Since 2017, we have visited the Williamsburg, VA area yearly for Thanksgiving week. During that week, we not only visit Colonial Williamsburg but we also make a day trip to nearby Jamestown, VA. Many people don’t know that there are two unique Jamestown areas to visit: Jamestown Settlement Living History Museum and Historic Jamestowne.
The History Of Jamestown, VA
In 1607, English settlers arrived in what’s now the United States and chose to build their homes on an uninhabited island with easy access to water, naming it Jamestown. While they thought their location was prime, there was a reason why Native American tribes weren’t already settled on it – the water wasn’t fit for consumption, the land was too swampy for their crops, and the sheer volume of mosquitoes was an annoyance at best and dangerous at worst. Still, the members of the London Company settled in, determined to find their way.
While the bulk of those settlers died within a year, in 1608, ships arrived carrying supplies and Jamestown was able to build an industry exporting glassware – allowing them to import survival necessities. Still, the colony struggled significantly for several years – it wasn’t until 1614, when John Rolfe arrived with tobacco seeds, that Jamestown really found its footing.
Tobacco grew wonderfully on the island, and finally gave the settlers a reason to expand, to seek out new land. This worsened relations with the Native Americans, but building a society that was gradually becoming a bit more self-sufficient. Ten years later, Jamestown had expanded enough to officially become the colony of Virginia.
With the development of Virginia, Jamestown struggled to keep its footing. Other parcels of land had better growing conditions, better atmosphere, better hunting, as well as less attacks from the Powhatan tribes, so people began to move away. When the Virginia capitol was moved to Williamsburg, Jamestown became, for all intents and purposes, a ghosttown, suitable only for the planting of tobacco, with residents moving to the mainland.
But that wasn’t the end of Jamestown. During the Civil War, Confederate soldier William Allen stationed troops on Jamestown Island to blockade the North from supplies. However, they were forced to abandon their base after the Battle of Williamsburg. In Union hands, the island became a safe haven for escaped slaves. It remained so until the end of the war.
Jamestown Settlement Living History Museum
The Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum with extensive indoor exhibits and outdoor living history areas. Costumed interpreters describe and demonstrate daily life in early Jamestown. Visitors can explore life-size recreations of a Paspahegh Indian town, an early 1600s English fort. You can even see three recreated ships that model ships that sailed from England to Virginia! There is also a well-supplied cafeteria and a large gift shop. We usually spend about 3 leisurely hours at Jamestown Settlement.
Historic Jamestowne is very close to Jamestown Settlement and is part of the U.S. National Park System. Historic Jamestown is the actual spot of the original Jamestowne colony and also has an ongoing archaeological dig. It is located right on the James River and has some beautiful views. Historic Jamestowne has many exhibitions and family activities including the Junior Ranger Program, which my daughter loves!
On the entrance road, you will see a sign for the Jamestown Glasshouse. Visiting the Glasshouse is included in your ticket price and is well worth a stop! It presents the history of glassblowing in the early colony, and displays artifacts from the original glasshouse that was located there. But, best of all, there is a new glasshouse demonstrations of glassblowing. The artisans create one-of-a-kind masterpieces right in front of you that are also available for sale. If you go into the local shops in and near Williamsburg, you will see Jamestown Glass pieces available for sale. You can also buy them directly at the Glasshouse itself!
Have you visited Jamestown, VA? What did you enjoy most?
- Discounts are available for National Park Annual Pass holders; the discount depends on the type of annual pass.
- A ticket is valid for 7-day entry to Historic Jamestowne AND Yorktown Battlefield.