The Jamestown dilemma: The 400th anniversary of the first British American colony is seen as a triumph for some, a sombre remembrance for others





One year from now, the United States of America plans to throw itself a year-long party, dubbed Jamestown 2007: America's 400th Anniversary. But first, it must find a way to tell the story of three very different groups of people who converged on the shores of that small bay in 1607, and carved a nation out of the wilderness.

For some, Jamestown symbolized the taming of a new world by brave men and women, but for Virginia Indians, it meant the destruction of 90 per cent of their population as a result of smallpox or warfare with the Europeans. The dilemma now is how to mark an occasion that means triumph for some Americans, and sombre remembrance or outright rage for others.

Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America. Along with Williamsburg and Yorktown, it forms Virginia's Historic Triangle, which is touted by the glossy tourist brochures as encompassing the beginning, middle and end of the colonial period in the United States.

At the outset, the Jamestown settlers -- who were mostly upper-class Englishmen without any farming or labour experience -- grappled with unfamiliar conditions, uncertain food and water supplies, and volatile relations with the Virginia Indians. In 1608, Capt. John Smith assumed leadership of the colony and established a tough "no work, no food" policy. The following year, he was injured by a gunpowder explosion and left for England, leaving the colony to struggle through a "starving time" when half the settlers died from malnutrition and in continuing warfare with the Indians.

The Europeans were at the point of abandoning Jamestown when the arrival of fresh supplies and settlers from England revitalized them. Soon after, they began to cultivate tobacco plants, the first profitable venture of the New World. Entrepreneur John Rolfe married Pocahontas, daughter of the Indian chief, heralding a period of relative peace and prosperity for the colony.

The first representative government in the New World was convened in the Jamestown church in 1619.


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