Jamestown Williamsburg Yorktown – America’s Historic Triangle

If you’re a fan of history, these three historic sites are an absolute must-see. Well, actually, there are 5 sites.  Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Victory Centre, Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield.  They are all within reach of one another along a 23 mile stretch of the scenic Colonial Parkway, just over an hour away from Virginia Beach in Virginia.

I was hosted, yet again, by the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and their colleagues over at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Sadly, I had just one day and it wasn’t enough to see all 5 sites so I had to settle for just two.  Jamestown Settlement and Colonial Williamsburg.

Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement is a living-history museum of 17th century Virginia. It has expansive exhibition galleries which trace its beginnings in England (and cover the first century of the colony that arrived), the Powhatan Indians and west central African cultures that formed 17th century Virginia.  It was the first English settlement in America.

In the December of 1606, a select group of 105 British men, (women only arrived after 1608) set sail with a charter from the Virginia Company of London to establish a colony in the New World. The three ships, Discovery, Susan Constant, and Godspeed, sailed under Captain Christopher Newport. They landed on April 26, 1607 at a place they named Cape Henry. They explored the area and later settled in the area now known as Jamestown.  They named the river, ‘James River’ in honor of their king, James I of England.

The local Indian tribes initially welcomed the newcomers and held lavish feasts and helped them out with food.  But as time went on and because the colonists consisted of mainly upper class Englishmen gentlemen, most were unaccustomed to hard labour and unable to work the land for crops, they leant more and more on the Indians and inevitably, this led to conflict.

The resulting war, called the ‘Anglo-Powhatan War’, lasted until an Englishman, named Samuel Argall, captured the local chief’s daughter Matoaka, better known as Pocahontas, after which the two sides agreed to a treaty of peace.

Two thirds of the colonists died within the first 5 years.

One of the colonists, John Rolfe, is credited with the first successful cultivation of tobacco.  He actually ended up marrying Pocahontas in 1614, she converted to Christianity and changed her name to Rebecca.  They travelled back to England together with their son in 1616.  Sadly, on the return journey, she fell ill and died.  Nancy Reagan is reputed to be a descendant of John and Rebecca Rolfe.

The entrance to Jamestown Settlement

The impressive entrance to current day Jamestown has a flag and brass information board for each American state. It was quite impressive to walk alongside it.

Once inside, we made our way through the enormous brick building past all the galleries and exhibition halls.

Part of the Jamestown exhibition buildings

No time for that today, we were heading for the settlement. When we approached the village’s walls, it was like taking a step back in time.

Jamestown Settlement English village

And if that wasn’t enough, walking into the village revealed people walking around in period costumes going about life just as they would have back in that time.

Did I enter a time warp?

Firstly, we met up with a man who explained to us how the fort/settlement was arranged.  How the governor’s house was the biggest and how everyone had to attend church every day (and twice on Sundays).  Everyone had a role to play to make sure that the little community existed peacefully, economically and happily.  They brought professional thatchers in from England to train others so that the houses and buildings could be comfortable and watertight.

He explained about the use of ‘wattle and daub’, a common method of building in those times.  Thin branches or slats are weaved between upright stakes and provide the framework (wattle), then a mixture of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw (daub) is used on the framework to complete the walls.

Wattle without the daub

He told us all about the supplies store, how they stored things and why. While he was talking, I noticed the blacksmith going for a walk, the fort guard heading to his post and 2 ladies feeding chickens outside some living quarters.  I felt like I’d stepped into a time warp.

Learning about the way of life way back then

We then headed down to the harbour, passing some tobacco plants (courtesy of John Rolfe) on the way.  I’d never seen tobacco as a plant before…

Tobacco Plant

Arriving at the harbour, we were greeted by more people in period dress.  Some were showing children how to hoist barrels onto ships, others explaining how and where the people slept on the ships.  We were given a short explanation using a huge wall map, about the route taken by the three ships, the Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed.  Here in the harbour, three replicas are permanently moored and exploring these historic ships is actively encouraged.

Exploring the historic replica ships

After, checking out the captain’s cabin, seeing the hammocks in the sleeping quarters, seeing where the supplies were stored and exploring on deck, we headed up to the last village that was so much a part of Jamestown’s early beginnings, a Powhatan Indian village.

Powhatan Indian Village

Here, a lady wearing a traditional Indian animal skin dress, explained how the living huts were made as well as explaining a little about the community as a whole. It was fascinating to learn how this community had learnt to make the best of the land they were living on and how they learnt to survive in a seemingly wild place. Imagine standing on the land where Pocahontas once walked.  Quite surreal really.

Inside a Powhatan hut (the bed is covered with animal skins)

Sadly, that was all we had time for because we were now heading to Colonial Williamsburg.

Williamsburg

Williamsburg is a living-history museum in the historic district Williamsburg, Virginia, USA. It includes buildings dating from 1699 to 1780 and walking around the town makes you feel like you’ve been transported to colonial England.

A short drive from Jamestown Settlement, Williamsburg is completely different.  Yes, the time period is much later and this can been seen in the type of buildings, the town layout and the clothing the locals were wearing.

Am I in England?

The exhibits include dozens of recreated colonial style houses, churches, city halls, schools and other buildings.  It is free to enter the town and walk around, but there is an entrance fee if you want to see inside some of the buildings.

Look what I found (you score points for telling me what is missing…)

Many of the buildings have been reconstructed on their original sites.  There are historical re-enactors everywhere explaining everything about daily life from wig-making to putting people in the stocks.  They dress, work AND speak like they would have done in Colonial times.  You are welcome to speak to them and ask them questions.  It’s a really great experience.

Thank goodness nobody threw rotten eggs at me

They have regular historical re-enactments and we were lucky that on the afternoon we visited, we met General George Washington.

General George Washington in the flesh

Now, how many of you reading this can say you’ve met George Washington?  He was a nice man, albeit a little stern (and with a very restless horse!) I was very excited especially since Washington DC was next on my travel list.

We watched a small army and band march their way into the town square, Mr Washington delivered a small speech and canons were fired.  All very exciting – imagine how incredible this is for children?

Looking stern and official after the canon firing

It was a great afternoon and when we climbed back in the car for our journey back to Virginia Beach, it felt strange to be back in the modern world after visiting two historical sites.

George Washington delivering his speech

I would highly recommend visiting either or both of these sites.  I didn’t grow up learning anything about American history so it was all new to me.  The way it is presented here makes it easy to understand and easy to remember.  It is suitable for both adults and children and both places go out of their way to ensure there is enough to entertain the children.

Visit Jamestown’s website for details about their opening hours and their admission rates. 2012 admission was $15.50 for adults but they have various family packages so it is worth checking the website.
www.historyisfun.org

Visit Williamsburg’s website for current admission packages and events.
www.history.org

 

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