Monday, July 27, 2009



Our First American Colony

I apologize for not posting last week. We were on vacation with our entire family, and despite well-intentioned plans to post this article last Monday, when push came to shove, I chose family fun over writing. I'm sliding back into work now, but let's pay a visit to Jamestown first.

America's 400th birthday party was celebrated for 18 months between 2006 and 2007, but how many of us even noted it? How many of us knew to where, or why Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip flew to the United States in May of 2007? Sad. While Thanksgiving conjures images of Pilgrims and Massachusetts, many of us forget that Virginia was actually the cradle of America.

Still, a legendary mystique surrounds Jamestown like no other colony, except perhaps an even older colony, that of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. And rightly so. Jamestown deserves our respect and awe. This first foothold in the New World was America's birth as well as a turning point for Europe and all other nations as well, and it all began because one hundred and four settlers defied nature, natives and disease a decade and a half before the landing at Plymouth Rock.

It is somewhat disappointing that people's interest in this pivotal settlement is based more on Disney's romantic speculation over the perceived love triangle between Pocahontas, Captain John Smith, and John Rolfe than for the historical and patriotic significance this little island and these people represent for Americans. Here is a fascinating link to one man's research regarding the "real" Pocahontas.)

For me, the Pocahontas story is one more example of the "power of one" person to do good. Without this young woman's aid, the colonists would never have survived the "season of starving", and who knows what impact one more failed colony would have had on American history. It's a fascinating thing to consider, among many others.

Tom and I took our children to visit Jamestown back in the early nineties when archaeologists still believed the majority of the original fort had been compromised by erosion and now lay underwater. It was a very disappointing trip for me. Admittedly, we were off-season when many of the exhibits were closed except for the glassblowing exhibit. I wanted my children to be excited by this glimpse of America's beginnings, but the small-print explanatory placards, "sketches" of the original fort, and dull monuments bored them stiff. The acreage was under preservation and therefore dense, providing some sense of the fear such primitive environs could have raised in the settlers, but sadly, the forty or so deer we saw hiding in the forest proved to be the children's most exciting memory of Jamestown back then.

Not so anymore. An amazing archaeological find a decade and a half ago has changed everything at Jamestown, and it happened just a breath before the 400th anniversary of the settlement's founding when essential landmarks proved that the majority of Jamestown's original foundations were in deed on land and recoverable. The information this find unleashed allows visitors to see items excavated from the actual ruins of the original city that is itself, rebuilt and ready for modern exploration by our families. Imagine getting a 400 year-old glimpse of the lives and lifestyles of the first Americans. It's phenomenal!

There are more "touristy"exhibits as well--recreations of the three ships that brought the colonists to Virginia, craftsmen, artisans, characters in period dress who tell true colonists' stories in the vernacular of the day. It's no wonder that along with neighboring Williamsburg and Yorktown, Jamestown, the third gem along Virginia's Colonial Parkway makes this stretch of land a phenomenal necessity for families desiring to instill patriotism and gratitude in their children.

I'm still saddened by the lack of remembrance, or perhaps ignorance, over our nation's beginnings. We assume an a la carte mentality--picking and choosing what we will hold on to . . . what we care to remember. In a few years we will mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the burning of Washington D.C., and the Battle of Baltimore from which emerged our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, and more importantly, our national identity as Americans. I wonder if anyone but historians will notice.

This has been my personal quest as an author . . . to illuminate these spectacular, sometimes painful chapters of our history in my Free Men and Dreamers series, for these are the events that finally forged us as one nation under God, a more perfect union, Americans all.

If you love history, please pick up one of my books and join me sometime.

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