Jamestown’s Legacy? Only Our National Identity

By May 9, 2007General

Jamestown.jpgThe Washington Post includes a special section today, “Jamestown 400,” with feature stories, columns, and a schedule of the weekend’s events marking the quadricentennial of the first permanent English settlement in North America. The online version of the package is impressive.

In a world where America’s founding myths have fallen on hard times — oh, for some edification and nation-binding — the Post does an admirable job of conveying why Jamestown should matter to our citizens today.

In the lead article, Frederick Kunkle writes,

We know so little about them. One hundred and five adventurers, men and boys, boarded three cramped ships in England in December 1606 and risked everything on a six-month voyage to a place that almost no one in Europe had ever seen.

They are like a 17th-century portrait, clouded by time yet surprisingly true to who we are in 21st-century America. And like all true portraits, the image is not entirely flattering.

They were the ones who established the New World’s first permanent English colony on the shores of the James River in Virginia, who formed the New World’s first representative government before the Mayflower crew ever spied land. They spoke English, a relatively new and remarkably pliant language that would easily absorb bits of Spanish, French and Algonquian. Despite their rocky start, these fortune-minded adventurers would be models of entrepreneurial thinking for generations to come.

The expected buts and balance follow, holding men of four centuries past to the standards of today. (Having attended the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of the blood-soaked Titus Andronicus last night, one is reminded that the English of years past had a different worldview than we do today.)

But we’re grousing. The Post’s package is fine, and many thanks for the line, “these fortune-minded adventurers would be models of entrepreneurial thinking.” As we’ve noted, a year after settlement, Jamestown was the site of the first manufacturing facility in what would become the United States, a glassworks that produced goods for shipping back to England.

We’ll be down at the celebrations on Saturday, celebrating the good that comes from fortune-minded adventurers…including our national identity.