Near the site of the original colony, Jamestown Settlement tells the story of 17th-century Virginia
|Located on Route 31 South, adjacent to Historic Jamestowne||Open year-round 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (until 6 p.m. June 15 to August 15), except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.||Combination Ticket. (with Yorktown Museum) $26.00 for adults, $12.50 for ages 6-12|
In planning our family travel experiences I have always tried to balance fun and education, and this is all the better if I can achieve both. The state of Virginia provides such opportunities.
We had already visited Colonial Williamsburg, a sprawling living museum dedicated to the time when the America was a colony of Great Britain. Not far from Williamsburg is the site of the first permanent English colony, Jamestown. This seemed a great place to continue our exploration of the early history of America (not forgetting the first nations had been here for many, many generations before)
Near the site of the original colony, Jamestown Settlement tells the story of 17th-century Virginia, from the arrival of English colonists in Jamestown in 1607 to the cultural encounters and events that planted the seeds of a new nation. I could not resist telling almost everyone we spoke to (which luckily for the sanity of our children was not too many people) that one the houses we had owned back in England was built in 1604 – three years before this settlement was established.
As with Williamsburg there is a lot to see and I would leave around 4 to 5 hours to explore fully. A good place to start your journey is the exhibition galleries, which are currently being redeveloped. In the museum theater there is a short documentary called 1607: A Nation Takes Root, which is a great introduction to the history of the settlement from the first colonists, their interactions with the Powhatan tribes and the arrival of the first slaves from Africa. Beyond the theater there are several galleries that provide a deeper dive into the history of the settlement. Through 2019 the galleries are being updated to include new historical research, more interactive displays and “immersive” exhibits.
Beyond the main museum building are three outdoor areas that bring to life what you learn the documentary film and visiting the exhibition galleries: The Powhatan Indian Village, James Fort and a small harbor with three ships.
Powhatan Indian village at Jamestown Settlement
After leaving the museum building this is the first thing you come across. The re-creation of a Powhatan village explores their way of life and features reed-covered houses, crops and a ceremonial circle of carved wooden posts. Something we did not know was that Pocahontas was from the Jamestown settlement and was the daughter of Powhatan, powerful leader of 30-some Algonquian-speaking tribes in coastal Virginia.
When we visited there a number of docents dressed in traditional tribal costumes who gave us explanations of how the Powhatan culture grew and prepared food, processed animal hides, made tools and pottery, and wove natural fibers into cordage.
From the Powhatan village we wandered down to the waterfront where there were three ships moored to the dock. These are reconstructions of the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery that sailed from England to Virginia in 1607, a journey which took a staggering four and half months. We were able climb aboard the ships to explore the decks and go below to see the conditions in which these first travelers to the Jamestown Settlement endured.
Close to the pier is James Fort which is a reconstruction of the Virginia Company of London’s 1610-14 military outpost. Inside the triangular wooden palisade are wattle-and-daub structures topped with thatch roofs depicting dwellings, as well as an Anglican church, a court of guard, a storehouse, a cape merchant’s office and a governor’s house.
As we moved around the inside of the fort we got talking to a number of the historical interpreters, drssed in period clothing who demonstrated the use of the forge in repairing metal objects in and showed us how matchlock muskets are fired.
Overall we spent a half day exploring the Jamestown Settle. It was a great blend of set-piece museum galleries and interactive living exhibits which worked well for us as a family.