This is the last post in our series on Colonial Williamsburg with kids.
Colonial Williamsburg has a reputation well known to families. It provides a history lesson and vacation all rolled into one. But what many families don’t realize is that Williamsburg is just one corner of what’s referred to as America’s Historic Triangle.
Most incorrectly assume Williamsburg is where the United States of America began, but the true roots of the United States were planted at James Fort in 1607, located in what is now referred to as Historic Jamestowne. Families can explore the original site at their own pace, or take part in a variety of tours.
James Fort is an active archaeological site with twelve full-time archaeologists committed to unearthing history. Being at an active dig site is for many a once in a lifetime activity. Weekdays from April through October, archaeologists working on excavations offer a daily tour and they know how to engage kids.
Walk in the Footsteps of Pocahontas
Senior Staff Archaeologist Danny Schmidt likes to show off discoveries, and knows how to get kids’ (and parents’) attention. Showing the remains of what’s believed to be James Fort’s original church he excitedly reels in listeners with an incredible hook—this is where we think Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married. Suddenly everyone is listening.
“It starts to get boring for them. No kids, history is not a static thing,” says Schmidt.
He speaks from experience. He became involved at the Fort when he was a teenager, leaving only to get the education he needed to come back and become a senior staff archaeologist.
Many of the more than a million artifacts discovered in the soil are on display in the Archaearium. The museum-like setting highlights finds ranging from jewelry and religious artifacts to fish hooks.
See Glassblowers In Action
Don’t leave without seeing the glassblowers work their magic! This is off the beaten track in Historic Jamestowne, not near the James Fort area, but worth exploring. You can drive your car to the Glasshouse parking lot and walk to the Glasshouse in just a couple minutes.
Artisans dressed in colonial costume create an assortment of glass pieces, heating them in furnaces until they glow a vibrant orange color, then shape the piece using tools and methods similar to colonists. I remember visiting with my mom when I was a kid. I think I enjoyed it just as much as a parent.
Just a short drive from Historic Jamestowne is Jamestown Settlement. What’s the difference you ask? I was confused at first too.
Historic Jamestowne is the real thing. The birthplace of modern America. Jamestown Settlement is a museum that chronicles the history of America’s first permanent English colony. Don’t let the extra “e” on the end of Historic Jamestowne throw you either. Jamestown was historically spelled “James Towne” in the 1600s. Fast forward to modern day and visitors have two places to learn about history, and two correct spellings to choose from.
Kids and museums don’t always agree, but it’s safe to say Jamestown Settlement was created with them in mind. The indoor gallery exhibits are beautifully done, but the outdoor living-history program steals the show.
There’s a re-created Powhatan Indian village where kids can try grinding corn and explore one of many tents staged with beds and supplies.
Moored at the pier are replicas of the three ships that brought the original 100 men and boys from England to Jamestown in 1607. Climb aboard and be sure to check out a sailor’s bunk.
There’s also a re-creation of James Fort, the colonists’ first home. In all of the outdoor areas, costumed historical interpreters describe and demonstrate colonists’ daily lives.
Yorktown is where the last major battle of the American Revolution took place. It’s where Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington. The Yorktown Victory Center is a museum that presents America’s growth from a colony into a nation.
If the weather is nice, you’ll most likely spend most of your time outside exploring the living history exhibits. You’ll hear and smell when the musket is fired in the Continental Army encampment. Check out what lives in and grows on a 1780s farm.
So Much History, So Little Time
Wow. That’s a lot of traveling through history. Remember, it’s a Historic Triangle. In corner number one there’s Jamestowne where it all began. In the late 1600s, folks moved to corner number two or Williamsburg’s higher ground and made it the capitol. The American Revolution took root and then ended on Yorktown Battlefield in corner number three.
It takes about three hours to visit each site. That’s a lot of time and too much history for most families. Don’t try and cram in all three. My advice, begin where it all began, and see where history takes you.
Dana’s trip was sponsored by the Williamsburg, Virginia Tourism Board, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann
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