When It’s Gone, It’s Gone.

Within the past few weeks, there has a steady stream of Virginia history-related news. In Newport News, the Mariners Museum has been forced to close its lab housing the USS Monitor gun turret http://www.marinersmuseum.org/ and other large artifacts recovered in the early 2000s.  http://www.change.org/petitions/united-states-congress-provide-funding-to-conserve-the-uss-monitor-collection is the link to the Mariners online petition form requesting federal funds to conserve the collection.

The chance to see the lab at the Mariners is gone for now, hopefully not for good with petition and email support, plus word of mouth. There are also two other opportunities to learn more: Dr. Anna Holloway of the Mariners Museum will speak this Monday, Feb. 3, at 7 PM, at the Williamsburg Regional Library (under the auspices of the Williamsburg Civil War Round Table). On March 13, Colonial Williamsburg will broadcast “The Iron Clads,” an account of the epic two-day naval battle in Hampton Roads in 1862, and the men who served on the Monitor and Merrimack. http://history.org/history/teaching/eft/broadcast.cfm is a list of local broadcasters for the 10 AM and 1 PM programs.

This collection, Dr. Holloway’s talk, and the Electronic Field Trip  highlight and honor one of the most significant battles of the Civil War. Take time to check them out, and help support some of America’s great historic artifacts.


Battle of Williamsburg map

Battle of Williamsburg map

Map of the Williamsburg battlefield (May 5, 1862), with current endangered sites circled.


Revolutionary City in Colonial Williamsburg begins another season…

Revolutionary City in Colonial Williamsburg begins another season tomorrow, 3/12: http://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/visit/whatToSeeAndDo/activitiesAndPrograms/RevolutionBegins.cfm


Educator speaks up for social studies science testing…

Educator speaks up for social studies-science testing in third grade, at risk w/ VA General Assembly bill (S.B. 185): http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/oped/2012/jan/27/tdopin02-heubeck-third-graders-need-science-social-ar-1643050/

When Hollywood Looks at Jamestown

Let’s be blunt and admit it: historical films trouble and disturb professional historians.

Robert Rosenstone, Visions of the Past, 1995

"Captain John Smith and Pocahontas" movie title card (1953)

The quote above represents one of the dilemmas of history education: Can you teach accurately through film? Hollywood represents a very public intersection of fiction and fact. Jamestown is a case study in how deeply embedded some cultural beliefs are.  They include what Terrence Malick in an interview called the “emotional truth” portrayed in his 2008 film on the founding of England’s first permanent colony in America, centering on Pocahontas and John Smith.  In older history textbooks and popular culture, generations of students learned that Pocahontas singlehandedly saved John Smith and the colony of Jamestown. Taking that belief further led to stereotypes of the “good Indian/bad Indian,” and to the presumed inevitability (rightness?) of European colonization. Today, these are considered dominant majority presumptions; challenged from a social justice perspective they still persist in our culture, often due to Hollywood’s influence.

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“Women! What’s botherin…

“Women! What’s bothering the queer little creature now?”

John Smith, talking to John Rolfe about Pocahontas (Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, 1953)


“The Citie of Henricus” 400 Years Later

Historical interpreter and steed, Henricus Publick Days (Photo, Lisa Heuvel)

One of my favorite Virginia public history sites is Henricus Historical Park because of its evocative 17th-century  interpretive and environmental atmosphere.  On September 17 and 18, Henricus will celebrate its annual “Publick Days.”  This event continues the 400th anniversary of Henricus’ establishment, with over 100 living historians participating on site.  Located in Chesterfield County, Virginia, the park recreates the the Anglo-Virginian settlement founded four years after Jamestown’s 1607 establishment, and also the Powhatan Indian town located in the vicinity.   Named for King James I‘s first son, Henry, “The Citie of Henricus” was an attempt to solve two of Jamestown’s continuing  problems: unhealthy climate and location.  By planting Henricus upriver on the James River, founder Sir Thomas Dale sought an effective replacement capital for the colony which Middle Plantation — renamed as Williamsburg — ultimately became in 1699.

As governor, Dale envisioned fortifications at Point Comfort (Hampton), the Indian town of Kiskiack (on York River), Jamestown, and two additional sites, including what would become Henricus.  He wrote in a August 17, 1611 letter to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, a member of the Virginia Council: “I have surveyed a convenient, strong, healthy, and sweet seat to plant a town in.” He recommended adding a fifth site ten miles further upriver at the Falls to complete his plan to secure the Virginia Peninsula for the English.  Dale promised Cecil that colonists would then hunt, fish, and cultivate the land, so that “we should no more lament of us of want or scarcity of any provision.”  Dale’s determination was met by Native resistance and by some of his own men abandoning their tasks to go AWOL into Indian territory.  However, Thomas Dale was no stranger to enforcing martial law.  He proved it at Jamestown in a new regime meant to set the colony to rights.  His contemporary George Percy wrote that Dale executed captured offenders in terrifying ways at Henricus to set an example for others.

Representation of the Indian town of Arrahateck, at Henricus Historical Park (Photo, Lisa Heuvel)

Dale’s  intent to create new settlements or plantations along the James was realized, but the push outward into Powhatan Indian territory factored in the Native uprising of 1622.  Henricus was destroyed and the intent to locate a college there also ended abruptly; as a result, Harvard College in Massachusetts took precedence as America’s first higher education institution, founded in 1636.  Virginia lagged behind for decades as planners, promoters, and administrators sought to re-energize that dream, eventually realized with the 1693 royal charter for The College of William and Mary.

Today, Henricus Historical Park commemorates some “what ifs” of Colonial Virginia history in an educational — and peaceful — way.  Dale and other early colonial administrators expected prosperity through encouraging land ownership for the colonists, building an ironworks at the Falls, and a lingering hope of discovering gold in Virginia.  Of these, only settlement succeeded in the early  era.  Both ironworks and gold mines did come later in the Commonwealth’s history, fulfilling those early dreams.  For more background on the early period, watch this video from Henricus Historical Park, “Henricus:  A Citie of Beginnings.”