Our visit to the historic Jamestown settlement began with an introductory film in the beautiful new visitors center. The film explained the purpose of the settlement, the reality of the difficulties encountered by the first settlers and the conflict that errupted between two very different cultures--the English and the Native Americans.
By the beginning of the 17th century, England still lacked a claim in the New World. In 1606, King James tried to remedy this problem by establishing 2 companies made up of merchant-adventurers eager to check out the riches of North America--these were the London Company and Plymouth Company.
The first to embark was the London Company. They set forth in three ship in December of that year. Adverse winds held them near England for 6 weeks and seriously depleted their food reserves. Forty-five died on the voyage with only 101 men and 4 boys finally landing in May of 1607. Records show that within a month they were able to complete the building of a large triangular fort on the banks of a river the Indians knew as Powhatan's River. The settlers named it the James in honor of their king.
When I saw the actual size of these replica ships, it was hard to imagine what it most have been like on this journey. Not only were people crammed together on these vessels but there were also animals on board and the supplies they would need once they arrived.
This is the type of house the Native Americans lived in.
These are the structures the "white" men built within the safety of their fort.
I was especially impressed with the simplicity of the church.
I think we tend to look back and "romanticize" this time period. There was really nothing beautiful about it. The new arrivals dealt with blistering heat, swarms of insects from neaby wetlands, unfit water supplies, typhus, starvation, fierce winters and Indian attacks. That any of them survived is a miracle. Another miracle is that any of them took the time and the energy to record in their journals how they really lived. These documents shed a horrifying light on the the life of these first colonists. They did not find the wealth or gold they had been promised in the New World.
Other boats attempted to reach Jamestown with more people and more supplies. However, they were interrupted by hurricanes and sickness. If they did arrive, many of them were sick or hurt. THeir coming brought only more mouths to feed. One of the first winters became known as the "Starving Time." They traded their work tools and arms for food. When even that food was gone, they ate their way through their livestock, pets, mice, rats and even each other. Following this time, the few remaining people packed what they could and boarded their ships to head back down the James River. Jamestown was being abandoned. BUT, the ships were not 10 miles down-river when they were met by a boat whose occupants told them the newly appointed Governor of Virginia was on his way and with him were three ships filled with supplies and 150 new colonists. Jamestown was given a dramatic reprieve!