Virginia set to mark 400th birthday of Jamestown

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JAMESTOWN, Va. (AP) – Plymouth tends to hog the attention, with its buckle-shoed Pilgrims and the story of the first Thanksgiving.

But in 1607, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, three ships deposited a group of explorers on a swampy peninsula on Virginia’s James River that became America’s first permanent English settlement – and the birthplace of the United States.

A new Maine-built replica of one of those ships will embark May 22 on a tour of six East Coast ports to drum up interest ahead of the big 400th birthday bash for Jamestown a year from now.

The 80-day Godspeed Sail starts an 18-month series of anniversary events, and organizers are counting on it to attract tourists and private sponsors to the commemoration.

They recognize that many people, especially outside Virginia, know little about Jamestown’s significance as the spot where American traditions of representative government, free enterprise and cultural diversity took root.

“Getting the message across that this is in fact a national event is critical,” said Colin G. Campbell, vice chairman of the Jamestown 2007 state steering committee.

Jamestown 2007 is a part of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a state agency that runs two history museums and is coordinating efforts to commemorate the 400th anniversary. The federal Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission is helping on some activities.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is honorary chairwoman of the commemoration. Also involved is television and radio host Tavis Smiley, who will bring his annual State of the Black Union symposium to Virginia on Feb. 9-10, 2007.

Smiley said he wanted to participate in the commemoration because the nation changed profoundly when the first Africans arrived at Jamestown, as slaves or indentured servants, in 1619.

“It is impossible to imagine this place called America without the contribution of her African peoples,” Smiley said. “Jamestown presents a wonderful opportunity for us not just to reflect on that contribution, but it really does, at a critical time in our nation’s history, challenge African-Americans specifically to see how much more needs to be done.”

Organizers are hoping for 2.4 million visitors overall for the commemorative events. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, as well as the British royal family, will be invited to the premier event, “America’s Anniversary Weekend,” at Jamestown on May 11-13, 2007, which is expected to attract 90,000 people.

The budget for the commemorative events is $40 million to $42 million, with a little more than half coming from state funds.

Organizers want to raise the rest from private sponsors, who have been slow to sign up. The three major sponsors so far are the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Norfolk Southern Corp. and Verizon Communications.

Campbell, the foundation’s president, said he expects more will sign on as momentum builds with the Godspeed Sail and subsequent events, including a series of democracy conferences beginning in August, the 225th anniversary of America’s Revolutionary War victory at nearby Yorktown in October and a national, live teach-in Webcast from Jamestown in November.

Those are among 10 “signature” events. About 150 communities plan local projects related to the anniversary, said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

“It’s just a great opportunity for our commonwealth,” Kaine said. “Tourism is fantastic, but the real exciting part of this it gives us a chance to really connect to an aspect of our tradition in a way that can energize us going forward.”

Prequel events before the anniversary can draw visitors by educating people about why Jamestown is important, said Nancy Milton of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which helped market Lewis and Clark expedition commemorative events to visitors from outside St. Louis.

“You just have to make sure you walk the line between buildup of anticipation and overload. I don’t know if anybody knows where that line is. Therein lies the difficulty,” said Milton, vice president of marketing communications.

Jamestown was a business venture, with the settlers sailing from London in December 1606 and enduring harsh conditions upon their arrival. The first representative assembly in the New World convened in the Jamestown church in 1619, and Jamestown was Virginia’s capital until 1699.

Jamestown has been somewhat overlooked because “the Plymouth story of freedom of religion and Thanskgiving and all these things just plays happy and sweet in a way,” said William P. Kelso, the archaeologist who led the successful search for the remains of the Jamestown settlers’ triangular fort.

“Jamestown was a more realistic situation,” said Kelso, director of Archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, or APVA. “Everything didn’t go right. But there were so many things that were started here that became a legacy. It’s more what America is about now, than just freedom of religion.”

Virginia has commemorated Jamestown’s birthday with big events every 50 years since 1807. The 2007 commemoration is the first to focus on all three cultures that converged at Jamestown: English settlers, native Indians and Africans.

“It’s an opportunity for our story to be told correctly,” said Powhatan Red Cloud-Owen, a Chickahominy tribe council member and liaison between Virginia Indians and Jamestown 2007.

He recalled attending the 1957 Jamestown commemoration as a child and seeing Indians there basically “for costume purposes.” And they were from North Carolina, not Virginia, he said.

“Now we have a voice. That means a lot to us,” he said.

For example, early in the planning, the word “celebration” was used. Virginia Indians objected, and organizers have taken pains since to refer to the events as a “commemoration.”

“We don’t call the invasion of our land 400 years ago a celebration,” Red Cloud-Owen said.

Today, there are two Jamestowns: the National Park Service and APVA’s Historic Jamestowne, site of the original James Fort, and the nearby state-run Jamestown Settlement that was built for the 350th anniversary. Visitors to both will encounter changes spurred by the commemoration.

At Historic Jamestowne, an Archaearium to house artifacts uncovered during the ongoing archaeological digs will open May 13.

Jamestown Settlement is preparing “The World of 1607,” a one-year exhibition that is to open in spring 2007.

The settlement also has been sprucing up its replicas of the fort and Indian village and is preparing a new permanent exhibition that will focus heavily on all three cultures of the colony, something that wasn’t done there before.



On the Net:

Jamestown 2007 commemoration: http://www.Americas400thAnniversary.com.

Jamestown Settlement: http://www.historyisfun.org.

Jamestown educational materials: http://www.jamestownjourney.com

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