Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Exploring Virginia, beginning at the beginning

This past weekend, Lori and I took our first break since the Big Move East. We decided to go explore Virginia, and where better to begin than at the beginning -- Jamestown. We stayed with our friends, Ray and Suzanne, and set forth on a journey into Virginia history.

The first English settlers in America first came to North Carolina, but that settlement failed. The next big push was in 1607 into Virginia, named after Elizabeth I, "the Virgin Queen." The expedition to Virginia was riddled with rivalries from the outset, and the ill-equipped English collided in America with the Powhatan Indians who had extensively settled in the Chesapeake Bay region. 

The English established Jamestown on an swampy island along what became known as the James River. The site was chosen because ocean-going ships could anchor close to shore and it provided a defensible position against invasion by the Spanish from the sea. But as a place to live it proved a disaster; the water was brackish and polluted, and the island was surrounded by mosquito-infested swamp. Many died, and the colony hung on, saved only by food provided by Indians. For these and other details, I am reading A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America, by James Horn.

Jamestown is now mostly an open, river sandbar, and some of the original settlement has eroded into the river. The first Anglican church in America is the tallest building still standing at Jamestown (see photo), and is actually the fifth such church on the site (others tended to burn down). Presiding Bishop Katharine re-dedicated the church last year, marking its 400th anniversary. The archaeological museum is absolutely fascinating and I highly recommend it. Jamestown is a painful place; many died, and Jamestown marks the beginning of where the interests of the British Empire would overwhelm, and nearly wipe out, the indigenous peoples of America.

Skipping ahead two centuries, We also went to the nearby Yorktown battlefield where American independence was won. We drove around the battlefield, which is well marked and well preserved, and we climbed into Redoubt 9 and 10. Those ramparts were the last line of defense for the British, and once the Americans and French captured it, they could fire at point-blank range into the British lines. The British then capitulated. If there is a single spot where American independence was sealed, it is right there at Redoubt 9 and 10 (see photo). 

Our trip into the American past was fascinating, and provides much to reflect upon and read about in the days ahead. And thanks to the St. Paul's community for giving us a weekend away!

No comments: