Jamestown National Historic Site
1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, VA, USA
www.nps.gov/jame/index.htm - 757-856-1200
Jamestown National Historic Site Reviews
Historic Jamestowne Jun 13, 2016
This is where it all began. What would become the United States of America was birthed in 1607 on a tiny blip of an island in the James River, a business venture of the Virginia Company of London hoping to emulate the success of the Spanish in finding vast wealth in the Americas. Chosen for defensive purposes against marauding Spanish ships that never came, the island was covered by swamp and malaria and avoided by the local Indians. Several times it almost shut down, especially following the Starving Time of 1610 when two-thirds of the colonists perished from famine and the survivors had to cannibalize the remains of the fallen to make it through the winter.
Yet Jamestown persevered and steadily grew beyond the initial confines of the defensive fort. It was from here that Captain John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay and met the young Pocahontas, daughter of the Indian chief Powhatan who called off attacks on the colonists when she married John Rolfe. Rolfe himself discovered that tobacco could be grown in the Virginia climate, guaranteeing the economic success of the colony. Smith’s replacement as governor, Lord De La Warr, further explored the coast and bequeathed the name Delaware to the mid-Atlantic geography. The Jamestown explorers reached as far as New England, creating maps used by the Pilgrims when they reached Massachusetts in 1619 - Martha’s Vineyard was named after the daughter of one of the explorers.
The Virginia Company went bankrupt in 1624 and the king took direct control of the newly chartered royal colony. For the most part the colonists governed themselves through the House of Burgesses, the first legislative body in North America that initially met in a church in Jamestown. As the Virginia colony grew over the course of the century, Jamestown faded in importance. Much of it was burned in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1678, and when the legislative building was destroyed by fire in 1698 the capital was moved inland to Williamsburg next to the new College of William & Mary. Jamestown was abandoned and turned into a tobacco plantation, a few half-collapsed buildings all that was left of the once bustling town. It had served its purpose.
Historic Jamestowne today is a joint venture between a private historic trust that owns the site of the original fort and the National Park Service that owns the rest of the island. The visitor center has some decent exhibits but the short introductory film can be skipped. There is another small museum run by the historic trust that has artifacts and skeletons that have been discovered on site. The grounds of the fort are mainly composed of archaeological excavations with regular tours of the digs. Some memorials and monuments dot the landscape as well as a 1907 reconstruction of the 1630 church. Beyond the fort, the foundations of old dwellings have been rebuilt along the shore of the James River for a short walking tour. There is also a a driving tour for the rest of the island with some scenic views of the marshlands, though no really spectacular vistas.
Tickets cost $14, are good for seven days and include admission to the Yorktown Battlefield. Children 15 and under get free entry. Over on the mainland is the Jamestown Settlement that includes a recreation of the James Fort and historical re-enactors. It is a separate entity with separate admission, but makes for a good combination with a visit to the actual site. Both places can be seen in a day for anyone visiting the Williamsburg area.
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America Began at Jamestown May 06, 2012
The Jamestown National Historic Site (also known as Historic Jamestowne) preserves the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America. On May 13, 1607, three ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery anchored off Jamestown Island, bringing 105 settlers. They set about to build a wooden fort and to look for ways to exploit the new land. For the next 92 years, Jamestown was the capital of the Virginia Colony. It witnessed the arrival of many more settlers and expansion of the colony, difficult times and internal strife, interactions, both peaceful and bellicose, with Native Americans, the establishment of tobacco as the predominant cash crop, the establishment of a representative form of government, and the foundations of slavery.
There are no reconstructions or costumed reenactors here as there are at the neighboring Jamestown Settlement. Jamestown National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, attempts to preserve what remains of the original Jamestown and to interpret its story and the stories of its inhabitants. Archeological work remains ongoing with new discoveries continuing to be made to revise understanding of the colony.
The site itself can be confusing as so many historical layers are present together with various monuments installed over the years. A well interpreted visitor center gives visitors the basic background on the settlers and their purposes and the Native Americans they encountered. (I learned that the Powhatan people initially welcomed the settlers because they brought quantities of copper. Copper was highly prized and the Powhatans previously had to trade with Great Lakes tribes to obtain it.)
Crossing the Tar and Pitch Swamp on a bridge, visitors encounter Jamestown itself. The site is well interpreted and represents a century of habitation and change. To one side are the remaining foundations of the "New Towne" begun in the mid-17th century after the colony had been well established. The Tercentenary Monument, an commemorative obelisk erected in 1907 is here.
The site of the triangular fort had long been thought to have been claimed by the James River. But new studies have now put it directly under foot of where visitors have long trod! A wooden fence marks off the fort boundary. Archeological digs are scattered about the scene. The one remaining 17th century structure is the Old Church tower dating to 1686. Statues of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas have been in place at the now recognized Jamestown Fort site for many years.
Beyond the Jamestown Fort site is the new Archaerium, a museum of the archaeological discoveries at Jamestown. Here ones comes face to face with Captain Bartholomew Gosnold and other settlers in forensic reconstructions of their remains.
Jamestown National Historic Site is definitely for those interested in the history of the Jamestown colony and the era of discovery and exploration. You will not see costumed reenactors or but you will see where it all really happened.
Admission is $10, which also includes admission to the NPS Yorktown Battlefield site. (Note that Yorktown Battlefield and Historic Jamestowne are sites administered by the NPS and are different from the Yorktown Victory Center and the Jamestown Settlement administered by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.)
At the entrance to the Jamestown Historic Site is the Jamestown Glasshouse. Glassblowing was an experimental industry in the Jamestown Colony. (The Virginia Company sent German and Polish glassblowers to Jamestown in 1608.) The Glasshouse has been recreated over the foundations of the 17th century original. Modern glassblowers work the furnaces today, demonstrating the making of glasses, pitchers, bottles and more. There is no charge for this part of the Jamestown site and visitors should stop by to see it!
Part of the Around the Chesapeake travel blog
Part of the list Andy's Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
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