An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

November 10, 2008

Historic Jamestowne

On Saturday I accompanied my son and his fellow Cub Scouts to Jamestown Island. We have had a week of bad weather as a coastal storm hovered offshore all week, and we endured downpour driving all the way there. Fortunately the rains stopped by the time we arrived, and we were able to enjoy our visit without getting wet. There are two entities that operate and compliment each other on Jamestown Island. Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Here you can see reconstructions of a native American village, the Jamestown fort and the ships that brought the first settlers here. Historic Jamestowne, which is co-operated by the National Park Service and APVA (The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities), occupies the majority of the island including the most historic sites, and this was our destination.

Other than driving by, I have not visited Jamestown since a field trip in the third grade when we began our indoctrination into the glories of Virginia history. For the record, Jamestown was the site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World, but of course there were many native communities already here, and there were many earlier European settlements elsewhere in the hemisphere. However, this is where the society that would become the United States started, thirteen years before the Pilgrims landed further north. This place is also special to me personally as this is where my ancestors arrived from England around 1612. They did not stay in Jamestown long before they settled on the Eastern Shore where most of them stayed, content to farm, fish and hunt.

Our tour guide for Historic Jamestowne assumed the persona of John Rolfe and he was very good at it. John Rolfe was instrumental in bringing the cultivation of tobacco to Virginia which saved the colony economically (the consequences of this we are still dealing with today). Interestingly, our tour guide happened to be a direct descendant of Rolfe. He knew his audience well, and tailored his words for a group of youngsters. Despite being products of the on-demand entertainment age, the kids were interested in what he had to say, and I was proud they asked relevant questions.
When we were taught Virginia history ages ago, it was assumed that the site of the fort had long ago washed into the James River. However, in 1994 the original site was re-discovered and extensive excavations began, and millions of artifacts have since been found. This has given us a greater insight into the early years of the settlement - and many of the stories are not pretty (espionage, exploitation, murder, madness and cannibalism). The fort walls below and the adjacent building follow the footprints of the originals.All over the park are memorials given by various groups. There are statues, crosses of wood, crosses of stone, benches, fountains, plaques, etc... This one is of Pocahontas who married the above mentioned John Rolfe, not Capt. John Smith. Look at her hands where everyone touches them.

To give visitors an opportunity to see some of the artifacts, a new museum was built to showcase some of them. The Archaearium contains many interesting exhibits including some grizzly medical instruments and two recently discovered skeletons, one of whom had a violent death.
Of course, I could not keep my eyes off of the plants. Here is our state tree, the Dogwood (Cornus florida).
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
An incredibly large grove of some bamboo species covers close to an acre.
There is a five mile scenic trail that goes around the island that you can hike, drive or bike on. It takes you through the wilder part of the island where you can enjoy views of the river, woods and marshes and sights likes this 15' wide patch of American Beautyberry (Calicarpa americana).

If you would like to see another blogger's perspective on Jamestown, head on over to In the Garden to read Skeeter's recent post, or visit Racquel's two part post at Perennial Garden Lover
from earlier this summer.


  1. Les,
    Thanks for the visit. I haven't been to Jamestown (site) in over 20 years. Do they offer any facilities for geneaological research there? I've tried to attach my early 17th century ancestors to Jamestown but without success so far.

  2. Very interesting - thanks for the tour. I love the Pocahontas statue.

  3. Thanks for the link that was nice of you. I will be posting the last part on my wonderful vacation this weekend and with similar pictures! Did you see where Garden girl and Frances found out they are both related through ancestry with Pocahontas? Real interesting stuff with the skeletons but a bit eerie too. The drive around the park was great and full of deer for us to admire. You would think they would not impress me with having a yard full at my house but the wild animals always get my attention...

  4. Thanks for the link Les. Looks like you & the boys had a good time. I need to get over & visit the historic site soon. You found some marvelous color & berries.

  5. I have just got to visit here when next I make it to Virginia. It is so full of history and to think, I heard all about from you and Skeeter! I really like that tall tall statue. The cub scouts are cute too and look they had a great time.

  6. I also love the Pocahontas sculpture. I am additionally fascinated by said "grisly medical instruments" and stories of cannibalism. There is a beautiful Taxodium distichum at the entrance to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It's one of my favorite trees in the city, and it's in its full fall glory right now.

  7. James,
    Try looking up the Jamestowne Society, it has a list of first settlers, but they will ask for money to join. You can also contact the APVA website that I linked to in the post. They also list early settlers and there fee is reasonable. The last site I would recommend in the state Library of Virginia in Richmond.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Our tour guide being a descendant of John Rolfe, was also a descendant of Pocahontas since they were married. Deer are always prettier when they are not eating from your garden.

    Yes we did have a good time. PBS had a show on last night about Queen Elizabeth and it had heavy footage from her visit to Virginia last summer. She was touring right where our scout troop did.

    Thanks for stopping by, and yes this place is full of history and it often goes to our heads.

    These stories have only come to light recently. We had a much rosier version of history in elementary school. The Taxodium d. is an extremely versitile tree and one of my favorites.