New exhibits at Historic Jamestowne explore Jamestown's growth, early democracy

Staff writer

A pair of newly opened exhibitions at Historic Jamestown seek to shed further light on Jamestown’s development and contribution to democratic governance in English North America.

The exhibitions — “From Fort to Port: Legacies of 1619” and “A Foundation for Success” — come as a means to explore the background and significance of pivotal events that occurred in 1619, namely the arrival of enslaved Africans to English North America and the first meeting of a representative legislature of Englishmen. Both permanent exhibitions are legacy projects of the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution.

“The new exhibits at Historic Jamestowne provide a glimpse into the struggles, accomplishments and everyday life of the colonists who influenced the path of America,” said Kathy Spangler, executive director of the 2019 Commemoration, in a release announcing the new exhibitions.

The 2019 Commemoration recognizes the 400th anniversary of the vital 1619 year, a watershed moment that lays the groundwork for the culture and government of the United States. In addition to the arrival of enslaved Africans and the first meeting of a representative government, it was also the year that English women were first recruited in earnest to travel to Jamestown.

“From Fort to Port: Legacies of 1619” provides a fuller picture of Jamestown as it grew from a fort of treasure hunters to a port city similar to towns that dotted England. The new exhibition, which opened April 15, widens the scope of the Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium to include a better look at Jamestown from before it was founded in 1607 until 1699.

The transition is seen in one particular section that looks at how housing at Jamestown became more permanent and substantial as time went on, said Michael Lavin, director of collections and conservation at Jamestown Rediscovery.

Both African and Native American artifacts are part of the new exhibition. The exhibition also looks at the creation of a plantation-based economy focused on tobacco cultivation, as well as moments of unrest, such as Bacon’s Rebellion that took place as the colony grew and established its government.

“As long as there’s has been a government here, there has been conflict as it evolved,” said Voorhees Archaearium Director Jamie May.

Amid that evolution, many of the laws that would separate Africans and whites were established at the blossoming colony.

“A lot of those laws that other-ed and took away the rights of African Americans happened at Jamestown (during the time),” Lavin said.

“A Foundation for Success” displays discoveries made during recent excavations at the Memorial Church. Now it’s possible to outline the outline of the 1617 church, on which the Memorial Church is built and where the first English representative government met. As such, the importance of place is a major component of the exhibition.

“You can only stand on the exact spot where government began at Jamestown,” Lavin said, adding that while the church is open to visitors the exhibition is expected to be worked on until mid-to-late June.

“Through our World of 1619 special programming, we have the ability to engage new audiences and bring history to life for visitors to Historic Jamestowne,” Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation President James Horn said in the release.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007,, @jajacobs_

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