Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America. At Historic Jamestowne archeologists are revealing new and surprising information.
Historic Jamestowne Background
Its the 17th century. Spain has been getting rich from its adventures in the Americas. England wants part of the action. Its first colony in North America was established in 1585 but disappears by 1590.
Ready to try again, three small ships set sail from London in late 1606. They journey for months, stopping in the Canary Islands and the Caribbean. Arriving in what is now Virginia, they explore the lower Chesapeake Bay and James River. They observe a thriving people living along the river in several villages. Looking for a place to found their colony, they spot one uninhabited island. They land and begin building Jamestown Fort and a community on Jamestown Island.
What they didn’t realize is that there was good reason no one was living on the island. What follows is an amazing story of survival. Today, 400 years later, new information is being uncovered that helps us understand the Jamestown Colony. How did the people adapt to become a thriving community, the first capitol of Virginia. How did people from different places and cultures impact the community. And, how did it eventually fade away once the capital was moved to Williamsburg.
Jamestown isn’t just the story of English colonial settlers. It is also the story of the Powhatan people who were already living in the area when the English arrived. They traded and battled with the English. Of course you know the story of Pocahontas, daughter of the Powhatan Chief who married an Englishman. But do you know the whole story?
An English Privateer captured a group of African people from a Portuguese ship. In 1619, they also became part of the Jamestown story as slavery began in the English colonies. This was the beginning of something that would have a profound impact not just on Jamestown but on the future United States.
The founding of Jamestown set the course for Colonial America. Historic Jamestowne helps us understand that story and how it impacts us today.
Historic Jamestowne Visitors Center
There is a small visitors center to welcome you to Historic Jamestowne. After getting your tickets, you can start with a short orientation video and do a brief review of the exhibits.
After getting oriented, head toward James Fort and the historic area.
Along the way, be sure to notice the terrain. The bridge to the historic area crosses a swamp. One of the biggest challenges faced by the Jamestown Colonists was a lack of fresh water. One one side of the island was an arsenic-laden swamp. On the other was the brackish James River.
As you enter the historic area, you’ll find one of several monuments in the park. This obelisk was added in 1907 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Jamestown.
Near the monument, you’ll find a shaded sitting area. Ranger talk tours gather here.
Walking Tour of New Towne
If you head to your left, you can take a walking tour of New Towne. As Jamestown grew, this development extended along the river from James Fort. You’ll see the ruins of several of the buildings along with signs that help explain what you are seeing.
The first meeting of representative government in North America was at the church in Jamestown. Later, the government would meet in other locations including like the one where this building stood. It served as the Statehouse from 1646-1652.
This was the home of Lieutenant William Pierce. This house is the only known location where one of the first Africans in Jamestown lived. One of the tours offered here is by a costumed interpreter who tells the story of Angela and her experience as a slave in Jamestown.
After the capital of Virginia was moved to Williamsburg, Jamestown slowly faded away as merchants and others left for the capital. Some stayed and thrived. Richard Ambler married Elizabeth Jaquelin who was the heiress to large portion of the land in Jamestown. Together, they built the home known as the Ambler Mansion. It burned down during the Revolution and was rebuilt. During the Civil war, it was burned down again. After being rebuilt again, it burned down in 1895 and was abandoned.
The Jamestown Fort
After people left Jamestown for Williamsburg, the area became mostly farmland and its buildings were lost to history. The James River rose several feet and most people thought that the Jamestown Fort was below the river. Through an archaeological dig, the boundaries of the fort were discovered.
Along with the fort, the location of the original Jamestown Church was also discovered. The church was placed in the center of the fort. When the fort was expanded, a new church was built in the new center of the fort.
The alter of this church is where Pocahontas married John Rolfe. Their marriage in 1614 brought peace between the English and Powhatan.
The Jamestown Church is also significant for another reason. The alter has four burial markers where four members of the early Jamestown Colony were buried. The archaeology walking tour tells the story of a surprising recent discovery about these graves. I don’t want to be a spoiler. However, if you are really curious, you can read more about the Chancel Burial discovery on the Historic Jamestowne site.
After Jamestown faded into history, a church tower from the 17th century was all that was left visible from the original settlement. In 1907, a church was added to the tower as part of the 300th anniversary of Jamestown.
There are more exhibits available in the Archaearium. Historic Jamestowne is jointly run by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia. The Arcaearium is a small museum run by Preservation Virginia that houses over 4,000 artifacts discovered at Jamestown. Plan on spending 30-60 minutes checking out some of the interesting finds. Note that no photography is allowed inside.
Ranger Talks at Historic Jamestowne
While the exhibits in the Visitors Center and Archaearium are interesting, you’ll learn even more by attending a Ranger Talk. Like at all National Parks, park rangers provide a variety of interesting talks. Some of the talks here are also led by Preservation Virginia staff. Historic Jamestowne tours including Archaeology in Action, First Africans Walking Tour, and the James Fort Archaeology Walking Tour. The tour schedule changes daily so you’ll want to check the latest tour schedule as you plan your visit.
Dining at Historic Jamestowne
The Dale House Cafe is open from 11:00-4:30 in the Summer, 11:30-4:00 in the Winter. You can enjoy sandwiches, salads, and soup with a view of the James River.
Visiting Historic Jamestowne With Your Dog
Well behaved dogs on a leash are welcome in the park. However, they are not allowed inside any of the Historic Jamestowne buildings.
Historic Jamestowne Tickets
Historic Jamestowne is open almost every day of the year from 9:00-5:00. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Tickets are sold at the visitors center.
Adults 16 and over are $20 and are good for 7 days entrance. Youth 15 and under are free. If you have a valid Yorktown Battlefield receipt, admission is $10.
If you have an America the Beautiful National Park Pass or another interagency pass, admission is $5 per person. Active Military Pass holders are free.
There are several free entrance days to the National Parks that will also enable you to visit Historic Jamestowne for free. For 2019, the free days are:
- January 21
- April 20
- August 25
- September 28
- November 11
If you are planning to visit multiple historic areas, consider the Jamestown and Yorktown Four-Site Value Ticket. It’s $46 for adults, $30 for youth ages 13-15, and $16.50 for you ages 6-12. This ticket will provide seven days of admission to Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestown, Yorktown Battlefield, and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. I used this ticket and found it to be a convenient way to visit the four great attractions.
Parking at Historic Jamestowne
There is no charge for parking. A large parking lot is located at the visitors center.
Campgrounds Near Historic Jamestowne
If you are visiting Historic Jamestowne in your RV, there are some great nearby camping options. The following are three of the better options.
Chippokes Plantation State Park
Chippokes Plantation State Park was created on the property of one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the country. The plantation dates back to 1619. You can tour the plantation house as well as a farm & forestry museum. In addition to hiking and biking trails, the park has modern amenities including an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The campground has two loops. Loop A has thirty sites with water & electricity that are perfect for a tent, pop-up, or smaller RV. Loop B has twenty sites with water and 50 amp power. There are also cabins and yurts available.
Chippokes Plantation State Park Campground is about 7.5 miles from Historic Jamestowne. However, you’ll have to use the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry to cross the James River, so be sure to allow a bit of extra travel time. The ferry runs 24 hours a day. With a weight limit of 16 tons, your RV should be OK. Be sure to check with the Virginia DOT if you have questions.
Newport News Park
At over 8,000 acres, Newport News Park is among the nations largest municipal parks. It is located about 20 miles from Historic Jamestowne. The Newport News Park Campground offers 188 campsites in a wooded setting. At $36.00 per night for a water & electric site, this is definitely a good value option for the area. In addition to a great natural campground setting, you have access to hiking and biking trails, a nature center, an archery range, and canoeing & fishing on Lee Hall Reservoir.
Williamsburg/Busch Gardens Area KOA is located approximately 15 miles from Historic Jamestowne. The Williamsburg KOA has 370 sites divided into two sections. There is a lot to do at this KOA including a nice heated swimming pool, bounce pillows, and plenty of planned activities. Pull through sites with 50 AMP service are available.
Attractions Near Historic Jamestowne
There is a lot to do in the Williamsburg area. Historic Jamestowne is one of our top picks. You might also enjoy visiting Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown. Check out our list of the Top 7 Must do Williamsburg VA Area Attractions.
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