Exploring Jamestown & Williamsburg
After our first overnight sail as a family, we arrived at the Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth, Virginia. Located on the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth is the home of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard which becomes evident as you motor past impressive aircraft carriers and other naval vessels. It’s always such a thrill to see these ships up close, well, as close as they will let you. Portsmouth and its neighbor, Norfolk, sit at the base of the Chesapeake Bay. This makes it ideal for us, as our next passage would take us out of the Chesapeake and into the Atlantic Ocean. Our plan would be to spend several days in Portsmouth so that we could visit some of the historical sites, celebrate Keala’s birthday (October 30) and go trick-or-treating before heading out to Charleston.
Stepping Back in Time…
He who does not work, will not eat.
-Captain John Smith
Captain John Smith played a significant role in the prosperity of Jamestown, the first successful English settlement in North America. Less than an hour away from Portsmouth, we had to explore what many consider to be the birthplace of America, historic Jamestown. So we hopped into our rental a car and drove out to the Jamestown Settlement. Located near the site of the original colony the settlement is a faithful re-creation of the original Jamestown colony. They have an excellent museum that explores the relationship between the Colonists, local Indians and even weaves in the history of slaves in early Virginia.
On the grounds, there are also life-size re-creations of the colonists’ fort and a Powhatan village. In each exhibit, people are acting as if they had stepped back in time and lived and worked in the settlement. Summer was particularly interested in the blacksmith who was using traditional methods to make a chain. From the way they stoked the coal fire, to the hammering of the hot iron, Summer was determined to learn all she could about the process. However, I think both girls enjoyed the Indian village the most. Here the girls learned how the Indians used reeds from the marshes to make rope and how they would weave baskets from the material. They also watched one of the Indians burn out the center of large log to build a canoe, which was their primary means of transportation up and down the Chesapeake. Bay. After spending a few hours at the Settlement, it was time to visit the National Park which was just a few minutes up the road.
Keala & Summer grinding corn
Making rope from reeds
Historic Jamestowne is part of Colonial National Park Virginia and is the actual site of the first successful English colony in America. It was founded in 1607 and became a prosperous colony until just before the turn of the 18th century. After having just come from the re-created settlement, it was surreal to visit the actual spot where John Smith, Pocahontas and the colonists struggled to survive in the new world. You can walk through the grounds of the fort, and the docents were quite helpful in pointing out the most interesting aspects of the fort. One of the original church towers is still standing, and you can go into the church and reflect on the history of this site. Additionally, there is a small museum which probably isn’t as good as the museum at Jamestown Settlement but you can see some skeletons recovered from the site. Once again, Summer was fascinated by these and the other artifacts excavated from the site.
Keala admires Pocahontas at Jamestowne
Cruising in Colonial Williamsburg
Once we’d thoroughly explored Jamestowne it was time for us to follow the path of the colonists and head for colonial Williamsburg. Only a few miles from Jamestown is Williamsburg, beautiful town with a college feel.
Fun Fact: The colonists effectively abandoned Jamestowne around 1690 and moved to settle in Williamsburg.
It’s no wonder, as Williamsburg is the home to the College of William & Mary, which is the second oldest college in the United States behind Harvard University. As a result, college students were everywhere. As it was Halloween weekend, ornately carved pumpkins lined themselves in nearly every shop and house along the old colonial roads.
Summer & Keala join in on the festivities in Williamsburg
Additionally, some streets were closed to cars and there were several different Halloween related activities to enjoy. As we walked up and down the streets, browsing in the shops and enjoying the crisp fall air, there were horse-drawn carriages pulling tourists up and down the historic district. We stopped in at the Kings Arms Tavern (https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/eat/kings-arms-resorts) for dinner and learned that a woman in 1772 first started the tavern. It was exciting to dine on a traditional colonial meal where George Washington sat long before us.
Fun Fact: The finely starched napkins at the Kings Arm Tavern are 3 feet by 3 feet. In colonial times, each person carried their own large napkin which they used wherever they went to prevent spills on their clothing. This was necessary because even the wealthiest people didn’t have that many sets of clothing. However, at 3x3’, the napkins were almost bigger than Summer, and we laughed about wearing bibs for dinner!
After a great meal and an evening pumpkin viewing, it was time to head back to the boat. All of us learned a ton about the early English Settlements, and our visit highlighted how amazing the home-schooling experience could be.