Friday, January 30

for glory, god and gold, and the virginia company

What's worse than waking up the day before your month-long road trip and seeing three inches of snow on your car? Waking up the day of the trip and seeing your car encased in ice. Following a solid twenty minutes of breaking and scrapping ice from the windows, I finally got underway.

Thirty or so minutes later, everyone ahead of me on the freeway coordinated an attack as all of the large ice sheets on their hoods and roofs cracked off and hurtled through the air towards me. It all happened in slow motion and was like trying to fly through the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back. The smaller blocks would shatter on my windshield while I swerved to avoid the enormous blocks that threatened to pulverize the poor Vibe.

The rising temperatures and melting ice gave way to a thick fog that limited my sight range to about fifty yards. It was no problem, however, because Jill Garmin would always tell me when to turn. Around this time I had to make a decision: pay $30+ to see Colonial Williamsburg and risk being overrun by tourists, or pay $19 to see both a replica of the Jamestown settlement and the Yorktown Battlefield. I chose the later.

I arrived at the Jamestown settlement right when it opened and was the first person there. In fact, if the retired couple from California hadn't shown up at the last minute I would have had tour guide Cindy, who dressed like Pocahontas, all to myself. There were several other actors, including Cindy, who appeared to be in their early 20s and I wondered: "How did these kids get hooked up with a gig like this? Did they graduate college with a degree in 17th Century Period Acting?"

The whole experience from the museum to the replicas of Jamestown, the English ships, and a Powhatan village were well done and not too touristy--and we got to see a demonstration of a matchlock musket. The fog really helped to add an air of authenticity as well. The placement of the replicas were all based upon archaeological evidence and eye witness accounts. The one exception was the Powhatan village whose original site now lies underneath a golf course. Isn't this country great?

At first glance, the settlers appeared to have pretty good digs. The men occupied houses that were roomier and less drafty than the some of the apartments my friends live in. I thought, "Hell, I could survive a winter out here."

The Virginia Department of Education runs the replica site while the National Park Service runs the actual archaeological site. That means two entrance fees and a additional five minute drive to see the original Jamestown site. When I saw what was left of the palisades and felt the brisk wind coming off the river, my first thoughts were, "Why would anyone be crazy enough to set up shop here? There is no way I could survive a winter here!"

On the bank of the river lay a large copper statue of John Smith whose legacy has always amused me. Here's a guy who was allegedly a stubborn braggart and managed to get himself captured, wounded, arrested and almost killed on several occasions. Minor details like saving the colony from the brink of annihilation and penning the most extensive account we have of life in Jamestown are not important; what matters is that he never married Pocahontas like the revisionists at Disney would lead you to believe.

In any case, I proceeded to drive to the Yorktown Battlefield where British General Cornwallis surrendered to Washington, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. The site was very...boring. I've never been a fan of battlefields. Give me any field in the country, a few antique cannons and a couple of wood fences and I can make you a battlefield.

I looked out over the barren field trying to envision the American and French troops shelling a crumbling British force. I couldn't. A part of me wanted to see bodies still strewn across the field. It would have been a macabre display, but infinitely more exciting.

I found the most fascinating part of the battlefield to be the Moore House, the small nondescript farm house where Cornwallis and Washington met to formally end hostilities. The one major condition of British surrender was to prohibit them from leaving with battle honors. What this means is the Brits were not permitted to wave their flags and play their flutes, an honor the British deprived the Americans of following the American defeat at Charleston. There is a sense of pride and patriotism that arises in me when I see places like the Moore House as opposed to a battlefield. Independence Hall in Philadelphia is another place I feel honored to be standing where our Founding Fathers stood a few centuries ago.

The house itself was very quaint and even comfortably warm. I wondered out loud: "Has insulation improved that much since the drafty houses in Jamestown during the 17th century?" It was then that I saw the perfectly preserved 18th century radiators scattered throughout the house. But of course!

The rest of the pictures, along with captions, can be found here.

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