The Voyage That Changed History: London to Jamestown, 1606
“There are many adventures to be had here, my lady!” proclaims the short-bearded gentry dressed in a high standing collar and baggy short trousers.
Having just watched Terrence Malick’s “The New World,” it feels oddly surreal to be standing in Canary Wharf, London for the mock-launch of the replica Discovery, the smallest of the three ships that set sail that day for Virginia. The other two were the Susan Constantine and the Godspeed.
Clash of Cultures
About a dozen actors dressed in Elizabethan costumes reenact preparations by climbing high into the sail towers and stocking provisions in the hull. One of these actors is Captain John Smith and I’m desperate for an interview.
The ship is wedged in a port surrounded by glass high-rises and modern conveniences. The clash of cultures is buffeted by a patriotic fife and drum procession that helps sustain the illusion of the year 1606.
This May 13th, 2007 marks the 400th anniversary observance of the 1607 founding of Jamestown, Virginia, America's first permanent English settlement. Both sides of the Atlantic have been busy commemorating the occasion with re-enactments, special tours and even a complete website to trace your British roots.
Claustrophobia Sets In
"Journey to the New World"
British dignitaries, ancestral experts and even Virginia’s governor board the replica to offer insight into the importance of both parties' contributions.
At the adjoining Docklands Museum the curator walks us through exhibits that help explain the religious and economic reasons for embarking on a journey fraught with peril.
Later that evening the party continues with a formal banquet in the Great Hall of the Middle Temple, built in 1573. With military-style seating, a high crossbeam ceiling and a feast set for a king, it reminds me of a scene from a Harry Potter movie.
Time to Delve
Learning about the birth of a nation naturally includes a surplus of stories about perseverance and triumph. And since my only reference to Captain John Smith is a sappy storyline with a celebrity actor who survives captivity when a young Indian girl named Pocahontas protects him from decapitation, it’s time to delve deeper.
Part of the magic of tracing someone’s roots is finding a guide passionate and articulate about history. Blue Badge Guide Jean Howard is an authority on the younger years of Smith, a sea captain who was also a member of the Council of Virginia and Admiral of New England.
We’re visiting the rural English countryside in the rolling hills and valleys of Lincolnshire, two hours by train north of London. There are several towns to see (Willoughby, Alford, Louth and Spilsby) so time is of the essence and Howard rushes me through a busy itinerary.
“Louth is the town where the Captain would have attended grammar school in 1585,” says Howard. She admits that he was probably not the world’s most obedient school boy.
Melodious hymns provoke the hairs on the back of my neck to stand straight up. The tall hallow chamber boasts the perfect combination of acoustics and for a few minutes I listen in wonder. Might Smith have been as moved by the harmony as I am? It’s certainly uplifting, full of energy, and fills me with positive emotion.
Creamy white flowers pop through the frost-covered cemetery grounds of Willoughby St. Helena Church. I tiptoe around them but Howard assures me that the wild plants, called Snowdrops, are hearty and plentiful.
Next up is Tattershall Castle where John Smith learned the art of horsemanship and jousting. This red brick medieval castle is popular today for fairytale wedding ceremonies from April through October. It’s not open to the public in the winter but the 100 foot tower with an exterior double moat and brick vaulting stands impressive enough.
Final Resting Place
John Smith (1580-1631)
“Here lyes one conquered, that hath conquered Kings,
A 400th anniversary rarely makes an appearance in America. Do it up right by encouraging your own Captain-like adventures starting in Lincolnshire and London and culminating in Jamestown, Virginia. This time around far more creature comforts await you in both areas than our ancestors experienced in 1607.
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