President Donald Trump’s remarks last week at Jamestown commemorating the 400th anniversary of the state’s General Assembly were shot full of errors.
The most egregious came during his recitation of prominent colonial Virginians. When he came to George Wythe, a scholar who taught the law to Thomas Jefferson, among others, Trump said, “George With. With. Great name.” Moreover, the president said Wythe came from Williamsburg. Though Wythe was a long-time Williamsburg resident, he was from Elizabeth City County, and he moved to Richmond after the Revolution.
Trump pronounced the word Powhatan (POW-hat-un or Pow-HAT-an) as Poe-et-n.
The president said that when Jamestown colonists attempted to abandon Virginia in 1610 that, sailing down the James River, they ran into an English fleet that was “the answer to their prayers.” The fleet’s arrival forced their return to Jamestown, the last place all but one of them (Captain John Martin) wanted to be.
He linked the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, founded in 1698, to a failed and unrelated attempt to establish a college at Henricus in 1618.
According to the president, there were no survivors of the 1580s Roanoke colony, the Lost Colony, in present day North Carolina. Indians told the English that the Lost Colonists had moved to another island — which means there were survivors — in Albemarle Sound. English searches for them were aborted, so we don’t know what became of them.
Trump said there were 104 original Jamestown settlers. That number comes from Captain John Smith. It is doubtful that Smith included himself, making him the 105th. No less an authority than Ivor Noel Hume subscribed to 105.
Again relying on Smith, the president said only 60 settlers survived the Starving Time. Smith, however, did not count the 50 or so English encamped at Old Point Comfort.
Though the first recorded arrival of Africans in Virginia is dated 1619, historians are not sure that they, as Trump said, were enslaved. We know that some of them are found as free people in later records.
Trump said the first settlers “worked hard” to make Jamestown a success. But Smith bitterly complained about their sloth and unwillingness to work.
There are more mistakes and misrepresentations in Trump’s address, but, enough.
James City County