In just a few months, those who step into the Memorial Church at Jamestown will take a trip back in time.
Four-hundred years, to be exact.
Archaeologists are working to recreate the setup of the church where the first legislative assembly met in 1619 as the first representative government in the New World — one part of the 400-year anniversary of several pivotal events in American history.
The project in the Memorial Church has been chugging along for several months on Jamestown Island.
Now, more special exhibits are being planned for several hundred feet away, inside the glass-sided Archaearium museum. They’ll cover martial law at Jamestown, items found in cellars at different points in history, Jamestown’s transition from a fort to a port and more.
The theme: Change over time in Jamestown.
“We wanted to tell more of the story,” said Michael Lavin, director of collections/conservation at Jamestown.
All together, the commemoration exhibits and projects have cost “a few hundred thousand dollars,” Lavin said, thanks to some grant money from James City County and another state grant.
The exhibits are slated to be complete in mid-April.
The events recognized in 2019 also include the arrival of the first recorded Africans in North America, such as Angela, and the large-scale arrival of English women to the colony.
Many 2019 commemoration events are headed by American Evolution 2019, a state nonprofit connected with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and dedicated to the 2019 commemoration.
The Memorial Church project and new exhibits at the Archaearium are headed separately by the archaeologists at Jamestown Rediscovery, a nonprofit part of Preservation Virginia. The archaeologists have planned their exhibits based on the items and stories they’ve found through their archaeological digs.
“Archaeology is education,” said archaeologist Dave Givens. “What are we doing if not educating the hearts and minds of the American public?”
The church and cemetery
Jamestown Rediscovery has partnered with Stemann Pease Architecture to make the inside of the Memorial Church into a representation of the first Jamestown church — built in 1617 — where the legislative assembly first met.
The site inside the church where archaeologists believe they found the remains of Virginia governor Sir George Yeardley was filled in with a special stone dust around the end of October to make way for the new setup.
A glass window in the Memorial Church floor will show the foundation of the second version of the church, built in the 1640s on the same site, Givens said.
The setup will include wood and brick flooring, handmade wooden pews, an altar, altar rail, the church’s chancel and choir — just as archaeologists believed the church to have looked.
The benches were made by the Ford’s Colony Woodworkers Club. Work began on the pews last fall after Givens and Lavin went on a trip to England to gauge how 17th-century churches should look.
Givens said the church is also working to restore the cemetery outside the Memorial Church. The cemetery, which had been robbed and vandalized over time, was haphazardly put back together using Portland cement in the early 1900s.
Jonathan Appell from Atlas Preservation is working on putting the graves back together and identifying and matching various pieces.
Within view of the Memorial Church, the Archaearium museum hopes to complete the 2019 Commemoration package with new exhibits.
The Archaearium is built over the location of the Jamestown Statehouse, where the General Assembly met until the capital of Virginia moved to Williamsburg in 1698, said Jamie May, director of the Voorhees Archaearium Museum.
Many of the new exhibits aim to illuminate a comparison between different points in time at Jamestown.
“We wanted to tell more of the story,” Lavin said, adding that the museum featured many stories from the early years of Jamestown, but not as many showing
One new exhibit will include items found by archaeologists that show foodways from various points in history at Jamestown. As Lord De La Warr implemented martial law around 1610, wares for food grew larger and more utilitarian.
Another exhibit will take up the last part of the Archaearium museum before the gift shop. It will be titled “From Fort to Port” and feature archaeological evidence on how the site transitioned from a English colony to an English town site.
Full-size realistic models of Jamestown’s buildings will also show how building methods changed over time. Many earlier buildings were mud-and-stud starting in 1607 when colonists arrived in the New World, but progressed to timber frame around 1611.
“They were thinking more permanently, even in 1610,” May said.
Update Jan. 30: Jamestown Rediscovery announced Wednesday the Jamestowne Society contributed more than $150,000 to Historic Jamestown for ongoing archaeology in and around the 1907 Memorial Church. Members of the Jamestowne Society trace their lineage back to Jamestown’s earliest settlers and leaders.
Correction: A previous version of this story said “Archaeologists are working to recreate the setup of the church where the House of Burgesses met in 1619 as the first representative government in the New World — one of several pivotal events recognized for the 400-year anniversary of several pivotal events in American history.”
This statement, which came from the National Park Service, is incorrect. While the first legislative assembly did meet in 1619, it was not called the House of Burgesses. That was formed separately decades later.