A group of modern-day John Smiths rowed away Saturday in a small, open boat from the site of the first permanent English settlement in America, which Smith helped found 400 years ago this weekend.
The replica of a boat like one Smith used to explore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries shoved off as the commemoration of Jamestown’s anniversary entered a second day filled with concerts, cultural and artistic demonstrations and military drills.
President Bush is to speak Sunday, the closing day of the festivities and the actual anniversary of the settlers’ arrival at this swampy island on the James River on May 13, 1607.
The boat’s 121-day voyage over 1,500 miles will retrace much of Smith’s journey and inaugurate the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the country’s first national historic water trail.
“This is all just kind of overwhelming,” the captain, Ian Bystrom, said before the boat left. “I’m used to just sailing boats and teaching kids and the next thing you know, we’re here on the 400th anniversary.”
The boat departed from Historic Jamestowne, where the colonists built a triangular fort.
An archeological gold mine
Archaeologists found the fort’s remains, long thought to have been washed away, in the mid-1990s. Since then, they’ve unearthed more than 1 million artifacts.
On Saturday, dozens of visitors ringed the fort site to watch archaeologists sift through the soil and show off some of their recent finds, including a sword that was among armor and weapons buried in a well that became a trash pit.
Several hundred cheering people lined the shore of the river as Bystrom, followed by his crew of 11, slowly stepped onto large rocks at the water’s edge and into the 28-foot boat, called a shallop.
“There they go,” someone shouted as six crew members began rowing away from the island while Bystrom stood in the stern.
The boat will stop at more than 20 spots in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington before returning to Jamestown on Sept. 8. The crew will attempt to complete the entire trip entirely by oar and sail.
Workers with the nonprofit Sultana Projects Inc. of Chestertown, Md., crafted the boat using mostly tools like those in Smith’s time.
Smith’s trip in 1608 yielded a comprehensive map that guided English settlers for nearly a century.
Smith observed the bay’s ecosystem along the way, and the new national trail will do the same with a system of “smart” buoys that will collect information about water and atmospheric conditions and transmit them wirelessly, said retired Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Smith’s crew ran low on food and water two days into their trip and turned to the native Indians for help.
Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy tribe in Virginia, said the modern boat’s crew has an edge over Smith because they went to the Chickahominy Tribal Center to learn about the Indians of the early 17th century and of today.
“We need to give these folks a hand for trying to get it right,” Adkins said during a ceremony before the boat left.
Protesters denounce celebration
About 70 people demonstrated Saturday outside the visitors center at Historic Jamestowne, shouting “black power” and “red power” and “shame on Jamestown.”
Malik Shabazz, president of the group Black Lawyers for Justice, said Jamestown’s founding marked the roots of black enslavement and Indian genocide.
There is “no reason to celebrate the founding of Jamestown,” Shabazz said. “The no-good, so-called Jamestown settlers ... have nothing but blood on their hands.”
Organizers have been careful to call the anniversary event a “commemoration” instead of a “celebration.”
With the arrival of the English, native Indian tribes eventually were pushed off their lands, and slavery in America is traced to Jamestown, where the first Africans in the country arrived in 1619. This year’s anniversary is the first to focus on all three of those cultures.