Monday, February 23, 2015

Our Next Lecture: Comparing our American Origins; April 21, 2015

We will give the 3rd in our series of lectures on Comparing Our 17th Century American Origins; Our Own Lessons in Nation Building, which focus on relevant legacies from the first seven decades that contributed to our nation building. These lectures stem from our interest in the lives of our own ancestors in early colonial times.

We are covering basic elements of our unique American culture and society that have evolved over 400+ years from their beginnings in Virginia, Massachusetts and New York, and offer a comparative overview of our origins from one of those 17th century colonies. Proceeding from our previous two lectures on Jamestown, we are exploring the events, developments and interrelationships among the three colonies during their earliest and most formative years, and what they contributed to the building of our nation.

In this program, we will discuss the four decades' history and legacies of New Netherland and New Amsterdam (which became New York). Some of what we will cover will include the links of Dutch settlers with the Pilgrims, Dutch culture and society in the New World, the settling and development of Manhattan, Dutch historical religious tolerance, civil liberties, role of women, and a historically classless society.

This lecture will be one of the Peer Presenters series at the Osher Life Long Learning Institute at the University of California, San Diego at 10 AM on Tuesday, April 21, 2015.

Prior lectures in this series have included:

An Ancestor Comes to Jamestown (May 21, 2013): Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the New World and one of our American origins. We review the events, crises and accomplishments during its founding seventeen years. Archaeology is presenting us with new insights into the colony. Its attraction for our ancestors, among the earliest families to settle, was economic opportunity. Richard and Isabella Pace exemplified middle class English entrepreneurial immigrants who were the backbone of Jamestown’s establishment and its contribution to the building of our nation. 

Pocahontas and Jamestown’s Legacies (May 20, 2014): 2014 was the 400th wedding anniversary of Pocahontas and John Rolfe (yes…not John Smith), which triggered lasting effects for the building of our nation and what we have become. She was an important historical figure in our nation’s early history; much more than the mythological caricature she has become. She and Rolfe also had long-lasting impacts on Jamestown’s development and, ultimately, its survival. We cover her role and effect as a young, short-lived woman on Jamestown’s viability and the following five decades after her life as the Paces moved up the James River.

For more information, please contact the editor. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

A New Book on Jamestown: The Latest Captain John Smith Biography

Captain John Smith’s iconic shadow still falls over Jamestown 400+ years after his 34-month sojourn in helping to found it. That specter is replete with mythology about a certain prepubescent Powhatan girl, disciplining settlers and facing down indigenous chieftains.

A new and readable biography helps to brighten that shadow and add human dimensions to that icon: A Man Most Driven; Captain John Smith, Pocahontas and the Founding of America, by Peter Firstbrook (London: Oneworld Publications. 2014).

Firstbrook acknowledges that he relied heavily on the seminal works on Smith by Bradford Smith and Laura Striker and Philip Barbour. But he also used his journalistic skills and new, original sources in describing more obscure episodes that Smith chronicles in his writings, such as his birthplace and early life, soldiering adventures in Eastern Europe and escape from slavery from Turkey through Russia. He enhances them them with illustrations from Smith's works and maps. We learn more details about the captain's dealings with his fellow settlers and the Powhatans (and their perspectives on him), his explorations and naming of New England and, finally (though briefly), his final decades of reflection in England.

This is a worthy addition to anyone’s library collection on Jamestown. It is a fitting complement to the superb The Jamestown Project by Professor Karen Ordahl Kupperman.

Here are two reviews:

From Kirkus Reviews:

“A nuanced account of the English captain saved by Pocahontas reveals an astonishingly complicated personality.

“Former BBC producer Firstbrook (The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family, 2011, etc.) finds in the roguish, quarrelsome, fearless adventurer Capt. John Smith a sterling example of the tenacious early-American character. Before the 27-year-old Smith ever came to Virginia to make his fortune in 1607, he proved himself an ambitious knight-errant, as he later recounted in his autobiography and elsewhere.

“A Lincolnshire tenant farmer’s son, Smith wanted to find adventure rather than inherit the family farm when his father died, so he became a mercenary sailor fighting the Spanish, making connections to better himself and filling the gaps in his education. His adventures took him across the continent, from Spain to Austria-Hungary, where he enlisted to fight against the incursions of the Ottoman Empire, battling duels to the death and even being taken captive and enslaved by the Turks. Having escaped and returned to London, he ingratiated himself with British merchants hoping to capitalize on the recent discoveries in the New World, such as the ill-fated Roanoke Colony of Virginia, sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh.

“Resentful of the aristocrats in control of the London Company–funded expedition, Smith managed to get locked up for mutinous behavior during the trip out, and only his much-needed skills as a soldier and farmer kept him from being hanged once they arrived in Jamestown.

“Firstbrook gives Smith the benefit of the doubt in his account of being saved from the Powhatans’ chopping block by chief Wahunsenacawh’s favorite daughter, Pocahontas—as befits an intrepid leader who was fiercely committed to the New World effort and instrumental in its survival over the first two murderous winters.

“Exciting historical tales with romantic overtones.”

By Robin S. Hall, an Amazon reader/reviewer:

Detective work and original source materials illuminate the truth about Captain John Smith's exploits.

“From the evidence of his own writings, John Smith has a claim to be the foremost Founding Father of the early British presence in North America. But there is controversy about how reliable a witness he was. Some facts are independently documented, like the time he spent leading the Jamestown settlement and his later trip to New England where he mapped and named much of the coastline - the same map that guided the Pilgrim Fathers six years later to Plymouth Rock.

“Peter Firstbrook approached the controversy over Smith from a reverse direction. In this book, he attempted to check the veracity of Smith's own autobiography of his life as a mercenary fighting the Ottoman Empire before his American expeditions. If the apparently fanciful accounts of shipwrecks, duels, battles in the political snake pit of Transylvania and his escape from slavery on the eastern shores of the Black Sea were probably true, this would give credence to Smith's reports of what happen later in his life in America. His researches took Firstbrook into the troubled heart of Eastern Europe, where he provided new insights and evidence of Smith's likely progress.

“In concluding that Smith was probably an honest witness of a turbulent time, Firstbrook gives a new perspective on the realities of the Jamestown settlement. Applying information about the local Native American social and political structures at the time, he offers an explanation about a seminal moment in early American history, the intervention of Pocahontas in Smith's impending execution. Alas, this does nothing to support the Disneyfied romance story between a twelve years old girl and a grizzled 27-year-old soldier.

“This book presents a fascinating account of the detective work needed in historical research in going back to the original source materials and validating the contents. Whilst the (necessary) accounts of the complexities of Balkan history are not an easy read, they are essential to proving that John Smith was not a fantasist. Thus, Smith's own writings and maps endorse him as a very significant contributor to early American history.”

From the News Page at

Monday, July 14, 2014

New Development Towards Saving the James

In a development that further forestalls Dominion Power’s attempt to obstruct and impair the historically significant James River view shed, the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by James City County of the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s Final Order allowing the construction of the 300+ foot transition towers. As announced on July 12, the court will consider issues raised by James City County with the help of the Save the James Alliance, especially the James River Association. 

This appeal seeks to dismiss the SCC’s final order or order a new hearing. According to one source, the appellants’ area of focus on errors is on the complete disregard of state statutes that protect historic and cultural resources, and secondly, a challenge to a land use ruling which, if not overturned, would set a precedent in the state regarding a utility's right to use land any way they see fit, regardless of local laws and zoning.

There remains the separate issue of the section 404 permit by the Army Corps of Engineers and its adherence to public hearing and comment process as required by law and regulations.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Can We Stave Off Doomsday for the James River View Shed?

The effort to preserve the James River view shed continues as the Coalition to Save the James has met with staff of Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.

There is a lot going on the behind-the-scenes. The individuals involved with the Coalition are contributing their considerable skills and putting in lot of time and effort.

There is growing national interest in this issue, which the Army Corps of Engineers has acknowledged. We hope that the attention from California Senator Dianne Feinstein was noticed in the meeting with Senator Warner's staff. She has the ability to influence ACOE's budget and funding.

The Coalition’s major immediate objective is to get the Army Corps of Engineers to follow its full protocol for its permit process by insisting on accommodating the public's comments and questions and performing an Environmental Impact Study, as called for in its regulations.

They are having some success, as it seems likely that ACOE will hold a 30 day public comment period at a future but undetermined time where your letters, messages and questions must be considered. We will advise when we learn of notification of that comment period.

Please review this issue with what we have previously posted and be prepared to give the ACOE your views at the appropriate time - when they will be most meaningful and effective.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Is Doomsday Approaching for the James River View Shed?

The tranquil view of the James River from Jamestown is not too dissimilar from how John Smith and the earliest settlers saw it almost 407 years ago. For those us who have enjoyed it, we shudder to think of its pending destruction if Dominion Power succeeds in obtaining a section 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to build its proposed thirty-story towers for power transmission lines across the James.
James River Kayaker; Courtesy James River Association

This serene and bucolic setting belies the statement by Scott Hathaway of Dominion Power that "'s a river that has an industrial character and has for a long time." That must come as a shock to the countless visitors to Historic Jamestown that are daily directed to stand on its banks and look downstream, whence those first settlers came. It's among the other points raised in an article syndicated by the Associated Press reporting on this question of destroying an important element of our national heritage. As we had previously posted over a year ago, "Can you imagine putting power plant on Plymouth Rock?" 

There may be little time to prevent this besmirching of our national heritage, but the opportunity exists and must be immediately acted upon. 

The Save the James Alliance (which we have followed in our posts of January 21, 2014, October 2, 2013 and October 14, 2012) has joined the National Trust for Historic Preservation in a coalition taking on Dominion Power and ACOE (which is fast tracking the permit for Dominion). Several senators have weighed in on this, including Dianne Feinstein of California, in support of the Coalition's efforts. As we were advised by Sharee Williamson, Associate General Counsel of NTHP,  "The number of comments in opposition really does matter, so for every individual or group that you can encourage to send an independent letter, the more impact there will be." Please be among these.

The Alliance has produced a Fact sheet that frames the issues to help you with your message.

Please send your letters to:

Mr. Randy Steffey
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Norfolk District Office
803 Front Street
Norfolk, VA  23501 

RE:  Dominion Power Surry-Skiffes Creek Project

You can also email your message to Mr. Steffey.

Your message should specifically request that the Army Corps of Engineers deny Dominion Power's application for a Section 404 permit for this project.
Comments can also  be posted at the NTHP website's Share Your Story tab.
For more details on how the ACOE must conduct its review for the 404 permit, please go to information offered by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation: Protecting Historic Properties:A CITIZEN’S GUIDE TO SECTION 106 REVIEW
Here is an example of language in letters already sent:

"This proposed project would also compromise the learning experience of thousands of schoolchildren and international and national visitors that annually gain a better understanding of the origins of our nation and the relevance of the archeological discoveries that are made almost daily by the Jamestown Rediscovery Project with the cooperation of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Smithsonian Institution. It would interfere with needed perception and appreciation of the circumstances and situation of our earliest pioneers at the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Their lives, customs, work and religious practices are becoming better known and new stories are unfolding from the relics and artifacts being recovered from that archaeological dig, now ending its second decade.

"Dominion Power has excellent technological and economical underwater alternatives for achieving its energy transmission needs that are well proven in Long Island, New York, Canada and other places in the world (and planned for the Hudson River and San Francisco Bay) that need not have the undesirable results that its current proposal would create.

"We owe much to what those early Virginia settlers accomplished and should take a strong interest in opposing this project. Among what we owe them are for how they began and evolved the American westward expansion in the 17th century; created our real estate industry by the land grants of private property to common persons (men and women, including my ancestors); and established basic elements of our successful governmental system that were adopted into our Constitution several decades later.

"Jamestown’s founding, however, has a much deeper meaning than merely being one of our national origins. It was the seminal incident that introduced the opportunities to innovate many profound social, political, and economic tenets that have come down to us through our history. Their lasting effect is what has differentiated Jamestown from other preceding or contemporary English and European settlements in America."


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jamestowne Society to Commerate the 400th Wedding Anniversary of Pocahontas and John Rolfe

First California Company, Jamestowne Society will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, at 1 PM on Sunday, March 2 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott hotel.

That April 5, 1614 event was very significant in the initial establishment of our nation, as it ended the first Anglo-Powhatan war and enabled the inhabitants of the first permanent English settlement in North America to pursue the agricultural development of tobacco. Its pursuit created the economic basis for Jamestown to become the first boomtown in America, and, later, would similarly help support the Revolution. 

First California Company will feature a presentation by Karenne Wood, Director of the Virginia Indian Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. She will discuss Pocahontas and Women’s Role in Virginian Indian History,” which will likely include the wedding from an Indian perspective, Pocahontas as a member the Virginia tribe who met the Jamestown settlers and daughter of its paramount chief, and their culture.

First California Company will also recognize the Pocahontas descendants who are in attendance, who would be thirteen generations removed.

This also also complements a yearlong commemoration by Historic Jamestown that will include a program at the site of the wedding on the date of the anniversary.

If you have further questions or need clarification, please contact Governor Ginny Gotlieb of First California Company.

To request an invitation, please contact First California Company’s Secretary. The response deadline is February 15.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Update on Save the James

James City County is seeking to derail the planned intrusive transmission power line tower project across the James River by appealing the approval ruling of the Virginia Corporation Commission to the Commonwealth's Supreme Court.

The Save the James Alliance has published a list of sources of information.