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History seen in myriad disguises
There were so many people in costume at the Jamestown commemoration this weekend, you could actually see lazy Englishmen loafing under trees.
That's the big story of the first permanent English settlement in North America: The gentlemen came in 1607 to find gold and couldn't feed themselves because they wouldn't work.
But rarely is that sight presented to visitors. It's expensive to staff a living-history museum, so Jamestown usually has only a few costumed interpreters on site. And those folks are busy checking tickets or talking to tour groups or demonstrating some historic glassblowing technique.
You know - working.
"I'm not loafing! I'm READING very important materials!" said Scott Crawford, who stretched out beneath a tree at the Jamestown Settlement museum.
This weekend, a visitor was just as likely to bump into a woman in a large wool dress as into a woman from Washington. While some costumed women answered detailed questions about bread making, a man in full 1607 garb leaned against a tree, playing music.
Crawford did jump up to display his book, a fighting manual. "It's going to be very important here in Virginia. The natives around here don't use the traditional dueling techniques," he said in character.
Crawford came from Missouri to spend the weekend portraying a laborer. As he explained his role, a man portraying a Jamestown gentleman strode by in cranberry-colored finery and barked, "Bows and bills!"
"That's the traditional command to grab your weapons and report. I need to go!" Crawford said.
There was a lot more gunfire and cannon fire at Jamestown this weekend.
Where a typical Friday would treat tourists to one man in costume firing a musket, the 400th-anniversary weekend showcased six men standing at a fort corner, firing away.
It was a much livelier play of action and education.
The English tactic of massing men and muskets made the difference in the fights with American Indians, Jim Toscano said. He came from Maryland to dress up and escort Queen Elizabeth II last week and captivate throngs of visitors Saturday. He didn't mind that the 22 pounds of armor and gear he wore.
"If you hit me with an arrow and wound me in the arm, you still have to close on me with that stick," he said, reaching over and taking a reproduction Powhatan club. He knocked it on his chest plate, making a faint clink. "Bring it, don't sing it!" He said, "I hope that doesn't sound disrespectful. It's just the straight history."
There were plenty of people in American Indian clothing, as well.
Women tended young tobacco plants. Three men - one Mohawked - debated the merits of a bison hide that someone donated to them once. They concluded that making American Indian tools and clothes from the hide was just too much work.
"Just buy the stuff on eBay!" one said.
Others were determined to show the efforts that our ancestors made.
Five women in the craft tent at Anniversary Park made a shawl in four hours, from shorn wool to dyed product. They could have made good money selling it as a last-minute Mother's Day gift, but it was for demonstration only.
Anniversary Park featured less historical fare, it's true.
Most of the costumed interpreters were in the existing Jamestown museums, not out in the field of tents and banners. And few Peninsula residents would be wowed that Anheuser-Busch brought Clydesdales to pet (you can do that at Busch Gardens almost any time) or that Fredericksburg passed out paper George Washington masks to kids who spotted the first president's face hidden on a display.
Between the Verizon cell phone tent, a commemorative T-shirt booth and yet another high school choir singing the national anthem, a tent promised a virtual "Voyage to the New World." It was an actual ride - one of those rooms that moves on hydraulics as you sit inside, watching a movie.
Kid anticipation was high in the waiting line, but it turned out that the movie was from the viewpoint of a rat. The ride's bumping was timed to the rat crawling around the ship, not to the ship tossing on the Atlantic Ocean. After the rat made it into the Virginia weeds and the four-minute ride ended, a disappointed teenager said, "They should have had a hawk come and eat him at the end!"