THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO HISTORIC VIRGINIA ; Seek out Civil War Sites and 400 Years of Links with Britain on a Cultural Journey through a Vibrant State. by Anthony Lambert
Lambert, Anthony, The Independent (London, England)
WHY VIRGINIA, WHY NOW?
No state of the US has stronger connections with Britain than Virginia. The 400th anniversary of the founding link makes it an ideal time to visit this beautiful and diverse region, which is the historic heartland of the US: 60 per cent of 10,000-plus Civil War battles were fought on Virginian soil. And besides a depth of antiquity not found elsewhere in America, Virginia has some spectacular scenery and excellent opportunities for exploring the great outdoors. There is a sombre mood in the state, after the appalling shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech in the far west. This is an area into which visitors rarely stray, with most places of historic interest located in the east.
This month marks four centuries since the first permanent English settlement in North America took place. On 13 May 1607, 104 adventurers arrived in three ships and landed on a wooded peninsula in Chesapeake Bay. The establishment of this settlement, named Jamestown, is being commemorated by year-long celebrations and special events in Virginia and elsewhere. A highlight this weekend, which the Queen is witnessing, is the re-enactment of the colonists' arrival using replica ships.
A succession of special events organised by the Jamestown- Yorktown Foundation (001 757 253 4838; www.historyisfun.org) takes place throughout the year at Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Centre. For example, The World of 1607 exhibition has just opened at Jamestown Settlement (until the end of 2008; open daily 9am-5pm; combined admission $17.75/[pound]9.90). A replica of the Godspeed - one of the three ships - will sail to Alexandria for an eight-day visit to the Old Town Waterfront from 27 May, where she will be open to visitors.
The dramatic story of the first colonists has been told with varying degrees of accuracy. Walt Disney's Pocahontas was twaddle. Terrence Malick's The New World is bleak but a more accurate portrayal. It stars Colin Farrell as John Smith, whose robust practicality and common sense enabled the precarious colony to survive its first grim years. The story is very readably conveyed in David A Price's paperback Love and Hate in Jamestown.
Jamestown is on one of the deep indentations all around the huge expanse of Chesapeake Bay, which forms almost the entire coastline of Virginia. The brick foundations of the settlement are still visible beside the gravel paths along the broad James River and the completely unspoilt views over its low, wooded shoreline. Archaeological excavations have produced a staggering variety of objects, which can be seen in the new Archaearium, which opens daily 9.30am-5pm.
One 17th-century building still stands at the original site: the remnant of the 1640s church tower, to which was added the Memorial Church in 1907. The Historic Jamestowne Visitor Centre (001 757 229 1733; www.historic-jamestowne.org) has an exhibition and audio- visual explaining the significance of Jamestown as the birthplace of America and its democratic institutions. It opens daily 9am-5.30am; admission $10 ([pound]5.60), including entry to the Archaearium. The prime purpose of nearby Jamestown Settlement is education through an even larger exhibition, a well-made film, a reconstruction of the palisaded fort as it would have been in 1610-14, and the three replica ships berthed in a small, wooded harbour.
HOW DID WE LOSE VIRGINIA?
The English colony began at Jamestown in 1607 and ended 174 years later in 1781 at nearby Yorktown with the surrender of British forces under Lord Cornwallis to the American Revolutionaries.
Yorktown is one corner of the "historic triangle", together with Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg (001 757 229 1000; www.colonialwilliamsburg.org). Outside the remarkably untouched battlefield, there is a visitor centre with a film about the last battle of the American Revolution and a museum of artefacts, including Washington's field tent. …