Tag Archives: Virginia

History: Jamestown


The Jamestown settlement was about to fail, but then it found a crop it could sell to the folks back home for supplies and food. The crop that saved Jamestown? Tobacco. Uploaded by hill.troy.k12.mi.us.

What Sir Walter Raleigh and his Roanoke Island colonists failed to accomplish, the Jamestown settlers achieved: the first permanent English settlement in the New World. The first settlers arrived on Jamestown island on May 14, 1607, and though they endured hunger and disease and other hardships, they persevered.

Uploaded by kirkwood.k12.mo.us.

“Permanent” is somewhat misleading in this context, however. The settlement finally thrived once it based its economy on a profitable crop, tobacco. And Jamestown was the capital of the colony of Virginia until 1699, when it was moved to Williamsburg. Following that, Jamestown actually consisted mostly of farms, and housed no actual village.

Today, visitors to Jamestown can visit two historic exhibits, one operated by Virginia and one by the National Park Service. Jamestown Settlement grew out of Jamestown Festival Park, an exhibit created in 1957 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the settlement. Nearby is Historic Jamestowne, which has focused on unearthing archaeological relics that help tell what life in 17th century Virginia was like.

Most visitors to Jamestown stay in Williamsburg, which is connected to Jamestown by the historic Colonial Parkway – an enjoyable drive in itself.

Food: Smithfield Ham

Smithfield is in the middle of peanut country (Planters built its first mass production plant in neighboring Suffolk), and Smithfield hams are peanut-fed. Until recently, that was mandated by Virginia law. Uploaded by smithfield-virginia.com.

Let’s start off by admitting that Smithfield Ham isn’t for everyone. These hams are dry salt-cured, slow hickory-smoked, and aged for six months to a year. The result is a distinctive country ham that, when sliced thin and piled on, makes the absolute best ham biscuit you ever put in your mouth.

Somebody say amen!

Uploaded by picsdigger.com.

As you might imagine, Smithfield, Virginia isn’t exactly a tourist destination. Unless you like shopping for pork products, that is. It’s down in Southeast Virginia, not far from Norfolk in the greater Hampton Roads region. That’s peanut country, too (Planters built its first mass processing plant in neighboring Suffolk), and most of Smithfield’s hogs are peanut-fed, which was required by Virginia law until recently.

Now, these aren’t mild hams. They’re salty and pungent, and they can take a bit of getting used to. But their unique flavor is highly prized, and to serve a genuine Smithfield ham is to demonstrate an appreciation for the finer things in life.

History: Appomattox

Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. Uploaded by galleryone.com.

Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. Uploaded by galleryone.com.

I’m reminded of the Leonard Cohen lyrics: “Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost.” Okay, the South wasn’t the “good guys”, except in the romantic fog of chauvinism. The War Between the States, the War for Southern Independence, the War of Northern Aggression, the War of the Rebellion, the Lost Cause. The Civil War. Whatever you call it, it came to an end in Appomattox.

It was a sleepy little Virginia town on April 9, 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. It’s still a sleepy little town, with a McDonald’s and an indelible place in American history.

Lee had hoped to reach the railroad in Lynchburg and get supplies for his beleaguered troops, but Union troops pinned his army at Appomattox, leaving the general no alternative but to surrender. “There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant,” Lee said, “and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Appomattox Court House. Uploaded to Flickr by jimbowen0306.

Appomattox Court House. Uploaded to Flickr by jimbowen0306.

Of course, there were other Confederate armies still fighting, but when word reached them of Lee’s surrender, they realized the dream was over. The last sizable Southern force gave up the fight over two months after Appomattox.

Grant was magnanimous to the vanquished enemy, allowing them to keep their horses and mules along with their personal sidearms. Lee appreciated Grant’s spirit, and never allowed a bad word to be said about the Union general in his presence.

Thousands of Civil War buffs visit the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park each year, making a pilgrimage to the McLean House, where the surrender was signed.