May 2007 is the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. On her recent trip to the United States, Queen Elizabeth II commemorated the spring day in 1607, when passengers and crews of the three ships Godspeed, Discovery, and Susan Constant landed on the shores of Virginia’s James River after a grueling 144 day transatlantic journey from England.
John Smith is one of the heroes of the Jamestown settlement. You and your students can learn more about his surprising adventures by reading the article “Soldier of Fortune: John Smith before Jamestown” by Meredith Hindley in the February 2007 issue of Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
After reading about the horrors of the ocean voyage and the hardships the colonists endured in the new settlement, students may wonder what motivates people to move to a faraway, largely unknown, and potentially dangerous locale. What kind of incentives might one provide? This was the challenge facing the supporters of the English effort to colonize Virginia at the start of the 17th century. In the EDSITEment lesson Images of the New World, students describe and interpret written and visual accounts of this period, when the English view of the New World was being formulated, with consequences that we are still seeing today
Among these visual records, one group of watercolors made by John White deserves special mention. White, an accomplished limner or painter in watercolors, was sent on the voyage from England to the Outer Banks of North Carolina under a plan of Sir Walter Raleigh to settle what was then thought of as "Virginia”. White’s job was to make the most accurate visual records of the plants, animals, birds, fish, and people he found in the new world. According to one scholar, these images provide our “most authentic” representations of these early 'Americans'.
A selection of these rare and beautiful images are to be found at the EDSITEment-reviewed website Virtual Jamestown a digital research, teaching, and learning project that explores the Jamestown settlement and "the Virginia experiment” from multiple historical perspectives. This electronic treasure trove includes original maps and images, first hand accounts and letters, timelines, biographies of Jamestown leaders and census information with names and occupations of the first settlers.
Virtual Jamestown follows the digital archive model of providing access to historical documents, but not interpreting them. For example, visitors can read John Rolfe's letter to the governor of Virginia stating why he wanted to marry Pocahontas and then make up their own minds about his reasons.
Don’t miss the two ‘virtual panoramas” on the site! The Algonkian village of Pomeiooc as seen in a bird-eye view drawing by John White has been turned into a powerful simulation of “virtual reality”. And the fort the English settlers built has been digitally recreated using art work, textual descriptions, and physical evidence from the period.
Finally, in the EDSITEment lesson Jamestown Changes, younger students (grades 3-5) can access census data showing the names and occupations of early settlers to discern how life changed in the Jamestown settlement in the first few years after it was founded.
Captain John Smith of Jamestown.
Image courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.