ALEXANDRIA

From Jamestown the Old-Fashioned Way

The Godspeed, a reproduction of a 17th-century ship, travels toward the Alexandria waterfront after passing under the new and old Woodrow Wilson bridges.
The Godspeed, a reproduction of a 17th-century ship, travels toward the Alexandria waterfront after passing under the new and old Woodrow Wilson bridges. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 27, 2006

As the Godspeed sailed toward Old Town Alexandria yesterday, joggers ran past on the banks of the Potomac River and parents pushed strollers, hardly noticing the three tall masts and British flags that announced the arrival of a historic reproduction.

But over the past four days, Eric Speth and his crew navigated the waters from Jamestown to Alexandria much as the English colonists did 400 years ago, albeit with the help of twin 115-horsepower diesel engines. Still, along the way, he said, they imagined what life would have been like aboard the 88-foot ship and how the settlers must have felt when they finally came upon land.

"It's all very exciting to imagine that," Speth said, standing on the dock at Founders Pier as the crew worked to prepare the vessel for a week-long celebration. Alexandria is one of six port cities the ship will visit this summer during a promotional tour to kick off a year-long commemoration of the 1607 Jamestown settlement.

There will also be stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Newport, R.I., and Boston. Numerous other celebrations are planned throughout the year, and a Web site devoted to teaching young students about the ship's first journey offers free lesson plans to educators.

Beginning today in Alexandria, the Godspeed will be open to the public, a floating museum of sorts where Speth and his crew, dressed in period costumes, will talk to visitors about the vessel and about what life was like for the original sailors. A 30,000-square-foot area beneath white tents will offer live music, historical displays and exhibits.

The Godspeed -- a re-creation of one of the three ships that carried the country's first permanent English-speaking colonists from England to the commonwealth, where they landed May 14, 1607 -- replaces a replica built in the 1980s. It will also serve as an exhibit at Jamestown Settlement, a living-history museum of 17th-century Virginia.

As crew members worked to convert the $2.65 million vessel into "museum mode," hiding from view such modern conveniences as a shower, a small kitchen and navigational equipment, Speth stood barefoot on the pier. At its core, he said, the Godspeed is a true "educational experience," one that will serve as a reminder of the nation's heritage.

On the banks of Jamestown 400 years ago, Indians from several tribes greeted the English colonists. Yesterday, four chiefs were on hand to greet the Godspeed, this time calling for federal recognition that has been long denied.

Flanked by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), the chiefs held a news conference to urge support for legislation that would grant the tribes their "long-awaited rights," Moran said.

"Virginia's tribes have long been used as a prop for Jamestown," said Moran, author of House Resolution 3349. "Now it's time that we used Jamestown as a prop for the tribes."

"The people who came over on Godspeed were English aristocrats," he continued. "They didn't know how to fend for themselves. They would not have survived had they not been taught how to. . . . In return, the Indians were robbed of their land and possessions, and, most importantly, they were robbed of their identity."

Virginia's six tribes seeking federal recognition are the Chickahominy, the Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond tribes. More than 560 tribes in the United States receive federal recognition, Moran said.

Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy tribe said he has no doubt that, had it not been for the Native Americans, the successes of 400 years ago would not have been achieved. "It's a grave injustice to live on the land of the free and the home of the brave and not be recognized," he said.

Watching the vessel approach Alexandria, the chiefs said it was only natural to imagine their ancestors awaiting the original ship's landing at Jamestown. It was a moment of mixed emotion, with equal parts anticipation and sadness.

"We are Americans and we love this country, we love this soil," said Chief Kenneth Adams of the Upper Mattaponi tribe, dressed in tribal wear. "But when I think of the ways the Indians lost their land, their history, their culture, it makes my stomach turn."


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