Some reconstructed buildings at Jamestown had thatch roofs, not surprising since the first colonists modeled their new homes on what they had left behind in England, They soon discovered that rain and wind in this New World was harder than what thatch roofs could withstand. So, colonists substituted clapboard roofing for thatch and this soon was replaced with shingled roofs.
For the past few years I had wanted to visit Jamestown, right here in my
own country. This spring my wife asked if I wished to travel with
her to Richmond, Virginia, to attend the wedding of a nephew. Ah,
I now had an excuse to make the flight.
Jamestown is approximately an hour and a half drive southeast of Richmond. The original site was thought to have been lost into the James River in its meanderings over the centuries. Fortunately, a couple of decades ago, an historian suspecting otherwise discovered that where the little town had stood had not been washed away. Inches below the ground's surface was a trove of early 17th century artifacts, including building foundations. An interesting irony is that Jamestown, in the New World, has offered one of the greatest collections of English artifacts from this period.
This was the first English colony to "stick" in North America. Earlier efforts had failed or disappeared, like Roanoke. Jamestown began in 1607 and was named for (no surprise here) King James, the successor to Elizabeth (for whom the land claim was named). This was the storied site of Captain Smith, Pocahontas, lazy gentry, gold lust, and so on. Captain Smith, in his recollections, inflated his reputation by warping inconvenient facts, such as the work ethic of the colonists, who really did make an effort to build a productive colony but were nearly overwhelmed by new challenges, such as a muggy hot climate, biting insects, foul water, suspicious natives, and the most severe drought the region had experienced in about 400 years (based on tree-ring studies). Prospective income-producing ideas were floated about, such as glassmaking (with a very abundant wood supply for fuel easily at hand). But nothing worked profitably - or even well - until tobacco.
Jamestown became an exporter of tobacco. Fields and new colonists spread forth into the new land (which the English claimed all the way to the Pacific Ocean). Jamestown remained the center of English presence until 1699 when the seat of Virginia government moved inland to Williamsburg, which was much less dank and buggy.
All buildings exhibited are reconstructions, based on archeological findings. The original settlement was surrounded by a wooden palisade, put up primarily to defend against Spanish raiders.
In addition to the reconstructed settlement and Indian village, the park has reconstructions of three of the ships that carried colonists (which were not just small but really cramped inside), a fine, rambling museum, paved roads and parking lots, an unexciting cafe, souvenir shops peddling gewgaws, jimjams and wingdings, and many other amenities of the 21stC.
Part of the reconstructed Powhatan village. The young woman, a docent, is preparing a meal over an open fire. The structures were primarily sleeping quarters; the Indians did most of their living outside. The actual village was not as close to the English settlement as the reconstruction is.
An outdoor bread oven under a wooden shelter. Notice the palisade wall in the background. Not much strength by European standards of the day, the original was intended to keep out Spanish raiders, not to withstand a concerted attack with artillery.
© 2012, Barry L. Siler