Monday, December 27, 2010

Colonial Williamsburg acquires historic Spanish letters describing threat at Jamestown

From the 12/26 issue of Archaeology Daily News:

Two rare early 1600s letters expressing Spanish King Phillip III's fears about the new English settlement at Jamestown have been given to Colonial Williamsburg by a best selling crime writer.

Patricia Cornwell, whose interest in the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological project dates back more than a decade, acquired the historic letters several years ago at the New York auction of an old Spanish family archive.

Written shortly after the English founded the Virginia colony in 1607, both share the king's worries with Alonso Perez du Guzman - the seventh Duke of Medina Sidonia - a prominent noble and naval commander who led the Spanish Armada's legendary attack against England in 1588.

"Philip III of Spain was concerned the English would create a base in Virginia to attack Spanish ships in the Atlantic," said Doug Mayo, associate librarian of Colonial Williamsburg's John D. Rockefeller Library, where the letters will be kept.

"He is afraid that the English are not only going to attack the Atlantic but raid as far as the Pacific and New Spain - or Mexico - as well."

Cornwell's best-selling crime novels include such titles as Scarpetta, The Book of the Dead and The Front.

The Richmond-based author has been an avid follower of the Jamestown excavation for many years, funding an intensive forensic study of early burials that shed new light on the struggles of the settlers during the near-catastrophic winter of 1609-10 - known as the "Starving Time."

"The excavation of Jamestown produces a wealth of forensics about America's past," Cornwell said.

"It is all about how we began, who we were and who we are and why. I can't think of a more worthy and exciting project, and I'm so happy I've been able to participate in it over the years."

Cornwell's interest in donating the letters first surfaced about six months ago when she approached archaeologist William M. Kelso, director of the Jamestown Rediscovery project.

Her gift reflects a new collaboration between Colonial Williamsburg and Preservation Virginia - formerly the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities - that owns the site of the historic settlement and initiated the pioneering archaeological excavation in 1994.

"She asked me where the letters would do the most good," Kelso said. "And it just made sense - with this new collaboration - to send them to the Rockefeller Library."

To read this article and see a picture of one of the letters, click on the above headline or go to:

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