Baker's and Blacksmith's area

Baker’s and Blacksmith’s area

We had anticipated a lazy day at home, but when the anticipated rain/snow was promised to hold off until about 3:00, we decided to head into Historic Jamestowne to see what has changed. Even though it’s been two years since I’ve been, I was not prepared for how much has changed in my absence.

The first thing we noticed was the massive amounts of construction that has been done. I’ve been used to Jamestowne being full of various pits and roped off areas due to archaeology, and there are still spots where archaeology is underway. (Here’s the link for what Jamestowne is digging now: http://apva.org/rediscovery/page.php?page_id=26)

Fence and newer graves at Jamestowne

Fence and newer graves at Jamestowne

But, there has been a great deal of construction based on the findings of previous digs. The first and most obvious change was the fencing. Because of the research done, archaeologists have been able to determine the exact placement of posts, and have recreated the original boundaries. I felt the difference immediately. I’m accustomed to Historic Jamestowne being open and free, but with the fences being put in place, one can feel how claustrophobic it must have been for the early settlers, especially during the times when they couldn’t leave the fort due to trouble with the Native Americans. Additionally, there is a reconstructed Storehouse, described by John Smith, the church where Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married (more on that later), and a blacksmith and baker’s areas, not to mention another well and more grave sites.

Confederate earthworks at Ft. Pocahontas (Jamestowne)

Confederate earthworks at Ft. Pocahontas (Jamestowne)

We continued through the new fencing to one of the Civil War areas of Jamestowne. Many people are not aware that Jamestowne was known as Fort Pocahontas during the Civil War. Just as the Civil War began, Captain William Allen, who owned and farmed Jamestowne, had his slaves and troops (raised at his own expense) construct earthworks. In 1861, Confederates housed more than 1,200 troops there, trying to block off a federal attack of Richmond. Robert E. Lee even visited troops here. The fort never saw any action, however, and was abandoned in 1862 when Confederate troops were moved to Richmond. They burned a bomb shelter and powder magazine constructed at Jamestowne before they left. It is fascinating to see so much history overlapping in one place!

Storehouse and standing church tower

Storehouse and standing church tower

In the archaearium, we found three intriguing stories that piqued our interest. Our first stop was the gift shop, where we had been directed by a staff member to check out information on our ancestors. The guide directed us to a few books, where our ancestors were indeed mentioned. One of our relatives (potential?) was listed as being on the ship with John Rolfe and being present at the christening of his daughter Bermuda. What?!? The history I knew referred to John Rolfe’s son Thomas with his wife Pocahontas. I was already reeling from the revelation in reading the previous evening that Pocahontas had been married before she married Rolfe (No, Disney lovers, it wasn’t John Smith…John Smith wrote that she was 10 when she befriended him, not shapely and seductive). Apparently, though, she’d had an Indian husband who had died (they speculate) before she married Rolfe, and now, it turns out he’d had another wife and child as well. Yet, John Rolfe’s first wife and daughter were listed among those buried in Bermuda. It’s easy to forget how often people were widowed and remarried at this time. John and Pocahontas will move on from these losses to build a life together which would ensure peace for a short time. For anyone in the Jamestowne area, the four hundredth anniversary of the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe will be celebrated at Historic Jamestowne on April 5.

Location of the first landing

Location of the first landing

While mom was looking up information, I heard the cashier talking about an eagle sighting with two other patrons. Fascinated, I went over to see her pictures and hear her story. I won’t spoil it, since I sincerely hope she takes the gentleman’s advice and publishes it, but I will hit the highlights. This lady encountered an eagle with whom she developed enough of a relationship that the eagle will respond when she calls her by the name she selected: Ginny (after Virginia.) Through some pretty spectacular circumstances, she believes this eagle was God’s gift to help her through an incredibly difficult time that shook her faith and almost ended her life. What a riveting story! Listening to it was almost like watching a movie, which I hope it will eventually become. She has donated a picture of the eagle to Historic Jamestowne. Ginny is now commemorated in a key chain or a book mark (which I now own to remember the story). Traci gave us directions to her nest, so we may go on an eagle sighting adventure before we leave!

Jane Courtesy of Historic Jamestowne

Jane Courtesy of Historic Jamestowne

Finally, we toured the archaearium. It was here that we encountered another dark side of history by the name of Jane. This newest exhibit at Jamestowne is grisly, yet riveting. (Warning for the faint of heart or stomach…) In one of the archaeological digs, they found a skull and leg bone of a teenage girl. While this wouldn’t normally be a unique experience, finding such items in a family trash pile instead of a grave is disconcerting to say the least. It has long been suspected that there was cannibalism at Jamestowne during the starving time, but this was conclusive evidence. But, it gets worse. I suppose there could be plausible explanations for finding remains in the trash at an archaeological level known to be “the starving time,” but an examination of the skull shows carving marks, in addition to large implement (such as a meat cleaver) marks.
View of Historic Jamestowne from the ferry

View of Historic Jamestowne from the ferry

The skull and bone are both on display for the viewer, but what really got to me was the wax rendering of what this girl would have looked like. This beautiful child was probably 14, given the fact that her molars had not yet come through, but were still visible in her jaw. This is the age of the students I teach. I can’t imagine how desperate I’d have to be to carve up and eat someone I knew. Apparently, however, there was a man who was tried for murder for killing and eating his pregnant wife. Others were known to dig up graves and eat those interred there. The horrors these early settlers must have experienced during this time is extreme.

My first thought is May we never experience this kind of hardship. But, my next thought is of the many millions for whom starvation and lack is a daily way of life. May we never forget them either.

By this time, it had started raining, so we headed back home with many more mysteries still to be explored.

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