Jamestown: Where It All Began
leaving the battlefield at 2 p.m., I got some gas in Petersburg and headed
east. The battlefield was interesting, but Petersburg itself is a pretty
seedy town and I was glad to leave. I still had two more National Parks to
visit that afternoon before crossing over the Chesapeake Bay, so I had to
hustle. Fortunately, though, Jamestown and Yorktown are pretty close
together since they're both on the York Peninsula. Imagine the peninsula
being your index finger, with Jamestown being on one side of your knuckle and
Yorktown being on the other side, with Colonial Williamsburg sitting in the
middle. Jamestown (1607) and Yorktown (1781) represent the beginning and
end of colonialism in America, and they're joined by a beautiful 23-mile long
parkway maintained by the National Park Service.
hour after leaving Petersburg, I pulled into Jamestown, the first permanent
English settlement in the New World. By the early 1600s, the Spanish were
well-ensconced in Central and South America and were moving north from Florida,
while the French had been paddling around Canada for a while, so the
English figured that they better get going. A group of eager English
colonists sailed to the New World in 1606 hoping to find either gold or the
spices of China, a country which they figured was nearby, and landed on the south edge of
the York Peninsula. They'd seen lots of Indians around, so they couldn't
figure out why this particular site was vacant. "Hey guys, what a great
place to settle, huh? No Indians!"
course, the reason there weren't any Indians there was because it was a swamp
with lots of malaria, which soon decimated the small colony. Then the
crops failed, settlers starved to death, and there was lots of fighting -- kind
of like the TV show, "Survivor." Seriously, it was a real horror
story despite the efforts of their hard-nosed leader John Smith, who was about
the only competent person in the group. After several more years of
starvation, Indian uprisings, disease, and other calamities -- not to mention an
affair with Pocahontas -- the colonists found salvation in a newly-discovered
plant called "tobacco."
As they discovered, this crop flourished
here. Soon, the colony was sending boatloads of it back to England... although each
colonist first had to swear before a Congressional panel that, to the best of his knowledge, smoking tobacco
did not cause cancer nor was it addictive.
the capital of the Virginia Colony was moved from swampy Jamestown to the more healthful environs of
colonial Williamsburg, located about 10 miles inland (and already sporting a $28
admission fee, plus tax). Jamestown faded from view
and today the area is managed by the National Park Service, which has a
wonderful Visitor Center filled with historic artifacts excavated from the
site. Jamestown is usually pretty crowded because of its proximity to the
Disneyland-ish "Colonial Williamsburg" with its 4,000,000 annual
visitors (and its mega-buck admission price), but it's definitely worth a stop...
especially since the Visitor Center is air-conditioned.
left: Jamestown, settled in 1607, was the site of the first English settlement in the
New World. From left to right, here's a Park Ranger, Pocahontas, and a bald head.
center: A painting of Jamestown as it looked during its heyday in the
late 1600s, before the Virginia capital was moved to nearby Williamsburg. That's the walled "Old Town" on the left and "New
Town" on the right. Jamestown was in a pretty poor location, very
swampy with lots of malaria, so it never prospered.
right: Foundations of New Town, which petered out around 1700.
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Where It All Began