Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jamestown Murmurs

“We are what we have been.” Shelby Foote attributed those words to Jane Austen in an interview, maybe more than once. To me, the words simply say that how we act, think, do, and a myriad of our other personal traits can be traced to our direct ancestors. My eldest offspring reacts intensely to a light huff on the back of the neck…my mother reacted in exactly the same way. Now, I’ve huffed on the back of a few necks over the years, but I’ve seldom seen such a reaction from others.

Family lore had it that one of our ancestral lines went back a long way in this country, all the way back to its founding. However, whatever proof of that claim might have existed was either packed away in a relative’s closet or lost or forgotten over the generations. Only when my own focus and the power of the Internet was brought to bear on the matter was I able to ferret out the truth…and the truth is, the old family lore was correct. I qualify for membership in the Jamestowne Society.

Many years ago I toured Jamestown and walked amongst the recreated ruins of the ancient village along the James River. The picture above pretty much tells the story of today’s Jamestown. For a young man lacking certain specific knowledge of his connection to the place, the stopover was somewhat disappointing; yet, there was something about the place that seemed to murmur…this is where it all began.

Many years later, after learning of my connection to the place, we visited Jamestown again. This time the place came alive, the spirits were jumping, but only in my head…it was palpable. One of my 10th great grandfathers (each of us have about 2,048 of those!) jumped off a small sailing ship onto the banks of the James in 1621 when the tiny village was in its 14th year. He was an indentured servant who, after working off his indenture, became a substantial citizen of the early settlement.

Sometimes I wonder what traits of mine were also his…I wonder if he or his wife reacted as intensely as my mother or my offspring to a light huff on the back of the neck.

A 2005 film, The New World, told the story of the earliest days at Jamestown. However, I found the picture a bit artsy for my taste…but, the photography and scenes are very well done, giving an accurate visual portrayal of the life and conditions of the place and time.


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