Sunday, 18 August 2013

Jamestown

Recently, I visited Jamestown, the first English colony to survive on the North American continent. It had been several years since my last visit and very little had changed. One of the most interesting aspects wasn't a display or anything like that, but some archaeologists who were working on a dig. They took the time to talk with us. Unfortunately, we had missed their big find earlier in the week, when they had uncovered an intact horse skeleton. Also, unfortunately for them, they discovered the horse was from the 18th century and the Revolutionary War era, not the 17th century.

On my previous visit, I was most interested in the original Jamestown. Part of the original fort is already underwater, and it's said that with global warming, the rest will eventually follow suit. On this trip, my response was the same as on the previous occasion when I passed the Pocahontas statue. Let me just say, she appears to be attired more like she had belonged to a western plains Indian tribe rather than eastern woodland. But then, I believe the statue was made in the 1930s. It just seems to me a historic site could add a more accurate portrayal.

The newest exhibit was the reconstruction of Jane, the girl whose remains had been the first forensic evidence of cannibalism during the Starving Time. As I walked through many of the other exhibits, I grew saddened and disappointed. Nothing showed or explained the original colonization from the Paspahegh point of view. After all, the land belonged to them when the colonists first arrived. In fact, the exhibits seemed to go out of the way to perpetuate the myth of how primitive these people were. But then, the Paspahegh were annihilated because they had resisted English encroachment, and there are no descendants to tell their side of the story.

A few years later, paramount chief Opechancanough organized an attack against the colonists. By that time, Jamestown definitely belonged to the English. The exhibits claimed that a boy by the name of Chanco had saved Jamestown from certain annihilation. In reality, there is no historical evidence that Jamestown was ever threatened. I guess, even now, it may be too much to ask a historic site to tell both sides to a story.

Fortunately for me, my visit was to research how Jamestown had grown in the 1640s. During this time, much of the ship trade had been cut off from England due to the Civil War there. That was another fact that I didn't see mentioned, but the port remained busy because of trade from the Dutch, New England, and the West Indies. I walked the path that the colonists of the era would have walked, and it helped me see and feel what my characters in my upcoming book The Dreaming: Wind Talker would see.

Afterward, I traveled the island by car. Maybe someday I'll return and walk the island. Before leaving, I saw a large bird in a tree. Other observers said that it was a bald eagle. According to most indigenous people, the eagle is a sacred messenger spirit. In that regard, I know the Paspahegh would be pleased.

Kim Murphy
www.KimMurphy.net

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