It all started here

March 13, 2017

Our travels this fall took us down the east coast from Maine to Florida. We had not spent much time traveling in the east before this; except for an occasional trip to Williamsburg or New York, most of our vacation trips have been to western destinations. But now we got to explore some of the eastern US.  From Maine to Florida we had stops that took us to Boston, Washington DC, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Roanoke, Kitty Hawk, Charleston, and Saint Augustine, just to name a few. These places are all loaded with history, and much of it deals with the founding of our country.

As we visited different places, we learned more about the early European settlers, the Revolutionary War against Britain, the Civil Wars, and the first powered flight in the US, at Kitty Hawk, NC. But the thing that we learned the most about was the early explorers/settlers from Europe. And the phrase that we heard the most was "It all started here".

Plymouth Rock/Plimoth Plantation

In school we had been taught that the founding of our nation happened when the Pilgrims stepped onto Plymouth Rock in 1620. This was re-enforced with lessons about the first Thanksgiving, with picture of happy Pilgrims and happy Indians sitting down together at picnic tables for a bountiful turkey dinner. The reality for the Pilgrims was more on the grim side. They landed in November, way north of where they were supposed to be and months later than they should have. Half their number died in the first winter, they didn't know how to grow appropriate crops for the climate, and while some of the Indians took pity on them and fed them, others saw them as intruders and tried to wipe them out.

Overall, it wasn't a great start for our country, but a start nonetheless. At least that's what we learned in school. But in our travels this fall, we learned that this is the northerner's view of history. The south has a different version.


The Jamestown settlement sits on an island near the town of Williamsburg, VA. Williamsburg is the home of Colonial Williamsburg, the largest living history museum in the US (more on that in another post).  One hundred and four men and boys landed at Jamestown in 1607 to found the first permanent British settlement in North America--13 years before the Pilgrims. Note that they neglected to bring any women with them. This was a mistake that the Pilgrims would not repeat. As it is difficult to make a permanent settlement without women, they imported a bunch to Jamestown in later years. (How long did it take them to figure this out? Twelve years.)

At Jamestown, we had a tour led by an archaeologist. That's him in the top picture, in his element. He explained that, no matter what you heard at Plymouth, it really "all started here," as the Jamestown settlement predates the Pilgrims. According to our tour guide, the history books were changed after the Civil War to feature the Pilgrims in the north as the founding group for our country, rather than the Jamestown settlers in the south. This is what happens when you win a war: you get to rewrite the history books. Well, you might think that this would settle the issue of where and when "it all started."  After all, our tour guide is a real archaeologist, who figures stuff out by digging in the ground. And we had seen him on TV, on a History channel program on Jamestown. But our journey continued south.

The colony at Roanoke island was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585. Note that this was 22 years before Jamestown. When you visit the site, guides and signs will tell you that "it all started here." This group of settlers was plagued by lack of food, disease, and attacks by the native people already living there (sound familiar?), and resupply from England was sporadic at best. In 1590, a resupply ship landed and discovered that all the settlers had disappeared. To this day, no one knows where they went, which is why this is now called "The Lost Colony at Roanoke." As this colony disappeared, it can't be called the first "permanent" colony, but it did predate Jamestown.  But, we continued south.

Saint Augustine

In 1513, Ponce de Leon came to Florida to escape the harsh winters of Spain. He found the fountain of youth (which is why everyone in Florida is so young now), and in 1565 the city of Saint Augustine was officially founded. The folks in Saint Augustine will tell you that "it all started here." Note that 1565 is 20 years before Roanoke, and Saint Augustine did not disappear. This makes it "America's Enduring Colony." But since it was owned by Spain, and we eventually became a British colony, it doesn't really count, at least as far as the history writers anywhere north of Saint Augustine are concerned. More info on Saint Augustine here. We didn't hear much about the early settlers in Saint Augustine having problems with crops, or disease, or indigenous people. They seemed to have more issues with the French, and with pirates. But as they were conquistadors, they had no trouble dispatching their enemies.  

The other thing that Saint Augustine is famous for is this:

That's right, the oldest wood school house in the USA. I imagine that someone can do a study of old school houses and find the stone one, the brick one, the one made out of bark, or clay, or sod.  But I'll leave that for another time. Just know that "it all started here,"

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