Queen to Return to Jamestown to Mark 'America's 400th Anniversary'

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember. Next month is the four hundredth anniversary of Britain's first permanent settlement in America. Today, we tell the story of Jamestown.


In sixteen-oh-seven, three ships loaded with explorers and supplies crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. On May fourteenth the men landed at a small island at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay.

In all, there were one hundred four men and boys. They immediately began work on a settlement on the shores of the James River. They named it Jamestown.

King James the First in England had agreed to let the explorers from the Virginia Company establish a settlement in North America. They were told to find gold and a way to sail to the Orient.

The four hundredth anniversary of Jamestown is being honored with eighteen months of cultural and educational programs around Virginia. They began in May of last year and are meant to show how a struggle for survival changed the world. Many parts of the Jamestown story are being retold to mark what the organizers call "America's 400th Anniversary."

The Jamestown Settlement that people visit today is a re-creation of the colony and a nearby Powhatan Indian village. The state of Virginia built the Jamestown Settlement in nineteen fifty-seven to celebrate the three hundred fiftieth anniversary.

Visitors can stop at the Jamestown Settlement, or drive down the road to a place called Historic Jamestowne on Jamestown Island. The National Park Service and a Virginia historical group jointly operate the island.

Historic Jamestowne is where the English built their colony. But fifty years ago there was not much to see.

Several months after arriving in America, the colonists built a three-sided fort along the edge of the island. For years, researchers believed that the structure had worn away into the James River.

But in nineteen ninety-four, archeologists began a project called Jamestown Rediscovery. They discovered part of the fort. Since then, they have located the positions of all three sides, along with several deep wells.

More than one million objects dating back to the first colonists have come out of the ground. These include tobacco seeds and plant remains. Many of the artifacts can be seen in a new museum called the Archaearium on the grounds of Historic Jamestowne.

Past where the fort was built is the old colonial church on Jamestown Island. The first representative legislature in America met at the Jamestown Church in sixteen nineteen. During this meeting, a plan of self-government was established for all future colonies in America.

The colonists built the church out of wood in sixteen seventeen. Then, in sixteen thirty-nine, they replaced it with a church made of stone.


Britain's Queen Elizabeth the Second came to Jamestown for the three hundred fiftieth anniversary in nineteen fifty-seven. It was her first visit to the United States as queen.

A memorial cross was raised on the eastern coast of Jamestown Island. It marked the difficult first few years of life at Jamestown. The colonists did not have enough food. They suffered from diseases. They also fought with the Native Americans who lived in the area.

Now, fifty years later, Queen Elizabeth will return to the former colony to observe the four hundredth anniversary of Jamestown.

Kevin Crossett works for a Virginia agency that is helping organize Jamestown events with local, state and national groups. He says officials have taken special care to include all the cultures involved in the earliest years of the settlement.

Past anniversaries at Jamestown have mainly centered on the European experience. But with this anniversary, Kevin Crossett says, each culture gets to tell its own story in its own words.

American Indian groups are involved in the anniversary events. But, as Kevin Crossett notes, they do not consider the observance a celebration. After all, the Native Americans lost land and people when the English arrived.

The idea of a "celebration" might not appeal much to black Americans either. The first black people to arrive in Jamestown were slaves from Africa.

The Jamestown observance began last May when a copy of the ship Godspeed sailed up the East Coast. This is a modern version of one of the three ships that carried the first settlers to Jamestown Island. The other two, which have also been re-created, were the Susan Constant and the Discovery.

Last week, a historical re-creation called "Journey Up the James" began at Virginia Beach. When the three ships first arrived in America, they landed at Virginia Beach before heading farther up the James River.


Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, plan to be in Virginia on May third and fourth. This will be the queen's first visit to the United States in sixteen years.

But the main event of the Jamestown observance, a three-day anniversary weekend, begins Friday, May eleventh. Organizers have invited President Bush to speak. The honorary chairwoman for the events is former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The weekend will include music and cultural performances. Artists will demonstrate glass-making from the seventeenth century.

Earlier events for the Jamestown anniversary have included Indian and African-American cultural programs. There was also an educational program called "Jamestown Live." This was a one-hour Internet broadcast in November involving history experts and others. Organizers say more than one million students around the world took part in the program.


The first settlers at Jamestown imagined that it would become a great city. In fact, after less than a century, it burned to the ground in a rebellion led by a colonist named Nathaniel Bacon. The colony never recovered and the capital of Virginia at that time moved to Williamsburg. Still, England had established a permanent presence in North America.

As part of the Jamestown observance, a special program will take place in September in Williamsburg. The gathering will examine the role of democracy in world politics. Leaders and students from around the world have been invited to discuss the future of democracy in the developing world.

Our program was written by Jill Moss and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember. For a link to the Jamestown anniversary Web site, go to voaspecialenglish.com. You can also find transcripts and audio archives of our programs. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.