This Day (The Horror! The Horror! Edition)

Published:April 26, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1607, English colonists first dropped anchor in the Chesapeake Bay.* Twenty to thirty of them spent the day ashore before, at dusk, being attacked by Indians. That night, after repairing to his ship, Captain Christopher Newport ceremoniously dusted off a special sealed box. You see, remarkably, the Virginia Company had not yet informed the colonists of who among them would sit on the Council, the seven-man body charged with making decisions and dispensing justice in the king’s new dominion. In the box, were the names of all the councillors, and when Newport opened it, he found that one of them was, to his horror … John Smith!

Ewww. John Smith! Everybody hated John Smith! He nearly had  been executed on the way over, and when the ships pulled up in front of Virginia, he was still in shackles.

Not an auspicious start, perhaps. But it must have worked out well enough — at least for the English — because three hundred years later, on this date, the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition opened in Norfolk, celebrating the landmark moment in United States history. It became notorious for what one congressman described as its “glorification of war.” In fact, the fair’s midway — called the “Midway” at other World’s Fairs — in Norfolk was officially dubbed the “War Path.”


(Our entry on the early settlement at Jamestown is a work-in-progress, by the way, but should be published very soon.)

* Technically they weren’t the first. The Roanoke colonists actually spent the winter of 1585–1586 in the Chesapeake.

IMAGE: Cape Henry Landing by Sidney King