Jamestown: The first permanent Colony of the English People. The Birthplace of Virginia and the United States of America, 1607
I spent the weekend visiting my cousins in Williamsburg. One afternoon was devoted to Colonial National Historical Park: Jamestown. A large African American park ranger named Jerome showed us around. He told us the three most important facts about Jamestown were: it was the first permanent settlement of the English in the New World (1607); the first representative assembly talks took place in 1619 where 22 elected burgesses met in the church; and the first Africans arrived in 1619. Therefore concluding that this very spot was the birthplace of the great country – The United States of America.
I had a small chuckle over this one since, of course, part of this great history was that the Native population was virtually killed off pretty quickly and by 1690 there were 9,300 enslaved Africans among a white population of 53,000. But why dwell on the negative?
These crazy Englishmen set up camp on an island with a swamp on one side and a salty river on the other. No fresh water. The swamp provided lovely benefits such as malaria and typhoid. By 1609 there were about 300 men living on this island, fighting off skirmishes from the Powhatan tribes. That winter was particularly rough and at the end of it only 60 survived. But they didn’t give up. Ninety unmarried women arrive in 1619 to boost morale.
We also learned that the 12 year old Pocahontas did not have an affair with the 27 year old John Smith (despite what Disney says). But they did probably know each other. The settlers eventually figured it all out and started growing tobacco. They were soon rich farmers with a huge market and very few expenses. John Rolfe cultivated a strain of tobacco that was pleasing to the English. He used seed he had obtained from Trinidad since the local variety was deemed too harsh. John Rolfe was the man who married Pocahontas.
Up until 1994, it was believed that the site had been reclaimed by the river and was lost under water. An archeologist by the name of William Kelso did not believe it. According to historical documents, the church was built inside the fort. The church tower remained on the island in clear site. In 1994, Mr. Kelso took a shovel to the site and soon found artifacts, bones, and evidence of the exact area where the walls of the fort were built. Today you can see them reconstructed in the very holes the men dug 400 years ago. William Kelso became an Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire at a ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, in July 2012.