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Jamestown Settlement: Chronicles America’s 17th-Century Beginnings

Images and editorial supplied by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

At Jamestown Settlement, a living-history museum of 17th-century Virginia history and culture, discover the story of America’s first permanent English colony, founded in 1607, and the ensuing convergence of the Powhatan Indian, English and Angolan cultures, vividly recounted from its beginnings in the Old World through the first century of its existence through film, expansive indoor gallery exhibits and outdoor living history.

Explore the story of Jamestown’s founders and immigrants, and Virginia’s original inhabitants, through immersive film and gallery exhibits, historical interpretation and hands-on interactive outdoor activities. Visitors are encouraged to try on armor and play ninepins at the re-created colonial fort, shape a dugout canoe at the Powhatan Indian village, steer with a tiller aboard a re-creation of one of the three ships that brought English colonists to Virginia, or experience a variety of other activities that make the 17th century come alive.

Don’t Just Visit the Past, Get Into It with Immersive Films and Gallery Exhibits 

A visit to Jamestown Settlement starts in the Robins Foundation Theater with a docudrama film, 1607: A Nation Takes Root, that presents an overview of the first two decades of the Virginia colony. A “great hall” spanning the length of the museum’s exhibition galleries provides, with illustrations and text, a chronological journey from 1600 to 1699, when the capital of Virginia moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg.

The galleries – featuring period artifacts, dioramas, short films and interactive exhibits – chronicle the nation’s 17th-century beginnings in Virginia in the context of its Powhatan Indian, English and west central African cultures. More than 500 artifacts from 17th-century Europe and Africa, including portraits, documents, furnishings, toys, ceremonial and decorative objects, tools and weapons, and Virginia archaeological items are exhibited. Interactive experiences allow visitors to compare and contrast each of the three cultures’ language, religion, government, economy, family structure, recreation and art, while visitors encounter personal stories on monitors and life-size screens throughout the gallery exhibits.

Jamestown Settlement exhibit

Undergoing enhancements with new technology and an immersive theater to be complete in 2019, the galleries are currently divided into three major sections. The first introduces visitors to pre-17th-century Virginia and provides overviews of the “parent” cultures, second explores the complexity of the relationship between Virginia’s colonists and the native Powhatan Indians, and third provides an overview of the political, social and economic development and expansion of the Virginia colony during the 17th century. Short films describe the evolution and impact of government in 17th-century Virginia and the legacies of Jamestown­ that were the seeds of the United States of America.

Visitors Take an Active Role in History with Historical Interpreters in Outdoor Settings

Leaving the indoor exhibits, visitors arrive at the Powhatan Indian village, where historical interpreters discuss and demonstrate the Powhatan way of life – illustrating how to grow and prepare food, process animal hides, build dugout canoes, make tools and pottery and weave plant fibers into cordage. The village, consisting of several dwellings, a garden and a circle of carved ceremonial posts, is based on archaeological findings at a site once inhabited by Paspahegh Indians, the Powhatan tribal group closest to Jamestown, and descriptions recorded by English colonists.

From the Powhatan village, a path leads to a pier where re-creations of the three ships that transported the original Jamestown colonists to Virginia in 1607 – the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery – are docked. Visitors can board and explore to get a sense of the spirit of opportunity that motivated the colonists, talk with costumed interpreters about the difficult living conditions endured during the four-and-a-half-month voyage from England, as well as take part in periodic demonstrations of piloting and navigation, knot-tying and sail-handling.

Just a short walk away inside the wooden palisade of Jamestown Settlement’s re-created colonial fort – reflecting the primarily military and commercial character of the settlement during 1610–1614 – are wattle-and-daub structures with thatched roofs representing Jamestown’s earliest buildings. Interpreters demonstrate activities typical of daily life, from cultivating crops and meal preparation, to repairing metal objects in the blacksmith’s forge and daily demonstrations of matchlock musket firing outside the court of guard.

Jamestown Settlement Powhatan Village

Experience History Through Special Programs at Jamestown Settlement

Through January 5, 2020, visitors can discover little-known, personal stories of real women in the Virginia colony in the yearlong special exhibition, “TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia,” a legacy project of the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution™. More than a dozen special events, performances and scholarly lectures accompany the special exhibition. Special events and programs include “Military Through the Ages” in March, “Jamestown Day” in May, “Origins of American Democracy” and “Democracy Weekend” in July, “American Indian Intertribal Powwow” in October, “Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia” in November and “Christmastide in Virginia” in December. 

The museum, operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, is located about a mile from the original site and 10 minutes from Williamsburg.

Jamestown Settlement, located on Route 31 South, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and until 6 p.m. from June 15 through August 15. You should allow three to four hours for your visit. 2019 admission is $17.50 for adults and $8.25 for ages 6–12. Children under 6 are admitted free.

A value-priced combination ticket is available with the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Call 888-593-4682 toll free or 757-253-4838 for more information, or visit HistoryIsFun.org