Day 1/ Feb 27th – Jamestown, VA to Lightfoot, VA: Walking through history


Sally sets off

We're off

We had planned to start walking a couple of weeks ago, but a series of record-breaking snowstorms on the east coast, along with our own keen desire not to get too cold, kept us off the road until today.  In Washington DC a couple of days ago, an epic melt was underway, with sandbags around the ventilation shafts leading down to the subway to stop snowmelt flooding the tracks.  But fortunately, here in southern Virginia the ground is almost entirely free of snow, leaving us with no more excuses.

We set off today from Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English settlement in north America in 1607.  It’s curious that so much fuss is made in America of Columbus, who never got further than the Caribbean, and of the Pilgrim Fathers, who arrived thirteen years after Jamestown was founded.  Columbus has his own national day, and the Pilgrim Fathers live in the popular imagination as the first European settlers in America.  But the Jamestown settlers are, by comparison, largely forgotten.  After spending a morning in Jamestown, we concluded that this is principally because they were so utterly crap.

The reconstructed fort at Jamestown

Inside the fort at Jamestown


105 of them set off from England in December 1606, only to spend much of the next month bobbing around embarrassingly just off the coast in the English Channel while they waited for favourable winds.  A third of the expedition were feckless younger sons of the minor aristocracy who had been packed off on the voyage by families only too delighted to be rid of them.  The remaining two-thirds were largely labourers and boys, most of whom hoped to get rich by discovering gold.

They landed at what is now Jamestown on May 14th, built a small fort, and proceeded to expire in large numbers.  A year after they arrived, two-thirds of the settlers were dead, from a mixture of dysentery, typhoid, starvation and Indian attacks.  They barely survived by obtaining food from the local Indians, first by trade, and then at gunpoint.  The next groups of settlers to arrive displayed an equal talent for rapid death: 200 of a population of 300 died, most of starvation, during the winter of 1609.  The colony was only finally put on a stable footing by the introduction of military discipline, the arrival of boatloads of single women from England and, most of all, by the discovery that Virginia’s soil was exceptionally well-suited to the growing of a new crop called tobacco, which soon took Europe by storm.

All of this is recounted in the outstanding Jamestown Settlement, a museum and reconstructed fort built at the site of the first landing.  The museum is brand new and has clearly had considerable sums of money lavished on it, with thoughtful exhibits about the Europeans, Indians and Africans in the 17th century, a cinema that would shame most actual cinemas, and a team of volunteer guides who kept our little group of children, pensioners and two London hikers spellbound as they took us around the fort.

Guide at Jamestown

Our excellent guide at Jamestown

We filled a little vial with water from Chesapeake Bay and set out at lunchtime on a short stage of eleven miles north to the town of Lightfoot.  We set what I suspect is a transcontinental walking record by missing a turning 400 yards in, with the result that we took an entirely different route to the one we’d meticulously planned yesterday.

Our route today ran through a series of smart neighbourhoods, keen to trade on the cachet of their proximity to the First Settlement.  Chief Powhatan, in the 17th century the all-powerful overlord of a confederation of 30 tribes and 14,000 people, is today commemorated in a chichi housing estate called Powhatan Crossing, which is handy for the Historic Powhatan Resort, The Kitchen at Powhatan and the Powhatan Grill.  Even the body shop in New Town (‘No Skateboarders Allowed: Violators Will be Prosecuted’) gets in on the historical action, calling itself the Auto Wash and Lube ‘Shoppe’.

Although we spent most of the day on quiet back-roads, for the final few miles we joined Route 60, a forest of chain restaurants and strip malls.  Nonetheless, this is a road to be respected: it runs from here in eastern Virginia more than 2,000 miles west all the way to Arizona.  But today we stopped in Lightfoot, a blink-and-miss-it cluster of motels and diners that’s actually slightly further east than our starting point.  Given that our ultimate goal is to walk to San Francisco, we didn’t finish the day with any great sense of forward progress.


2 Responses to “Day 1/ Feb 27th – Jamestown, VA to Lightfoot, VA: Walking through history”

  1. Janna Levesque Says:

    Rich & Sally, Just got through all your travels so far and thoroughly enjoyed it! Looking forward to the next installment!!! Good luck. Janna

  2. Linda Hastings Says:

    Sounds as interesting as I thought it would be. Hope all continues to go well. Enjoy! Linda

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