This month marks the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in North America, and the foundation of the United States of America.
There had been earlier attempts. Perhaps the most famous: the "Lost Colony" sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh on Roanoke Island. That's where Virginia Dare was born in 1587, the first English child born in North America. VDARE.COM was named for her—read about it here.
Should we celebrate Jamestown? Some say we shouldn't.
For the past 200 years, major public observances have been held at or near Jamestown every 50 years.
In 1807, it was called a "Jubilee". In 1857, it was the "Jamestown Anniversary". Former president John Tyler spoke. The 1907 "Jamestown Exposition" featured President Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain,and Booker T. Washington. And in 1957 the "Jamestown Festival" was visited by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
What about the 400th anniversary?
The good news: there are many activities planned, it's being referred to as "America's 400th Anniversary," Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are returning, President Bush is speaking. There are exhibitions and special events.
The bad news: in 2007 we are not supposed to call it a "celebration". The official Jamestown 400 committee says it is not a celebration but a "commemoration".
Can you imagine throwing a birthday party for your son or daughter and calling it a "commemoration"?
American Indian activists nixed the use of "celebration". As Mary Wade, commemoration official puts it "You can't celebrate an invasion." Some have gone as far as calling it a holocaust. [Historic Jamestown marks 400 years since 'invasion'| 'Celebration' banned as events condemn 'holocaust' that resulted Posted: March 8, 2007 1:00 a.m. Eastern by Bob Unruh © 2007 WorldNetDaily.com]
At the confusingly named "Jamestown Settlement" (not the original settlement, but close to it), a state of the art exhibition belittles the colonists and 17th-century Britain , in contrast to the Virginia Indians who lived "in harmony with the life that surrounds them" and lived in "an advanced complex society". One panel explains that
"Past Jamestown anniversaries were referred to as 'celebrations.' Because many facets of Jamestown's history are not cause for celebration, like human bondage and the displacement of Virginia Indians, the Jamestown 400th Anniversary is referred to as the Jamestown 2007 Commemoration." [Captain Smith, the Tides Are Shifting on the James by Edward Rothstein, New York Times, March 2, 2007]
A couple of authors claiming to be descended from the Powhatan Tribe have come out with a book called The True Story of Pocahontas, claiming that the famous princess was raped and murdered by Englishmen. What's their source for that? Why, "sacred Mattaponi oral traditions", of course.
For environmentalists, there was a gabfest entitled "The Ecology of Jamestown – Origin of Environmental Injustice in America".
The Virginia legislature (founded in Jamestown, 1619) got into the act, passing a self-righteous feel-good measure expressing "profound regret" for slavery, wrongs visited against Native Americans and "all other forms of discrimination and injustice that have been rooted in racial and cultural bias and misunderstanding."
All this sort of thing was aptly summarized by the London Sunday Telegraph:
"England's first successful colonists in America have been branded as rapists and murderers who imported slavery and oppressed the local Indian population. The controversial portrait of pioneer life in 17th-century Jamestown has become a central part of the year's 400th anniversary of the colony, whose settlement led directly to the birth of the world's most powerful nation. An exhibition by the US National Park Service… plays down the achievements of the first 107 settlers, who brought with them the English language and the traditions of English justice and common law that still underpin modern America." [It's hardly Pocahontas: new exhibits portray Jamestown colonists as killers and rapists By James Langton, Sunday Telegraph, March 17, 2007]
But if we can't celebrate Jamestown , aren't we saying it would be better that the U.S. was never founded? Every country in the world has injustices and unpleasantness in its history. Do we for that reason reject our country and cease to identify with her?
Our nation has accomplished a lot of good things in the past 400 years. Even the Jamestown-bashers are demanding the very rights provided by the American society which began there.
People who have bad relationships with their parents have identity crises. So do nations confused about their origins.
It's no accident that the entity we know as the United States of America was founded by Englishmen. It wasn't founded by Spaniards, nor Frenchmen, nor American Indians.
If it had been, it would be a different country.
It's also no coincidence that our nation was founded when it was founded. The Elizabethan era and the Jacobean era which followed it in 1603 formed a high-water mark in the history of England. English society was bursting with energy, ambition, and creativity. It was the age of Shakespeare and other literary greats. England was advancing intellectually, economically, scientifically and militarily. English explorers were circling the globe.
That Elizabethan/Jacobean can-do spirit gave birth to our own American can-do spirit.
William Shakespeare was caught up in the excitement of English exploration and colonization. His play The Tempest (1611) was inspired by it. And in his play "Henry VIII" (1612), Shakespeare predicts the establishment of "new nations" (Act V, Scene 5) during the reign of James I.
England's rival and enemy was Spain. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was followed by years of conflict on land and sea. A 1604 treaty had officially ended the war, but the two nations were still rivals.
In 1607, England was way behind Spain in the colonization department. Spain had founded colonies from Mexico to South America. Intrepid Spaniards traversed deserts, mountains and jungles. Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro had toppled mighty empires, and sent tons of gold and silver back to Spain.
The Spaniards were also exploring what is now the U.S. Southeast, and had set up a series of coastal settlements from Florida to what is now South Carolina.
The English had claimed what is now the eastern U.S. seaboard. But without settlements, these claims were worthless. If they waited much longer, Spain could grab the whole territory. (Now, 400 years later, Spanish-speakers may yet grab the whole territory—through immigration.)
Jamestown, however, was settled in 1607, survived, and gave birth to a nation. In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, Jamestown is "the blessed mother of us all."
In order to denigrate our country's origin, a Mexican once told me that the United States was founded by aventureros (adventurers).
OK, call them that. And what a 400-year adventure it has been!
The story of Jamestown is as thrilling as any adventure story, with action, suspense and colorful characters.
Founded by the Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company, the goals of the Jamestown colony were to spread Christianity in the New World and turn a profit for the company.
The settlers landed on Cape Henry, Virginia on April 26th, 1607. After opening sealed instructions which named the colony's 7-man council, they held America's first election to choose a president. Edward Maria Wingfield was elected (and removed from office only 4 months later).
On May 14th, 1607, the colonists disembarked on Jamestown Island. It was marshy, mosquito-infested and unhealthy. But strategically, it afforded an excellent view up and down the river, in case a Spanish warship came calling.
Shortly after the English colony was founded, the Spanish ambassador to England, Don Pedro de Zuniga, began sending King Felipe III reports on it, urging the Spanish monarch to have it destroyed. The Spaniards even managed to plant a spy within Jamestown, Don Diego de Molina, who was discovered and deported in 1611. Felipe III would doubtless be happy today to see more Spanish-speakers in Virginia than ever before.
The local American Indians encountered by the Jamestown settlers were members of the Powhatan Confederacy, really an empire, ruled by Wahunsunacock, known to the English as Chief Powhatan, father of Pocahontas.
Wahunsunacock had greatly expanded this empire. When he became ruler, there were only 4 tribes, but after a period of expansion, he held rule over 30 tribes. Those who like to talk about holocausts might bring up the fate of the Chesepian tribe, wiped out by the Powhatan shortly before the arrival of the English.
Anglo-Powhatan relations had their ups and downs, but before the 17th century had ended, the mighty Powhatan Empire was destroyed. Some of the Indians assimilated with the English. However, there are still a few reservations in Virginia peopled by descendents of the Powhatan who still identify as Native Americans, though the language is long-since extinct.
After Jamestown's founding in 1607 the first few years were harsh. The colonists owed much to John Smith, who was in charge from 1608 to 1609 and who continued to promote Virginia after his return to England.
The roots of the American military also are found at Jamestown. According to The Story of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps, by Fisch and Wright,
"The British settlers in colonial America …brought with them a tradition dating back to the Anglo-Saxons. Every free, able-bodied adult male was expected to own arms and to be part of the militia…The colonists created militia units to face two major potential threats: Indians along the frontier and the warring European powers….The local militia quickly divided into squads, each with its own NCO, to share the burden of rotating guard duty. Jamestown, Virginia, organized by squads as early as 1609. Such small units were well suited to counter Indian hit-and-run tactics and to operate in heavily wooded country around the settlements, where larger units had no chance of chasing and catching raiders."
From Jamestown 1607 to Iraq 2007, the American Fighting Man has exhibited great adaptability to changing circumstances. This characteristic goes all the way back to Jamestown. English colonists found their coats of armor unsuitable to the Virginia environment. So they chopped the coats into pieces and put them back on, so they could move more easily.
Jamestown's first cash crop was tobacco, which John Rolfe began to grow in 1612. In 1614 Rolfe married Pocahontas. Their son Thomas is the ancestor of 100,000 Americans today.
By 1619, the colony included about 1,000 settlers, and had begun to branch out into satellite settlements. In that year, some 90 single women arrived from England, encouraging the development of families who would stay and build the colony, rather than return to England as many of the Jamestown men did.
Also by 1619, blacks had begun to arrive in Jamestown. It appears that the first blacks were indentured servants, not slaves. The first black man legally recognized as a slave in Virginia was John Casor in 1654. Ironically, his owner was Anthony Johnson, a black man and former indentured servant.
In the early days, Jamestown had no legal bar against inter-racial marriages, and there were cases of free black men marrying white women. One African, John Graweere, became a Jamestown court officer, others were landowners.
Also in 1619, the Jamestown colony established the House of Burgesses, the first legislative body of our country, "to establish one equal and uniform government over all Virginia" and to provide "just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting". This legislative body still exists. In 1775 it was renamed the Virginia General Assembly. In January of 2007 it held a special session at Jamestown.
Virginia expanded westward, and Jamestown remained the capital until the end of the 1600s when it was replaced by the Middle Plantation (renamed Williamsburg). Later, it was believed that the original James Fort had washed into the river. But in 1994, William Kelso of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project located it once again. Dr. Kelso is still there, excavating artifacts and buildings of Jamestown, possibly including the body of Bartholomew Gosnold, one of the principal organizers of the colony.
Jamestown showed that Englishmen could found colonies. They were soon followed by others, until 13 English colonies were thriving. These 13 colonies were our first 13 states, represented on our flag by the 13 stripes.
The state of Virginia is important in American history for many reasons. It's called the "Mother of Presidents" (8 were from there, including 4 of the first 5) as well as many other prominent Americans. Millions of Americans outside Virginia descend from old Virginia families.
The Wall family, I'm proud to say, is of Virginia colonial stock.
Were the Jamestown settlers perfect? Of course not. But they started our country. They brought the English language, English common law, and English Protestant Christianity to American shores. They began our economic development and started our first legislative body and military units. They claimed the "Rights of Englishmen", which would later become our American constitutional rights.
Celebrate Jamestown? You'd better believe it!
American citizen Allan Wall (email him) resides in Mexico, with a legal permit issued him by the Mexican government. Allan recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM articles are archived here his "Dispatches from Iraq" are archived here his website is here.