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Created by local writers and photographers, Compass American Guides are the ultimate insider's guides, providing in-depth coverage of the history, culture and character of America's most spectacular destinations. Covering everything there is to see and do as well as choice lodging and dining, these gorgeous full-color guides are perfect for new and longtime residents as well as vacationers who want a deep ...
Created by local writers and photographers, Compass American Guides are the ultimate insider's guides, providing in-depth coverage of the history, culture and character of America's most spectacular destinations. Covering everything there is to see and do as well as choice lodging and dining, these gorgeous full-color guides are perfect for new and longtime residents as well as vacationers who want a deep understanding of the region they're visiting.
History haunts Virginia like a lost lover. Images, mementos, whispers of the past float along her
rivers, get tangled in the thick press of her forests, stand beside the too-gallant statues that
posture in her courthouse squares. So much history, and so many of them. Native American and European,
male and female, black and white. Every little borough has its own story, as does every long-standing
Virginia family. It's fair to say that the first 250 years of this state's recorded history read like
a saga filled with its own theatrics: heroes, devils, tragedies, comedies, victories, and defeats.
After all, Virginians trace themselves back to the first colonists, to major players in the Revolution,
to "founding fathers" of the new nation. And then the state was capital of the Confederacy and the
primary battleground for the Civil War. For octogenarian Virginians -- and younger ones who cleave
to the Commonwealth's past -- that war, regardless of its cost, was a moment of glory. Glory clearly
tinges Virginia's past, sometimes to the Old Dominion's detriment. Virginians have had a deserved
reputation for courting old traditions, for looking backward more often than forward. But that
old-line conservatism seems itself to be receding into the past. While Virginia can't be counted as
one of America's most progressive states, she has learned in recent decades to move forward, with the
past as a sort of patina about her. She may not be an angel, but her charms are considerable.
Virginia's saga actually began somewhere in the vaguest past, whenbands of nomads drifted out of
Asia and into the area. When they reached the Atlantic they could drift no farther. And so they spread
out along its tributaries, settled into the endless coastal forests, lived off the abundance of the
land, slowly resolving themselves into tribes and kingdoms. We know little of their culture except
that they were a prosperous people and members of the Algonquian language group. Then, in the
sixteenth century another band of restless wanderers unceremoniously entered their
world. These were, of course, the European explorers, intent on a kind of migration of their own, only
in reverse of what the Asian nomads had done: They were pushing west toward the riches of the Indies
-- until North America got in their way.
In the 1560s, Spanish adventurers captured a native chief from the coast of what is now Virginia,
named him Don Luis de Valasco, and brought him back to Madrid for an education. When Spanish Jesuits
returned Don Luis to Virginia in 1570, he reasserted his rights as a chief, and the
Jesuits built a mission hoping to convert the Indians to Christ. Instead, Don Luis dispatched the
Jesuits to the Great Spirit. Little was heard from Europeans until aspiring English colonists bumped
up upon the shore 37 years later. The Powhatan chief who watched them land was probably Don Luis's son,
and by now leader of the combined Algonquian groups along the coast. The English, meanwhile, had
moored their ships and named the area on which they'd landed after their beloved Elizabeth, the virgin
queen. They called it Virginia.
The ships set sail carrying aspiring adventurers, plus the ships' crews. About half of the 105
colonists who survived the trip were the younger sons of gentry who had nothing to gain by staying in
seventeenth-century England, where they would inherit neither land nor wealth. This exotic Virginia
held the promise of untold riches and opportunity. That they would have to work for any of this seemed
to have escaped them as they set sail with high hopes, few skills, and even less of the grit they
would need to survive. The other half of the expedition was composed mostly of artisans weary of
England's entrenched class structure and lack of opportunity. Unfortunately, their particular crafts
and experiences weren't exactly what was needed to tame a wilderness -- but who knew then what was
needed? Only one man among the hundred on board seems to have been well-suited to deal with and
establish a new world. A seasoned mercenary and adventurer, his name was John Smith, and he would
prove to be a godsend to the expedition. But none of them knew that at the time, and, in fact, his
chronic braggadocio managed to get him arrested before the ships had crossed the Atlantic.
After four and a half months en route, the English sighted the coastline of Virginia.
Coming alongside the capes at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the English stopped to erect a cross in
gratitude. They then proceeded up a wide river that they called James, for their king. The newcomers
chose a small island 60 miles (97 km) upstream on which to build a fort. Connected by a
narrow isthmus to the mainland, the island, they reasoned, would be easy to defend against French or
Spanish warships, and against attacks from the hostile half-clothed natives that had already assaulted
them when they landed at Cape Henry. Also, the island had good deep anchorage for their ships just
offshore. In high spirits, the small band set about transforming the island they had named Jamestown
into a facsimile of Britain. They built a stockaded, triangular fort and planted crops. They also
searched voraciously for gold, believing optimistically that the very river sands were spangled with
its glint. And very soon, they began to die. Throughout the summer, the combination of malnutrition,
bad water, and typhoid, a disease they had unwittingly brought with them from England, carried away
half the members of the Jamestown band.