Statue of John Smith

Statue of John Smith

Because of the potential for rain and needing to pack the car to head back home, we decided to return to Historic Jamestowne for the archaeology tour. Our $5.00 passes were good for the week, and this tour was something we’d wanted to do. I couldn’t be happier that we chose to return.

Our tour guide, Matthew Summers, was not only incredibly knowledgeable, but he also had an amazing gift for telling stories. In today’s discussion, his stories centered on John Smith. Teaching history, I had studied more about John Smith than most (enough to get mad at Disney’s Pocahontas for portraying him as in a romantic relationship with her when she was actually about 10 while he was 30 something…). I had also known about his fits of temper and the fact that he spent most of his voyage to America in the brig after being accused of mutiny and almost hanged for it.

One of four barracks described by Smith

One of four barracks described by Smith

But, Matthew shared more of Smith’s early life that I’d never considered. First, he explained that Smith had come from Lincolnshire, England, which was a rural area. He compared him to a “good ol’ boy from Kansas,” explaining that this fact might have underscored Smith’s dislike for the “gentlemen” at Jamestowne. But, if Smith was just a country boy, that would shape only one aspect of his character. Add to that the fact that he had been a mercenary (soldier for hire), had fought against Henry IV in France and against the Turks in Hungary, had been captured and made a POW, killed his master and escaped back to England, and John Smith starts looking a bit more like Chuck Norris and less like Huckleberry Finn. Matthew compared him to “one of those military men who’d done four tours in Afghanistan, knows how to survive, and likes being in charge–you may not like him, but in the trenches, there’s not a better man to have beside you.” Looking at John Smith in this light rounds out his character and other events in his life.

Cannon positioned for war against the Spanish

Cannon positioned for war against the Spanish

Another interesting thing Matthew said is “People don’t lie about the boring bits. If it’s not important, he’s probably telling the truth.” He shared this because a lot of the archaeology that’s been discovered is exactly as Smith said it was. The dimensions match, and the description is the same. The first thing Smith had described was a series of barracks, made in the same style as similar ones still existing in Lincolnshire =, England. The fort itself had been hastily constructed, not so much for protection against the Indians, but against the Spanish. The French fort in Florida had been previously overrun by the Spanish, and it was no coincidence that the Spanish called Virginia, “Florida Norte (Northern Florida).” Lest we think the Spanish were not a real threat, there was a map of Jamestowne found in Spanish territory–you can see it here: http://www.georgescoville.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/640px-Zuniga_map-300×194.jpg
Though the Spanish attack never came, the threat was real, and since Jamestowne was a site used in the subsequent wars including the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, it obviously was a strategic choice.

Boundaries of the Wooden Church.  John Rolfe and Pocahontas would have stood in front of the four crosses.

Boundaries of the Wooden Church. John Rolfe and Pocahontas would have stood in fromt of the four crosses.

From the barracks, we moved on to the foundation of the old church. The brick tower was a later addition to Jamestowne. The first church was a wooden structure which would have been the first building viewed upon entering the fort. Once again, referencing journals of the time, archaeologists were able to know where to look and found a building 60 foot by 100 foot foundation (differing only 6″ from the description in the journals.) This spot is significant as it is the church that John Rolfe and Pocahontas were married in. Matthew brought up what I had previously learned about John Rolfe having lost his wife and child (He also showed archaeological evidence of Rolfe’s quarters due to the presence of limestone from Bermuda, where John lost his first wife and daughter.) He also mentioned Rolfe’s letter wrestling with his feelings for Pocahontas, but he explained another layer of the story. John Rolfe hadn’t actually lived through the starving time in Jamestowne. He had been on one of the supply ships headed for Jamestowne which had been stuck in Bermuda. When he finally arrived, it was just after the starving time, and everyone was giving up. In fact, they had boarded a ship returning to England. Fortunately for us, they only made it about 10 miles before another supply ship bringing with it Lord De la Warr arrived and turned them around, enabling the new colony to establish. De la Warr imposed martial law and cleaned up Jamestowne from the disease and destruction. Additionally, he wanted to make a buffer around Jamestowne, which he did by inciting the tribes not under Powhatan to join in fighting against him. It was one of these tribes that succeeded in kidnapping Pocahontas and holding her for ransom in exchange for English POW’s. They hadn’t counted on Rolfe falling in love with her. Their marriage, however, would ensure 7 years of peace until their deaths.

Storehouse, kitchen, and church

Storehouse, kitchen, and church

Our final stop was the excavation currently underway in the Kitchen/Storehouse. (The skull of Jane was found in the “Kitchen garbage” here.) This area had also been described by Smith. Here, Matthew shared with us the cause of the starving time. In addition to the drought, the trouble with Indians, the supply ships not arriving as scheduled, and the ships that did arrive bringing more people than supplies, the major factor Matthew mentioned was the loss of John Smith. While Smith could not have prevented certain aspects of it, he was skilled at securing supplies from the Indians, whereas his successor would be kidnapped and tortured to death. Additionally, he gave evidence that Smith’s injury could have been a set up. Gunpowder, the way Smith carried it, would not have randomly exploded while Smith was sleeping–not a tough military man used to survival. Apparently, someone wanted him out of the way–and Smith had a lot of enemies. But, they were also committed to keeping him out of the way. Smith tried many times to get permission to come back to Jamestowne, but was repeatedly denied. Matthew shared an interesting insight on this. “For a man used to survival and war, John Smith received the worst punishment possible: to die in his own bed. An adventurer should never die in his own bed. He should be part of the action. He should have gone down swinging in the massacre of 1622–that’s what he would have wanted. They wanted to keep that from happening. But in the end, he wins. He’s the one with the statue.”

Ginny's nest--She's in there somewhere

Ginny’s nest–She’s in there somewhere

After our tour, we spent a great deal longer discussing further stories with Matthew, who is doing his PhD on religion in the colonies. He’s striving to prove not only Jamestowne’s high church heritage, but also that there was a strong Puritan heritage in men like John Rolfe who will quote the Bible extensively and focus on evangelism of the Native Americans–something not generally associated with high church Anglicanism. Interesting, to say the least. Before heading home, we decided to make a quest to see Ginny. We had slightly vague directions, but as I stopped at one potential location, I heard a noise in the trees and looked up to see a large bird in flight, clutching twigs. We continued searching and found the nest, though Ginny never showed her face, despite us calling. Another man who was there had seen her fly in about 3 minutes before we arrived, which put the time right for when I saw her leave the other location. For those who want to see if you have better luck, here are the directions: Take the Island Route short route (Turn right out of the visitor center). When you cross over the curved bridge, pull out at the second pull out and face the second sign (Has “Plants” on it). Facing the sign, the nest is at 2:00.

Tomorrow, we head back home, leaving more adventures for another time. So, until then, may your own journey bring you the delights of new discoveries and more questions to pursue!

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