Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Historic Jamestowne

What: Historic Jamestowne
When: July 2014
Where: Jamestown, Virginia

As a child, my parents were intense with Native American movies, facts, historical locations and events. We aren't Native American by any means, mind you. My father's family came over on a boat some time after the Mayflower and my mother's family has been here for about a hundred years--if that. But they, for whatever reason, really enjoyed Native American culture and the history. So from an early age I was taught about Native Americans and I found it fascinating whenever we were able to focus on it in school. Then Pocahontas happened. Oh Disney, you made my love grow. I was little and had a very child-like understanding of Pocahontas, but I knew enough to get that Disney had made the movie very loosely based on what her history really was. So while I grew up learning about the real Pocahontas (I still remember the day my mother explained to me that she died in England and how sad I was that she never made it home to Virginia), I still nursed my love for the movie until I was old enough to really make the connection that, hey, Jamestown is a real place and while my child-like mind thought it was forever away, it really wasn't. Still, I never had the chance to visit the location until last summer. The trip was years of dreams being accomplished in one outing.

Now let me explain: there are two locations and I was horrendously confused on what had what. Jamestown Settlement and the York Victory Center is a very interactive location where you can speak with reenactors, board ships, learn how food and clothing was made, and do general activities. It's a hands-on experience for children and totally something right up my alley. But, we didn't go there. Originally I thought that the Jamestown Settlement was the same thing as Historic Jamestowne but when we arrived at Historic Jamestowne I found it was still right up my alley and much more adult-ish. Mind you: Historic Jamestowne is somewhere you can totally go with your children. The guides are so extremely intelligent, knowledgeable, and point out where information may be a little upsetting for younger kids. But it's not so much hands-on. It's a place to visit and appreciate, to wander about and learn so much.

Historic Jamestowne is the location of the actual fort and ongoing archaeological expeditions. I was so excited! I've always found archeology to be interesting but have only ever seen the sites on movies or TV shows, now I was there witnessing people at work as they strove to uncover new locations where the fort was, or items that had at one time been lost and forgotten. Writing this is even giving me chills.

So that's the difference between the two. Historic Jamestowne is the actual location and very knowledgeable. If you want museums and historic sites, that's the place to go. If you want more entertainment and activities, check out Jamestown Settlement (which I hope to go to one day). 

Once we arrived, we parked in a very shaded parking area before entering the visitor center to buy our passes. The back door leads to a boardwalk of sorts that takes you over the Pitch and Tar Swamp. It's a beautiful area and you can spot a lot of natural wildlife in the water so long as you take a minute to observe. After this bit of a walk, you reach the Jamestown fort site and are welcomed by a statue of Pocahontas (my girl!) at the very edge of the fort. This was my first level of excitement for the day as just at Pocahontas' feet there was an archaeology dig going on!

Standing along the edge of the tied off areas, we were able to witness the crew working at the dirt very carefully. Later one during our tour, our guide pointed out the coloration in the dirt and explained that it indicated different things, in this case, that the fort had at one time extended that far out and what we were looking at was the remainder of what was formerly a wooden structure. 

We meandered the area for a little while, eventually ducking into the Voorhees Archaearium Archaeology Museum and then back to the fort area where we met with our tour guide. The guide worked on site and gave us so much information: both on the archeology digs and the history of the fort. I knew so little and came away knowing so much more. Walking about, he informed us about the different structures that were standing and their meaning, as well as providing details on the digs that were tied off or marked by ropes. We were even able to stand at the foot of the church (no longer there, but the location where it once stood) where Pocahontas was married.*

But there's a darker side to Jamestowne that is often ignored in the glorified movie versions of the area. This was the portion of our tour where our guide explained the details may be a bit too much for children, or may cause children to ask some uncomfortable questions that parents could possibly not be willing to discuss quite yet. He gave this opportunity for parents to leave with their children if they pleased and some parents did take their children away while the spouse remained to hear the rest of the information that was about to be given. 

Like many early-America settlements, Jamestowne suffered from little food for quite some time. Through studying the bones of people buried there, they were able to determine the nutrition of those who had passed beside their age. In one area, known as a kitchen of sorts, they discovered something awful: the head of a young girl who appears to have been used for cannibalism. Her skull is now located at the museum earlier mentioned and you can view it yourself. 

The history of this time is a little hard to swallow as the settlers did what they could do and their standards of what was good much deferred from what we consider "good" in this day and age. But the tour guides for this location were just so informative and wonderful at their job of detailing the history we knew little of. It was by far the best tour experience I've ever had at a historic location.

We meandered the area afterward and visited the museum as well. It's a lot to take in but rather beautiful in that sad way that historic locations can be. So much history happened there, not all very good, but here we are hundreds of years later able to view what's left. For me, it's a moment where I realize that while my life may be small, it may not be as important as the life of a president or scientist, it still has so much meaning and maybe, hundreds of years from now, there will be people gathered around a foundation for a home I once lived in and discussing the little artifacts I left behind. 

By the end of our stay, we were sun burnt and tired, but we still wanted to see more. The island also provides an Island Drive that loops you through the swamp and toward the edge of the James River. There are more historic points through this drive but, in general, we were in love with the views we were given. 

It was cooler in the shade of the trees that hung over the roadway and so, so quiet. We came to a point and walked along a sandy path to the water's edge where people were fishing and children played at the edge of the river. It was a peaceful way to end our trip and gave us time to reflect on all that we had learned. A year later I find I still think of this trip and all that was learned while spending the day at Jamestowne. I hope to return, maybe in cooler weather so I don't leave with such a sunburn as I did last summer, but I hope I can learn more and I am sure, based on this one experience, that hope will be realized.

* After writing this entry there was a lot of great news for Jamestown! Find out more here.

View other Wanderlust Wednesday posts.

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