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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 13
    PUBLICATION YEAR 2009

    Document Title
    America's 400th Anniversary Jamestown 2007 Steering Committee Report

    Author
    Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

    Enabling Authority
    Chapter 159 (Regular Session, 2009)

    Executive Summary
    Virginia has led our nation in the commemoration of the founding of Jamestown every fifty years beginning in 1807. In 2007 the 400th anniversary was the most successful of all of these observances. Thirteen signature events were produced over eighteen months, attracting high-profile national and international leaders such as President George W. Bush, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The events varied in size, location, and emphasis, with more than 2.5 million people participating on site in at least one signature event. An additional million students and teachers participated online during the “Jamestown Live!” educational webcast. Television broadcasts of the 2007 State of the Black Union on C-SPAN and TVOne, subsequent telecasts of “Jamestown Live!” on The History Channel, and airings of the Jamestown 2007-produced one-hour syndicated special of America’s Anniversary Weekend carried these three signature events into more than 150 million additional American households.

    The Virginia 2007 Community Program enrolled 181 localities and organizations representing nearly the entire Commonwealth. Collectively they planned and produced more than 1,000 additional programs and events that engaged hundreds of thousands more people. Partnerships were formed with 150 state and national organizations, some of which produced events that involved even more participation. Virginia 2007 Community Program and partner events together involved more than 1.4 million people within the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    Supported over twelve years by the Commonwealth of Virginia, America’s 400th Anniversary was conceived and implemented as a public-private partnership effort of great magnitude. Its success was achieved through the vision and resources committed by the elected leadership of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the determination of volunteer leadership and professional staff, the foresight and generosity of more than a dozen companies and institutions that joined the commemoration as corporate sponsors, and the support of local governments. The combined financial support, representing more than $48 million, ensured the world-class stature of the commemoration’s signature events and many complementary educational programs. The Commonwealth was the strongest and most consistent supporter of the commemoration, providing seed money for planning as early as the mid-1990s, and ultimately it was the largest financial contributor. Local governments, especially James City County, where Jamestown is located, also provided critical resources throughout. In addition, corporate sponsors not only made significant financial investments, but also contributed many services and the involvement of their employees.

    More than $400 million of public and private funding supported important infrastructure improvements and expanded educational programming that prepared the Historic Triangle for the anniversary. Foundations and individual donors generously supported fundraising campaigns conducted by APVA Preservation Virginia, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc., and the National Park Service. The result of these campaigns — new museums and galleries, expanded and revitalized outdoor living-history exhibits, new historical interpretive programs, and improved hotels and visitor centers — will provide a superior guest experience for years to come.

    The greatest success of the commemoration, however, and the one that will have the longest-lasting benefit, is that America’s 400th Anniversary served as a platform to convey a new, more accurate, more inclusive, and therefore more compelling story of Jamestown, one not well known to most Americans before the commemoration. In fact, many Americans regarded the colony as either a historical footnote or an outright failure. However, the new research, programs, events, exhibitions, and publications fostered by the commemoration worked to overcome this uninformed version of the significance of Jamestown. One factor that long contributed to the popular misunderstanding of Jamestown is that Thanksgiving, a significant national holiday, has focused mainly on English settlers in Massachusetts. In November 2007 President George W. Bush participated in an event at Berkeley Plantation on the James River, which was the site of a Thanksgiving that predated the Massachusetts Colony. His visit helped balance the popular understanding of history.

    The Jamestown story is not easily communicated. It is complicated, often sad, and, like many true human stories, does not have a clear resolution. With the exception of the romantic myth of John Smith and Pocahontas, most elements of the story do not lend themselves to mass marketing. The commemoration provided a needed reassessment of the nation’s first days. It also communicated this message far and wide, earning approximately 12 billion media impressions in the United States alone during the eighteen months of events.

    Located on the shore of the James River about forty miles inland from the Chesapeake Bay, Jamestown is important as the site of the first successful, permanent English settlement in America. It was founded on May 13, 1607, when 104 men selected the island location in part for its qualities as a defensible site. The establishment of Jamestown begins the modern history of our country. In the long term, its success shaped the legal, political, economic, and cultural development of the United States. In the short term, its success also made possible subsequent English settlements up and down the East Coast of North America.

    The capital of the Virginia colony until 1699, Jamestown was the place where British America’s first representative body met in 1619, laying the foundation for democracy and establishing the rule of law. That elected body eventually became the Virginia General Assembly.

    At Jamestown, English settlers encountered well-established native peoples with successful, complex societies. The first documented Africans (Angolans) in English America were brought ashore at Jamestown in 1619, marking the start of a relationship that would result in oppression and bondage for more than two centuries. These three cultural groups came together at Jamestown and formed the basis of America’s diverse modern society, one of the nation’s strengths. Additionally, Jamestown settlers worked to create the first wealth-producing industries in the English colonies, establishing opportunities for land ownership and setting the stage for a free enterprise economic system. For all these reasons, Jamestown remains relevant four centuries after the initial English settlement; its history continues to provide valuable lessons.