Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA. I’m Barbara Klein.
And I'm Steve Ember. Next month is the 400th anniversary of
Britain's first permanent settlement in America. Today, we tell the story of
In 1607, three ships loaded with explorers
and supplies crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. On May 14 the men
landed at a small island at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay.
In all, there were 104 men and boys. They immediately began work
on a settlement on the shores of the James River. They named it Jamestown.
King James the First in England had agreed to let the explorers from the
Virginia Company establish a settlement in North America. They were told to find
gold and a way to sail to the Orient.
The 400th anniversary of Jamestown is being honored with eighteen
months of cultural and educational programs around Virginia. They began in May
of last year and are meant to show how a struggle for survival changed the
world. Many parts of the Jamestown story are being retold to mark what the
organizers call "America's 400th Anniversary."
The Jamestown Settlement that people visit today is a
re-creation of the colony and a nearby Powhatan Indian village. The state of
Virginia built the Jamestown Settlement in 1957 to celebrate the
Visitors can stop at the Jamestown Settlement, or drive down the road to a
place called Historic Jamestowne on Jamestown Island. The National Park Service
and a Virginia historical group jointly operate the island.
Jamestowne is where the English built their colony. But fifty years ago there
was not much to see.
Several months after arriving in America, the colonists built a three-sided
fort along the edge of the island. For years, researchers believed that the
structure had worn away into the James River.
But in 1994, archeologists began a project called Jamestown
Rediscovery. They discovered part of the fort. Since then, they have located the
positions of all three sides, along with several deep wells.
More than one million objects dating back to the first colonists have come
out of the ground. These include tobacco seeds and plant remains. Many of the
artifacts can be seen in a new museum called the Archaearium on the grounds of
Past where the fort was built is the old colonial church
on Jamestown Island. The first representative legislature in America met at
the Jamestown Church in 1619. During this meeting, a plan of
self-government was established for all future colonies in America.
The colonists built the church out of wood in sixteen seventeen. Then,
in 1639, they replaced it with a church made of stone.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth the Second came to Jamestown for
the 350th anniversary in 1957. It was her first visit to the
United States as queen.
A memorial cross was raised on the eastern coast of Jamestown Island. It
marked the difficult first few years of life at Jamestown. The colonists did not
have enough food. They suffered from diseases. They also fought with the Native
Americans who lived in the area.
Now, fifty years later, Queen Elizabeth will return to
the former colony to observe the 400th anniversary of Jamestown.
Kevin Crossett works for a Virginia agency that is helping organize Jamestown
events with local, state and national groups. He says officials have taken
special care to include all the cultures involved in the earliest years of the
Past anniversaries at Jamestown have mainly centered on the European
experience. But with this anniversary, Kevin Crossett says, each culture gets to
tell its own story in its own words.
American Indian groups are involved in the anniversary events. But, as Kevin
Crossett notes, they do not consider the observance a celebration. After all,
the Native Americans lost land and people when the English arrived.
The idea of a "celebration" might not appeal much to black Americans either.
The first black people to arrive in Jamestown were slaves from Africa.
The Jamestown observance began last May when a copy of the ship Godspeed
sailed up the East Coast. This is a modern version of one of the three ships
that carried the first settlers to Jamestown Island. The other two, which have
also been re-created, were the Susan Constant and the Discovery.
Last week, a historical re-creation called "Journey Up the James" began at
Virginia Beach. When the three ships first arrived in America, they landed at
Virginia Beach before heading farther up the James River.
Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, plan to be in Virginia on May
3 and 4. This will be the queen's first visit to the United States in
But the main event of the Jamestown observance, a three-day anniversary
weekend, begins Friday, May 11. Organizers have invited President Bush to
speak. The honorary chairwoman for the events is former Supreme Court Justice
Sandra Day O’Connor.
The weekend will include music and cultural performances. Artists will
demonstrate glass-making from the seventeenth century.
Earlier events for the Jamestown anniversary have included Indian and
African-American cultural programs. There was also an educational program called
"Jamestown Live." This was a one-hour Internet broadcast in November involving
history experts and others. Organizers say more than one million students around
the world took part in the program.
The first settlers at Jamestown imagined that it would become a great city.
In fact, after less than a century, it burned to the ground in a rebellion led
by a colonist named Nathaniel Bacon. The colony never recovered and the capital
of Virginia at that time moved to Williamsburg. Still, England had established a
permanent presence in North America.
As part of the Jamestown observance, a special program will take place in
September in Williamsburg. The gathering will examine the role of democracy in
world politics. Leaders and students from around the world have been invited to
discuss the future of democracy in the developing world.
Our program was written by Jill Moss and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara
And I'm Steve Ember. For a link to the Jamestown anniversary Web site, go to
voaspecialenglish.com. You can also find transcripts and audio archives of our
programs. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special