A Second Founding

William M. Kelso started digging a century after the first excavations. Using maps and writings, he succeeded where others had failed. (Bill O'leary - Twp)

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

JAMESTOWN, Va. -- Once again, the three brave ships will sail the mighty James and moor by Virginia's fair shore.

But this weekend, it will be to the noise of a party -- the 400th anniversary celebration of the first permanent English settlement here in 1607. There will be feasts, music, reenactments and a visit by President Bush on Sunday.

Yet lost, perhaps, amid the celebration of the famed landings, is an achievement of another kind -- one not of adventure, but of science.

Much that is new and exciting in the story of Jamestown is the result of discoveries made in the past 13 years by a white-haired 66-year-old archeologist named William M. Kelso, who found something here no other archaeologist had been able to find in a century of looking:

The long-lost site of Jamestown's fort.

Kelso's findings, unfolding quietly over more than a decade, take Jamestown's story back to its beginning, experts say, and rank among the greatest in North American archeology in the past 50 years.

"It's a big deal," said Carter L. Hudgins, chairman of the department of history and American studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. "It's something you thought you'd never be able to look at. . . . We can now begin with the letter A. We don't have to begin with the letter D."

Kelso himself seems astonished. Last week he hosted the queen of England and Vice President Cheney. This week, the president. He chuckles: "This is the whole ball of wax, man."

On May 14, 1607, after a voyage of almost five months -- attended by what was probably Halley's Comet in the night sky -- a hundred or so colonists came ashore on Jamestown Island. It is now a low-lying 1,500-acre tract of loblolly pines, sweet gum trees and marsh grass on the lower James about 150 miles south of Washington.

The colonists, who had left London in December, had sailed into the Chesapeake Bay almost three weeks earlier aboard three ships: the Discovery, the Godspeed and the Susan Constant.

They had been attacked by some Indians and befriended by others and had found the land brimming with wildlife, fruit and flowers, like a paradise.

The voyagers located one likely settling spot, but the water was shallow and their ships would have to anchor out in the river. At Jamestown, the river was "six fathom" deep near the shore, one of them wrote later, and the ships could be moored close and lashed to the trees.


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