July 31, 2007 at 12:14 am 3 comments

On Saturday, I accompanied Sean and his parents to visit Jamestown (we went to the State Park recreation– not the National Park Site).  It was good timing– May of 2007 was the 400th anniversary of England’s first permanent colony in the New World.  There is a big todo about this particular bragging right– Plymouth often fills that role in people’s minds… but Plymouth was settled 13 years later.  I prepped for our journey be reading two Jamestown articles in the May 2007 issue of National Geographic.  The author of one of those articles was a native of Massachussetts.  When he interviewed locals about the Jamestown anniversary, his subjects were skeptical, “Why?  Are you from Plymouth?!?” 

You know…there are things I forget about history.  You should have heard me and Larry bantering on and feeding each other misconceptions when we stopped by Valley Forge a few years ago.  You should also have seen our synchronized, stupified hush once we started reading the real details.

I felt a similiar pause of ignorance when I read about how drastically the colonists changed this land.  It is actually not unlike the red vines in War of the Worlds.  The colonists struggled to survive in this new environment so they converted it to what they were used to.  The planted their own plants (granted not as scary as the red vines).  They brought their own lifestock (horses, cattle, pigs).  And some things that seem so natural in the ecosystem now came from Europe.  Nightcrawlers!  Honeybees!  I was surprised and at the same time I felt I should have known better. 

Another thing about these colonists.  Bear Grylls and/or Les Stroud would have much to frown upon.  I know what the colonists did was brave and took courage that I would never have (Heck, I dillydally about moving 150 miles away).  But, with my running water, my heat and, most importantly, my internet, my spoiled self still questions the will of the colonists.  Let’s overlook the fact that they banked too much on trading with the Indians and they didn’t plan on growing their own food (Solid plan there, fellas).  The thing that struck me the most was the account that during “The Starving Time” the colonists were too scared of Powhatan hostility to leave their fort to look for food.  80% of people died that winter and get this– some people dug their own graves, laid down in them and waited to die.  What?!?  If you are already acquiescing to death and you still have enough energy to dig a grave, is there that much harm of going outside and try to find some food? Bah!

Speaking of which, it sounds like John Smith was the Bear Grylls/Les Stroud of the day.  In a previous winter (he was back in England during The Starving Time) he, as crazy as it sounds, actually went on a mission to find food for the colonists.  Good for him.

By the way– did you know that John Smith did not marry Pocahontas?  She married a different Englishman by the name of John Rolfe.  So convinced was I that she married John Smith that when I first read the name of her husband, I thought, “Oh, I guess he went by two names.”

That was my explanation.  John Smith was John Smith and John Rolfe.  It couldn’t possibly be that I was wrong.  🙂

One final note– Jamestown was privately funded.  It wasn’t a government venture– it was investors.  They formed the “Virginia Company” and had hoped to strike it rich with gold and silver.  I like the example that you don’t need a federal government to fund discovery.  Though an example without people eating their dead may be a little more uplifting. 

Most of my pictures are actually from the ferry ride across the James River.  You can pretend they are related to my paragraphs above:

Seagulls– Native or did they come from Europe?

Sean’s Dad at a Jamestown Church – Thinking about digging his own grave?

Top of my Ferry – This woman did *not* marry John Smith

Me — Well fed, covered in sunblock, near an automobile, with sunglasses to protect my eyes from UVA rays and a fancy schmacy digital camera… still judging the colonists

Entry filed under: Jamestown, John Smith, Plymouth, Pocahontas, War of the Worlds.

links for 2007-07-27 “Oh Gawd, It *is* a Blog Post”

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Clint  |  July 31, 2007 at 8:23 am

    That tidbit about digging one’s own grave is insane. It’s like the people who march to the gallows. No, if you’re gonna hang me, I”m going to fight you every inch of the way. There’s no dignity in death!

  • 2. Ryan Somma  |  August 2, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Check out the film “The New World” many of the things you write about here are portrayed in that movie (not the lying in graves waiting to die). Roger Ebert made a good observation that the film’s title refers to both the colonists coming to America, and Pocahontas going to Europe.

    I’ve heard that some of those buried were later dug up and eaten.

  • 3. tgaw  |  August 2, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    “The New World” is now at the top of my Netflix queue.

    I heard the part about digging up the dead too. I hate to be picky, but I think I would have to insist on fresh corpses only.


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