For reasons too complicated to go into here and now, I‘ve been yearning to walk the deck of a late sixteenth-century sailing ship. No late sixteenth-century vessels were available, so My Own True Love and I headed for the next best thing: the replica ships at Jamestown Settlement, located ten miles away from colonial Williamsburg.
Once there, I headed straight for the working replicas of the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery: the ships that brought English settlers to Jamestown in 1607. Let me tell you, those ships are very small. (For those of you who are sailing types, they are 120 tons, 40 tons, and 20 tons respectively. For those of you who aren’t sailing types, they are really small, really-really small, and frighteningly small.) They sailed from London* just before Christmas and arrived on the coast of Virginia in April: they spent three weeks of the journey stuck in the English Channel due to bad weather. Passengers slept in the hold on top of the cargo and weren’t allowed on deck without the captain’s permission. The smell! The claustrophobia! The impossibility of getting away from other people for an hour or two! (Talk about introvert hell.)
Jamestown Settlement has more than just reproduction seventeenth century sailing ships. ** Once we’d learned everything about the ships that we could think to ask, we moved on to reproductions of James Fort ca. 1614and a seventeenth century Powhatan Indian village, both of them manned by yet more patient and well-informed costumed interpreters. We ended the day with a couple of hours in the site’s exhibition galleries, leaving no for time for the archaeological site at Historic Jamestown, just down the road.
Tomorrow? Colonial Williamsburg.
*According to a costumed interpreter dressed as Sir Walter Raleigh, the ships didn’t actually sail down the Thames, they were pulled by men on shore.
**Though really, how much more do you need for a day of history geek entertainment?