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Revitalization of Jamestown Settlement Living-History Areas Coincides with Development of New Film Exhibition Galleries


WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – At the beginning of the new Jamestown Settlement galleries, exhibit panels point out “how we know what we know” about the past through words, pictures, nature, archaeology and objects that have survived in museum and private collections. These sources of information are the basis for the gallery exhibits as well as the museum’s outdoor living-history areas, where a physical transformation has taken place over the past 10 years.

Significant enhancements have been made at Jamestown Settlement’s re-created 17th-century Powhatan Indian village, English ships and colonial fort. The theme of three cultures converging in 17th-century Virginia is reflected in a new riverfront discovery area.

A Paspahegh site found archaeologically a few miles from Jamestown in the 1990s serves as the model for a reconfiguration of the Powhatan Indian village. The Paspaheghs were the Powhatan tribal group that lived closest to the English settlement at Jamestown. Six full-size buildings, made of sapling frames covered with reed mats, have been re-created from the archaeological site, which dates to the early 17th century and is depicted in entirety in a scale model inside the museum galleries. Other features of Jamestown Settlement’s Powhatan village are a garden, outdoor fire pits and work stations where historical interpreters demonstrate how the Powhatans cultivated crops, prepared meals and made household objects and tools from materials available from nature. The Powhatan village is bordered by a new discovery trail using plantings and signage to interpret the relationship of the Powhatans to the environment.

A new Godspeed and Discovery have joined the Susan Constant to represent the three ships that arrived in Virginia in 1607. At the pier where the ships are docked, an open-sided structure resembling a 17th-century waterfront building provides additional space and shelter for maritime demonstrations.

Architectural designs for the two new ships were based on the historically documented tonnages, or cargo capacities, of the original vessels and extensive research of 17th-century ships. The sizes and proportions of the new Godspeed and Discovery were developed from 17th-century principles of tonnage measurement. The Godspeed, completed in early 2006, has a significant role in events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. The Discovery arrived at Jamestown Settlement in late January 2007. An older replica of the Godspeed will remain at Jamestown Settlement through 2007 and is interpreted as the Elizabeth, a ship of about the same size as the Godspeed known to have made several voyages from England to Virginia between 1613 and 1625.

The fort has undergone a transformation to more completely portray the business enterprise and military character of Jamestown during the years 1610 to 1614. Buildings have been constructed over a 10-year period, replacing structures built in the 1950s, to represent a barracks, a storage facility for food provisions, a kitchen, an armory, a powder magazine, the colonial governor’s house, the Anglican church, and the office of the cape merchant, who was responsible for keeping track of goods imported to and exported from the Virginia colony.

The new fort buildings are based on documentary research and archaeological findings at several early 17th-century Virginia sites. One is based on evidence found by APVA Preservation Virginia archaeologists at Historic Jamestowne, the original settlement site, of a structure dating to the earliest era of the original fort, before 1610. The Jamestown Settlement fort’s provisioning area, consisting of the buttery – a storage facility for food provisions – and kitchen, was inspired by a 1607 map, verified by archaeological excavations, of Fort St. George, a short-lived English settlement established in Maine the same year as Jamestown. Colonist William Strachey’s description of the Jamestown fort in 1610 is the basis for the triangular palisade, rebuilt in the mid 1990s, encircling Jamestown Settlement’s re-created fort, and for the size and interior furnishings of the church.

Completed in Summer 2003, the riverfront discovery area highlights the role of the James River and other waterways in 17th-century travel, commerce and cultural exchange, reflecting Powhatan Indian, European and African traditions. Here, interpreters make dugout canoes using methods described by Captain John Smith and depicted by John White, an Englishman who participated in an unsuccessful attempt to colonize Virginia 20 years before Jamestown. They also discuss how Africans made similar types of watercraft and compare English, Powhatan and African methods of fishing.

A large open 17th-century-style boatshed provides space for interpretation of small watercraft construction and repair and production of lumber, an early export from Virginia to England. Other discovery stations located along a pathway that winds through the area provide information about trade, allowing visitors to examine examples of goods valued by Powhatan, European and African cultures, and mapping and navigation.