As schoolchildren, many of us learned the romantic (though perhaps a bit fabricated) story of how a famous Indian maiden saved Captain John Smith’s life. We can almost hear the frantic pleas of a young girl begging her father not to kill the man she loves. It’s a sad story, with an even sadder realization: Pocahontas never married John Smith. She married a tobacco planter named John Rolfe, went on a trip to England with her baby son, and never returned. But the public never turned away from the idea of an adventurous captain falling in love with a beautiful Indian maiden.
It’s this story that has helped to make Virginia’s ancient city of Jamestown famous. The popularity of Disney’s animated movies concerning Pocahontas have kept the legend alive and given more children a feel for the area’s history. What better way to get your family excited about history than to visit a place that is literally bursting with it?
Jamestown, Virginia, founded in the early years of the 17th century, is England’s oldest lasting colony in America. The Native American inhabitants made their home here for countless years before the English settlers arrived and provided an interesting culture clash. There are two parts to the Jamestown complex; the Old Town, and the New Town.
Old Town is where the actual colony was located and where traces can still be found. Start at the visitor’s center (which is also a gift shop, a good thing to keep in mind for when your tour is over!) and pick up some helpful information. You’ll begin your journey over a quaint bridge that covers seemingly endless swampland. Be warned that bugs literally swarm here during hot months. Up ahead you will see many monuments scattered throughout the grounds.
A great stop-off for a treasured family photo is the Pocahontas statue that sits across from the old church. Although we can never be sure how much the statue might actually resemble her (very few people could afford portraits in those days) it’s still a stunning sculpture. A trip to Jamestown wouldn’t be complete without a reminder of the young woman whose story has spawned so much mystery and legend.
The old church, built on the ruins of much more ancient edifices, is the most beautiful sight in Old Town and personally my favorite stop. There is something hallowed and beautiful about the stately brick church, which is entered through an ornate wrought-iron gate. Once you’ve admired the exterior, you can step inside and feel the damp old church’s allure. You will notice an ancient tomb belonging to a knight named George Yeardley. You can find other 17th century gravestones outside the church.
The John Smith statue is another great stop-off. His name is also widely known as being one of the most famous characters of Jamestown and you might picture him as a tall, handsome, blond-haired sailor if you’ve seen Disney’s animated adventures. This statue will give you more of an idea of what John Smith probably looked like. The attention to detail is stunning and will make some great photo ops.
At the various small gift shops at Old Town, you can find books, models, figurines, postcards and much more. As a collector of small historical models, my daughter purchased a figurine of an English soldier firing his musket and a figurine of a Powhatan Indian warrior for a decent price.
On to New Town. This is the more interactive part of the Jamestown complex and the part where children will find a whole lot more to see and do. In New Town you can find a model of the original Jamestown fort, cannon, an Indian village and replicas of the three ships that once sailed these shores: the Godspeed, the Susan Constant, and the Discovery. These beautiful replicas can be boarded, explored, photographed and admired. Children will love walking around the decks of these famous ships and no Jamestown vacation is complete without spending at least an hour in exploration.
In the Native American section you will find a reproduction village that shows what life was like for Pocahontas and the other members of the Powhatan Indian tribe. Costumed guides will help transport you back four hundred years and make you feel as if you are truly experiencing the past. There are activities for kids to do here as well (and don’t be afraid to throw yourself into the adventure!) Who says adults can’t experience history with the same reverence and excitement as their kids?