A museum of 17th-century Virginia
The 1607 founding of America’s first permanent English colony in the midst of Virginia’s Powhatan chiefdom, the ensuing convergence of diverse cultures, and the evolution of the colony throughout the 17th century are vividly recounted at Jamestown Settlement, a museum operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Located about a mile from the original site and 10 minutes from Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement tells the story of America’s beginnings through film and gallery exhibits and outdoor living history.
Aboard life-size replicas of the three 1607 ships—Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery—you’ll get a sense of the spirit of opportunity that motivated the Jamestown colonists as well as the difficult living conditions endured by 17th-century voyagers. In the museum’s re-created fort, you’ll see how the colonists coped with an unfamiliar environment and brought English customs, religion, dress, food and building styles to the New World. You’ll be introduced to the culture of the Powhatan Indians in a setting re-created from an early 17th-century archaeological site.
Your visit to Jamestown Settlement begins with an introductory film that presents an overview of Jamestown’s origins in England and the early years of the colony. Events and themes presented in the film are explored in detail in expansive exhibition galleries.
Presenting current historical knowledge, innovative design and a distinctive collection, the galleries chronicle the nation’s 17th-century beginnings in Virginia in the context of its Powhatan Indian, English and west central African cultures. The first of three sections introduces visitors to pre-17th-century Virginia and provides overviews of the “parent” cultures, with full-scale dioramas portraying a Powhatan Indian setting and a dwelling in Angola, homeland of the first Africans in Virginia, and an English streetscape. Exhibits also explore European overseas trade and colonization and advances in shipbuilding and navigation that ultimately led to the formation of the Virginia Company, the English investment group that sponsored the Jamestown colony.
The second section is introduced with a scale model of a 1607 Powhatan community and explores the complexity of the relationship between Virginia’s colonists and the native Powhatan people, ranging from trade to conflict, and the role of cultural intermediaries. Exhibits show how the English secured a foothold in Virginia with the establishment of settlements and economic enterprises and set the course of the future with the introduction of tobacco as a cash crop. While the first documented Africans to arrive in Virginia in 1619 may eventually have won their freedom, the emergence of lifetime servitude for later African immigrants was motivated by the demand for labor to produce tobacco. An object theater chronicles African encounters with Europeans and the development of the transatlantic slave trade.
The third section of exhibits provides an overview of the political, social and economic development and expansion of the Virginia colony during the 17th century, while Jamestown served as its capital. Full-scale structures re-created from archaeological sites depict Powhatan, slave and planter dwellings of the late 1600s. Short films describe the evolution and impact of government in 17th-century Virginia and the legacies of Jamestown—cultural diversity, language and representative government—that were the seeds of the United States of America.
Leaving the indoor exhibits, visitors arrive at the re-created Powhatan Indian village, where historical interpreters discuss and demonstrate the Powhatan way of life. The village, consisting of several dwellings, a garden and a circle of carved ceremonial posts, is based on archaeological findings at a site once inhabited by Paspahegh Indians, the Powhatan tribal group closest to Jamestown, and descriptions recorded by English colonists.
From the Powhatan village, a path leads to a pier where the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery are docked. Visitors can talk with costumed interpreters about the four-and-a-half-month voyage from England and take part in periodic demonstrations on piloting and navigation, knot-tying and sail-handling.
Inside the wooden palisade of Jamestown Settlement’s re-created colonial fort are wattle-and-daub structures with thatched roofs representing Jamestown’s earliest buildings including dwellings, a church, a storehouse and an armory. Interpreters are engaged in a variety of activities typical of daily life during the 1610–1614 time period, such as agriculture, carpentry, blacksmithing and the preparation of meals, and provide daily demonstrations of matchlock musket firing.
Visitors are welcome to handle many of the 17th-century reproduction items used in Jamestown Settlement’s outdoor living-history program. You are invited to grind corn, help make cordage and pitch corncob darts in the Powhatan Indian village. In the fort, you can try on armor or toss quoits.
Special events and programs include Military Through the Ages in March, Jamestown Day in May, Historic Trades Fair in June, American Indian Intertribal Powwow in October, Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia in November and A Colonial Christmas in December.
Jamestown Settlement, located on Route 31 South, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and until 6 p.m. from June 15 through August 15. You should allow three hours for your visit. 2016 admission is $17.00 for adults and $8.00 for ages 6–12. Children under 6 are admitted free.
A value-priced combination ticket is available with the Yorktown Victory Center, a museum of the American Revolution. Call 888-593-4682 toll free or 757-253-4838 for more information or visit www.historyisfun.org.
Walk in the footsteps of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas and the men and women who settled England’s first permanent colony in North America in 1607. Experience the actual place where the first representative assembly in America met and the first Africans arrived in Virginia.
Explore the original site of the 1607 James Fort and witness the moment of discovery as archaeologists uncover artifacts from this first settlement. At the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center, learn about daily interpretive programs, tour the exhibit galleries, shop in the museum store and view a multimedia theater presentation that will immerse you in the sights and sounds of 17th–century Jamestown.
Located at the east end of the island, the Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, Jamestown’s archaeology museum, displays more than 2,000 artifacts from James Fort.
After a visit to the Archaearium, enjoy lunch on the banks of the James River at the Dale House Café. Spend time soaking up the natural environment of the island, where you can observe bald eagles, blue herons and white-tailed deer among the indigenous wildlife that thrive in the area.
Throughout the year, you can meet some of the early settlers during eyewitness programs and living history tours. Events are held on site to commemorate important dates in Jamestown’s history.
After departing the Visitor Center, continue your visit with a trip along the Island Loop Drive, a five-mile, self-guided driving tour, where you can explore the natural environment. Exhibit signs along the drive explain how the early Jamestown settlers harnessed this environment to help them survive. Complete your visit with a stop at the Glasshouse of 1608 to observe artisans practice glassmaking, one of the earliest industries attempted on the island.
Historic Jamestowne is jointly administered by the National Park Service and The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation (on behalf of Preservation Virginia) and preserves the site of America’s first permanent English settlement.
Admission to Historic Jamestowne also includes admission to Yorktown Battlefield and provides unlimited access to both historic sites for seven consecutive days. The site is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day). Visitors may stay on the site until dusk. For admission prices and event information, visit www.historicjamestowne.org or call 757-856-1250.