Jamestown is where the river meets woods and marsh.
It’s also where the Virginia Company put down roots in what would become arguably the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
Start your exploration at Historic Jamestowne to see where the legend began. Try to tag along on one of two daily archaeological tours for a primer on the settlement’s first years, their trials and triumphs, their rise, fall and rise again.
If it were easy, anybody could do it. And it turned out to be anything but easy when those first men and boys arrived on our shores.
They had to navigate relations with the native people to this area, the Powhatan, as well as survive famine, cannibalism, sickness and a good deal of Games of Thrones-like maneuvering within their ranks.
At one point, they’d failed, when the last few skeletal survivors boarded a ship to leave this plot of land along the James River. Then, remarkably, given the little maritime traffic at the time, they encountered ships arriving from the Virginia Company to refresh the starving colony’s ranks and supplies.
Along with them came a man, John Rolfe, who would go on to marry Pocahontas for love and to improve relations with the native people. He also developed a thriving tobacco industry that lives to this day in America.
After the archaeological tour—which is quite fascinating and spirited thanks to guides from the Preservation Virginia contingent of this private-public National Park Service venture—drive the 1.5 miles to the nearby Jamestown Settlement.
Jamestown Settlement is the living history look at how the journey to America by ships would have tried men’s souls, how a native village would have appeared to them when they arrived, and how the Jamestown Fort took shape with day-to-day living.
The Settlement is separate from the National Park Service-Preservation Virginia site and offers a fabulous museum, theater and period-costumed docents ‘living’ in three recreated settlements—the ships, the native Powhatan village, and Jamestown Fort.
Step aboard the reproduction ships that brought over the first settlers and hear of their journey across the Atlantic following the trade winds. Meander through the church, armory and learn how the fort functioned. Catch a wisp of the acrid smoke as it rises from the native village abodes.
Both of these attractions are a must to really take in the whole picture of Jamestown. You’ll find its roots at Historic Jamestowne and you’ll find where facts meet imagination at the Jamestown Settlement.
Tips: Plan to spend at least five hours between the two. Both locations are handicap accessible. There are restaurants, shops and restroom facilities as well as plenty of free parking at both sites. Do not go to one without the other, and plan to drive as there is no easy public shuttle between the two.