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Jamestown Settlement: History Is Fun

August 2, 2011

It seemed like a good idea at the time: a day trip to Jamestown Settlement at the end of July. Of course, it ended up being one of the hottest days of the summer but that’s just a minor issue… The first English settlers survived brutal summers and we could too, right?

Jamestown, for those of you who don’t spend your days off touring history sites, was the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Key phrases: 1607, Pocahontas and John Smith, Starving Winter, tobacco. Jamestown is like a toned-down Colonial Williamsburg — it’s also 100 years older — with fewer reenactments and working buildings, but more artifacts and museums housing thousands of archaeological finds. (And worse food: notice there are no food photos because the cafeteria options included pizza, hamburgers and quesadillas. Not a home-brewed ale or regional delicacy in sight!)

If you’re going to Jamestown, a day is definitely enough but it’s a lot to pack into a day when a visit is sandwiched between a 3-hour-each-way drive. Keep that in mind and spend an entire weekend in Williamsburg — a day at Jamestown and a day at Colonial Williamsburg is ideal.

Also note that there are two separate sites (and two separate admission fees) at Jamestown: Jamestown Settlement, the reconstructed fort, which includes replicas of the three ships that brought English settlers to Virginia; and Historic Jamestowne, the actual site where archaeologists are still digging, discovering new buildings, bodies and objects.

The remains of Jamestown were only found in 1994. They were originally believed to have been lost due to erosion but as they did some exploratory digs, archaeologists found the brick foundations of many buildings, thousands of colonial artifacts (china and buttons and dog bones — oh my!) and hundreds of unmarked graves. Pretty incredible find less than 20 years ago!

Simone and I immediately got into the colonial spirit:

Oh yea, we’re not nerds at all.

As we walked through both the reconstructed fort and the remains of the original settlement, we couldn’t believe that a couple-hundred men lived in such small enclosures. Two to a bed, dozens to a room. That aspect of colonial life didn’t appeal to me but I fell in love with this decorative (and functional) fireplace.

A fireplace wall decal might be necessary at home…

It’s crazy to think that all those men came over on ships like this:

It may look spacious from here but we walked below-deck and it’s hot, cramped and tight down there. Sounds like a nightmare trip across the Atlantic. At least they had a pretty view…?

A small Indian settlement represented the dozens of local tribes pretty much decimated by the colonists. It was interesting peeking inside their fur-bedecked homes, seeing how they lived, what they ate and what daily life was like in simpler times.

There’s lots to see and do in Washington but it’s nice to get out of town once in a while and see other sites just a short drive away. What local day trip should be next?

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2011 9:38 am

    I have been meaning to take a trip to Jamestown and Williamsburg. I just need to find the time!

    A few great day trips from DC are Old Rag Hike in Shenandoah (another long day), Baltimore, Annapolis and Frederick.

    BTW I love these posts!!

    • August 2, 2011 11:18 am

      Thanks! A few people have mentioned Old Rag recently — maybe when the weather gets a little cooler.

  2. Kristin permalink
    August 2, 2011 10:02 am

    That sounds SO COOL! I love looking at everything they’ve dug up. I just finished reading The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. It’s about Manhattan, but still, it’s a deeply woven story connecting the dots between the English and the Dutch in the 1600s on the East Coast. It was SO INTERESTING!!!! So now I’m hooked on all kinds of stuff like that. And the Dutch records from the 1600s were only starting to be translated in the mid-1970s! How weird that America is just recently starting to find out about its true origins and the way people lived.

    • August 2, 2011 11:18 am

      That book sounds really interesting — will have to check out.

  3. August 2, 2011 10:23 am

    I never cared for history when in school, but always find it so interesting to visit places like this when traveling. I guess I like being able to relate to it a bit more?

    And I love the nerdiness. Nerds rock! I’m one too. 🙂

    • August 2, 2011 11:19 am

      I was the same — didn’t care as a kid, now I’m fascinated. 😉

  4. August 2, 2011 6:10 pm

    Ehhh! Take me on the next adventure!!!

  5. August 3, 2011 8:12 am

    How cool (well, figuratively, not literally)! I’ve been to Colonial Williamsburg and liked it a lot, but never Jamestown. I’ve always been fascinated by history, though – it was one of my favorites all throughout school – and would love to visit one day. Thanks for sharing your experience with us! 🙂

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