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Jamestown Gets Ready to Celebrate Its 400th Anniversary


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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.  I’m Steve Ember.

Almost four hundred years ago, three British ships loaded with passengers and supplies sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.  The passengers settled on the edge of the James River in sixteen-oh-seven.  They immediately began building what was to become England’s first permanent settlement in America.  Today, Sarah Long and I tell the story of Jamestown, Virginia.

Unlike the first colonists on Jamestown Island, people today arrive by car.  As they drive up, visitors can either stop at the Jamestown Settlement or they can see the very place where the colonists first settled on Jamestown Island.

The Jamestown Settlement is a re-created version of the colony and a nearby Powhatan Indian village.  Visitors can see what life was like in the colony almost four hundred years ago. The people who work at the settlement speak English the way people did in the seventeenth century. They also wear clothes from that time period and fire musket guns from colonial days.  Visitors can see the kind of food the settlers ate, the games they played and the way they lived.

There are also recreated versions of the ships that carried the colonists to Jamestown Island.  The ships were called the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery.

Jamestown Settlement was built by the state of Virginia in nineteen fifty-seven to celebrate the three hundred fiftieth anniversary of the former colony.  The goal was to bring more visitors to the area.  This is because the true place where the settlers landed on Jamestown Island offered visitors little to see.  Today, however, this has changed.  Historians, archeologists and research experts are now working to uncover the remains of the old colony.

The United States National Park Service and a Virginia historical organization jointly run Jamestown Island.  The two groups work together to provide visitors with a full understanding of the historical value of the land and the remains that are being discovered there.

For example, several months after arriving in America in sixteen-oh-seven, the colonists built a three-sided structure, or fort, along the edge of the island.  Some of the remains of that fort still exist today.  However, for years, researchers believed the fort had worn away into the James River.

People visiting Jamestown Island will see a huge archeological project.  Guides answer questions about the discoveries being made.  Several hundred-thousand historical objects have already been recovered from the colony, including the remains of an early settler.  Visitors can see many of these historic objects at the visitor center at the entrance to Jamestown.

The first few years of life in the Jamestown colony were extremely difficult.  The colonists suffered from lack of food and diseases.  They clashed with the Native American Indians who lived there.  The winter of sixteen-oh-nine was one of the worst periods in the colony’s history.  It was called “the starving time” because everyone went hungry.  Almost ninety percent of the colonists died that year.

Weapons and valuable farming tools were traded to the Indians for small amounts of food.  Wood from people’s homes was burned for heat.  There were no crops, and no hope.

To mark this difficult time, a memorial cross was built on the eastern coast of Jamestown Island.  It honors some of the three hundred burial places dug by the settlers during the starving time.  Queen Elizabeth of England attended the observance in Jamestown in nineteen fifty-seven when the Memorial Cross was raised.

Jamestown is divided into two areas: Old Towne and New Towne.  The new area of the settlement was built in sixteen twenty.  This is when the colonists had become economically secure through the trade of smoking tobacco.

Many settlers built homes in the New Towne area.  Visitors can still see parts of these buildings, including the ruins of the Ambler Mansion.  This was a two-floor home built in the mid-seventeen hundreds.  It is one of the oldest standing structures at Jamestown.

Another historic building on Jamestown Island is the old colonial church.  A wood version of this church was first built in sixteen seventeen.  Years later, in sixteen thirty-nine, a stone church was built in its place.

Jamestown Church has great historical value.  The first representative legislature in America met here in sixteen nineteen.  During this meeting, a plan of self-government was established for all future American colonies.

People can also visit the Old Colonial Tower next to the Jamestown Church.  This tall building was added to the church in sixteen forty-seven. Traditionally, builders of seventeenth century English churches added the bell tower after the church was finished.

At one time, the Old Colonial Tower stood fourteen meters high and had two upper floors.  Six small windows were on the top floor.  Those openings permitted light to enter the upper room.  They also let the sound of the church bell be heard across the colony.

Near the historic Old Church Tower is a statue of the Indian woman, Pocahontas.  She was the daughter of Chief Powhatan.  She married English colonist John Rolfe in sixteen fourteen.  This marriage began an eight-year period of peace between the settlers and the Powhatan Indians.

Jamestown used this peaceful time to develop and grow a new crop -- tobacco.  With the help of Pocahontas, tobacco for smoking became as valuable as gold.  By sixteen nineteen, the colony had exported more than nine thousand kilograms of tobacco to Europe.

Near the statue of Pocahontas is the Tercentenary Monument.  This tall memorial stands thirty-one meters high.  It was built in nineteen-oh-seven to mark the three hundredth anniversary of Jamestown.

The monument is made of smooth white stone.  Tercentenary Monument is a place where visitors gather before a Jamestown guide leads them on a walk around the former colony.

For visitors who want to drive around the island, there is a four- or eight-kilometer road that circles Jamestown.  The drive provides visitors with a look at the natural environment first discovered by the settlers.  Signs along the drive tell about the early industries and agricultural traditions of the colonists.

Down the road from Jamestown is a stone building known as the glasshouse.  Local artists work here every day.  They demonstrate for visitors how the Jamestown settlers made glass products.  Glass-blowing was one of the early industries started by the English colonists in Virginia.

Nearly one hundred years after Jamestown was settled, a rebellion led by colonist Nathaniel Bacon burned the settlement to the ground.  The colony fell into ruin in sixteen ninety-nine, when the capital of Virginia moved to Williamsburg.

Jamestown never became the great city its first settlers imagined.  But it did allow England to establish a permanent presence in North America.  Jamestown, America’s first colony, started a culture that would shape this country forever.

In two thousand seven, Jamestown will celebrate its four-hundredth anniversary. State and federal officials are planning special events.  They want Jamestown to be remembered as the place where America’s government, economy and culture were born.

This program was written by Jill Moss.  It was produced by Caty Weaver.  Our studio engineer was Mick Shaw.  I’m Sarah Long.

And I’m Steve Ember.  Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.


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