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Another Day in Virginia

Wow, it’s quiet tonight; I mean needle-hit-the-floor-and-echoes quiet. I didn’t realize the level of noise here until tonight. You see, the same day I arrived here, a bus load of high school students descended as well. Every room around me was filled with them. They were failry well-behaved, but it’s still a lot of kids, so the noise levels were there. Luckily, I’m someone who can sleep in a hostel with minimal disturbance, so it was never a factor.

Anyway, I woke up this morning to the sound of the diesel engine on their bus idling outside as they loaded up. So, having an early start, I decided to drive myself to Jamestowne. I’m actually quite glad I went that route, as the Colonial Parkway has all these little stops you can make and look at the James River, etc. There’s also a loop around the bottom of Jamestowne Island that I would have missed on the shuttle down there.

First a word to anyone thinking of visiting Jamestown right now. If you’re into history at all, it’s an excellent place to visit. But you might want to wait a year or so. Next May is the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestowne colony, the first permanent English settlement in North America. As such, the place is one big “Pardon Our Progress” poster as they prepare the place for the big to-do next year. If you wait until either 2007 (or after if you want to avoid the major rush), you’ll get brand spanking new facilities and interpretations and such on your visit. I’m sure I’ll come back eventually just to see what results from it.

The interesting thing about Jamestowne turns out to be that even here there’s frightfully little original left. The church tower is later 17th century and maybe one other building. If you survey the scene at Historic Jamestowne (the acutal site of the original fort and town), you see lots of brick foundations and the like, but you soon discover that the archeaologists excavated what was there, recorded it, and then reburied it. Most of what’s above soil is a recreation of the ruins below! So, that’s kind of ironic! But it’s still really something to stand there and imagine being on a boat for 5 months before finally landing in a new world that you have no clue how to survive in. My ancestor who was there arrived in 1619, so still considered part of the original colony, but nonetheless, he and his wife, my 10 greats grandparents, at least had a small trial blaed for them by the time they arrived. But I digress…

The original settlement was on an what was then an isthmus. The site was abandoned at the close of the 1600’s when, according to one version I read, the water source went bad. The land slowly eroded into an island, and for many years, it was believed the original site itself had been lost to the James River currents. But in the 20th century, it was recognized that the majority of the site was intact and the government sat about preserving the site and began to dig. You can still today see Archealogists at work and talk with them. Today they were digging up an older well – they thought perhaps the first well in the Fort. From what they said, wells frequently went bad or dried up and new ones were dug. The old one would then become a convenient trash pit, which is what makes them appealing to archaelogists. Not only can they find the components of the well, but the bits and pieces of refuse from everyday life. There was a BBC film crew there today. Not, mind you, that I’ll be on TV, but if you see a science piece on a well at Jamestown, I was there!

Completing that tour, it was nearly 2pm, so I headed over to the Jamestowne settlement. I was a bit afraid it would be Disney meets history. And in some respects it is, but it’s still quite fun, and I think an excellent way to introduce kids to history. They have recreations of all three of the original ships that brought the Jamestowne Colony to Virginia. The Godspeed and Discovery aren’t that big but still fun. The susan Constant, however, is great fun to tour. They also have a recreation of the original fort and a Powhatan village. My one nit is that all the Indians are pale faces in buckskin, but I guess this is where I have to use my imagination. I will give them an unusual kudo in their committment to being accurate. They have a recreation of the first Anglican church in Jamestown within the fort. It turns out that recent digging at the original site shows that they have the location of this church wrong. Seems you could just point that out to people and leave it be? Nope, not here. The guide said they were rebuilding the whole thing… ouch… at this point, the foundation is on the correct site. Wasn’t sure if they were rebuilding it entirely or just moving it. Either way, that’s committment.

It was after 6pm when I got back in. I grabbed lunch/dinner and came back to the room for a bit before heading out for some photos of sunset on the Colonial highway. The sunset itself wasn’t all that spectacular, but the light was great and I think I got some nice ones. We’ll see. Then on to Williamsburg for tonight’s “tour.” I use the term loosely as it was the re-enactment of witch trial in 1705. There were only three of us in the group of 60ish people that weren’t part of a school group. It was still fun, though. As first there, I got to sit up by the Royal Governor during the trial. The lot of the actors were great. It really was at times almost as if you had landed in a court from pre-revolutionary Virginia. As it was, she was found not guilty, which surprised me. It was based on a real trial, but the original outcome is lost due to a fire in Richmond during the civil war. It’s presumed she was found innocent as her will is from 30+ years after the trial.

Tonight, I took the bus from the Visitors center into the historic area and back. So, a little rest on the tired feet. The funny part is I must have been the LAST tourist out of the town. I was the ONLY car in the HUGE parking lot when the bus rolled in, and I was the lone person on the bus aside from the driver. Not quite as good as getting chased out of Herculaneum, but close. I think I’ve closed another historic attraction!

Tomorrow is partially Yorktown battlefield and a wrap up on Williamsburg. Friday I check out and head south. I have to decide what I’m doing then. I had thought to go to Richmond to the museum there as a rifle that’s been in the family since Dr. Woodson in the early 1600’s is on display there. The thing is, I got a response from a curator that leads me to believe: A) There’s little left original on the weapon, and B) there’s some doubt that any of the gun truly dates from when family history says it did…. hmmm… The other option is a visit to Flowerdew Hundred, the land that they lived on after their arrival in Jamestowne. Not in the same direction, so I need to decide shortly… hmmm…

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