April 29, 2007

Jamestown represents America

Where did it all begin?  Jamestown

For good or ill, Virginia colony laid ground for America to comeIf you're looking for America's cozy creation narrative—pious settlers, friendly Indians and "the first Thanksgiving," all blessedly lacking the stain of our original sin, slavery—then go visit that rock where the Pilgrims landed.

But if you want the whole story of the white man in America—the full-tilt frenzy of near-starvation and cannibalism, salvation through entrepreneurial enterprise, importing slavery, overrunning Indians and the nation's first step toward representative democracy—then come to Jamestown.

For it's here, on a swampy peninsula between the James and York rivers of southeastern Virginia, that the first permanent English settlement in North America was established on May 14, 1607. The initial 1-acre, triangular fort was built 13 years before the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts, bearing its solemn flock of families in search of religious freedom.

"Jamestown is much more typical of American society in the intervening 400 years, as opposed to Plymouth, which was an eccentric experiment but not really what America would be about," said James Kelly, the director of museums for the Virginia Historical Society. "It (Jamestown) never had any idealistic pretensions."

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