestown, the Buried Truth. Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press, 2006.

Go to Henricus this coming weekend, or participate in events in Capital City.


Fringe Element Enthusiast said...
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Fringe Element Enthusiast said...

That day was a blast. I like that we hit everything early, just before the wave of everyone else.
Mmm delicious history!