Experience England’s first permanent colony in North America come to life at this living history museum.
It’s a place of legend. John Smith and Pocahontas are household names, and they lived and walked near this ground. Jamestown Settlement is an attempt to reconstruct these historic places just over a mile from their actual location. (To see the archeological remains of the original site, you’ll have to visit nearby Historic Jamestowne.)
In 1607, the Virginia Company of London established a settlement in swampy tidewater along the James River. The colony quickly ran into trouble, and a majority of colonists died of sickness and starvation within the first few years. Relations with the indigenous population were troubled, and in 1622, the Powhatan Indians massacred a quarter of the colonists. More misfortune followed when Jamestown was burned during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676.
Jamestown Settlement got its start in 1957 and is run by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, it consists of the re-created James Fort and Powhatan town, replicas of the settlers’ original wooden sailing ships the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, and a large visitor center and museum. The Visitor Center was built for a cost of $7.4 million and opened in 2006.
On my visit, the Susan Constant and Godspeed were the only ships accessible to the public, since the Discovery was undergoing repairs. These fully-functional sailing ships give you a sense of what life was like on the long journey from England to North America. 144 passengers and crew were crammed in these three ships for four months. I missed seeing the Mayflower replica at Plimoth Plantation in 2017, so I was excited to explore these.
Jamestown Settlement is similar to, but larger than, Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. Both living history museums feature reconstructed colonial and American Indian villages and sailing ships. Both are located near their historic counterparts. Jamestown Settlement has a much better museum, however, but Plimoth Plantation had better hands-on activities and more volunteer reenactors.
Four hundred years ago, in 1619, the first representative assembly in America convened in Jamestown’s church. It was the moment when self-government, as opposed to inherited aristocracy, became a precedent in the American colonies. How did the Jamestown Settlement Museum mark this momentous occasion? By featuring an exhibit on colonial women called “Tenacity.”
There’s nothing wrong with highlighting women’s roles in history, but to eclipse such a significant anniversary with an exhibit that could’ve been shown any other year? I’m thinking this was a deliberate political jab at President Trump, whose attendance at the Virginia General Assembly anniversary commemoration drew protest. The message was doubly clear by tying the exhibit to modern “intersectional” social and political movements, which have nothing to do with life in 17th Century English colonies.
Jamestown Settlement, at 2110 Jamestown Road (Route 31) in Williamsburg, Virginia, is open daily 9:00am to 5:00pm (until 6:00pm June 15th through August 15th). Closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission costs $17.50 for adults and $8.25 for children ages six through 12. A combination ticket for Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is $26.00. Call (888) 593-4682 for more information.