Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fort Algernoune Conference in Hampton, VA

This event is scheduled now to attract attention to the Fort Monroe site, which is scheduled to be vacated by the Federal Government in Sept. 2011. When that happens, the fate of the base is up for grabs by the park service and developers. The tug-...a-war begins and the teams are being selected. Anyway, I was there to root for the park service, archaeologists, historians (like myself) who want this site preserved and not demolished for a shopping mall. The fate of Fort Algernoune is seriously in the balance, although the larger Fort Monroe is assured of its place.

Many eminent historians and archaeologists presented papers on Fort Algernoune or issues pertinent to it. Two of my personal heroes were present, Dr. Ivor Noel Hume and Dr. Karen Ordahl Kupperman. They have many scholarly works on Jamestown, Martin's Hundred, Native Americans associated with early English colonies, and of course, our own Roanoke Island and Fort Raleigh. While there, I met another gentleman that I have only seen in a special on James Fort's recent discovery. You see, like me, Bill Kelso learned as a kid that "James Fort" had washed into the sea, despite the fact that construction of a sea wall in 1901 intersected a wall of the old fort and earlier notes of a wall of post holes were made during the building of earthworks during the Civil War, also lending clues to the fort's presence. Bill Kelso located James Fort and found that the greater part of it was saved thanks to that sea wall, built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1901. He has since become "Mr. Jamestown" among historical circles. Thousands of artifacts have come from his digs, changing forever our perception of this first English fortification in the New World.

Sunday was a bust for the Fort Wool tour so I went west on I-64 to see Yorktown Battlefield instead. Then, a trip to Jamestown Island. Funny thing happened at Jamestown Island... I found out that Dr. Kelso is a resident there and personally oversees the dig 24-7. If it were my baby, I would, too. Then, on the way back, I stopped in to Edenton for more than fuel. Edenton was the long-time capital of North Carolina from its beginnings as a colony, since the separation with South Carolina in 1719. I just had to take some pictures, especially the downtown waterfront.

To the pictures:

The title pic is the destination and the abode for the conference. My question was, if this is a hotel, then why did we stay at the one in Downtown Hampton? Well, turns out that this is now a retirement home... but, it used to be a hotel and still has the conference facilities.

This is the main entrance to Fort Monroe. Note the traffic lights at the entrance. Yes, a car will fit in that tiny opening... one at a time, of course. The interior of the fort looks like a city unto itself.

This is a model of the layout of Fort Monroe.

This is a model of what we once believed Fort Algernoune to look like. Today, after Bill Kelso's excavations of James Fort at Jamestown, the fort is believed now to look like a similar triangle, but with the top angle 90 degrees while the bottom two angles are 45 degrees. It's a bit different. But, no change in the basic layout.

On the way to Hampton Museum of History from my hotel, I passed this... just a block away. There's more, too...

More history... these markers are right beside the Virginia Air & Space Center.

A daytime view of the marina from the parking deck. This is just off the coast at James River and just south of the location of Fort Monroe. This shot was taken Sunday morning before leaving Hampton for Yorktown Battlefield!

And, here we are at Yorktown. That was fast, huh? This is just outside the visitor's center, in the British line of defenses, if I'm not mistaken.

Now, with the powder, plunger, sponge, etc. we prepare to fire the cannon... we take range, aim...

There's our target... that lone British cannon on the hill, get ready... fire!


Clean out with the sponge, load the powder, ram, wadding, ram, lead shot, ram... Once more dear friends!!!... then get arrested by the Park Service!

Inside the center is a full size mock up of a ship-of-the-line. This is a very realistic version of I guess the captain's quarters. The facilities are a bit nice for an average sailor. The table has a raised edge to prevent spillage in rough weather and the bed (box on left is hanging from cords so that it will swing with the motion of the waves. I imagine that this could have been rather comfortable.

The next room houses some paddle-operated stone blade sharpeners and cannon! You will notice that the cannon used are real cannon that were pulled from the York River (some of them may have come from the HMS Charon; I didn't get a clear response from the ranger on this).

This interior of a tent is obviously that of a high-level officer. I was curious as to the reason that it was blocked off to the public by glass.

The trunk barely visible thanks to the glare of the glass has George Washington's name on it, so the tent is supposed to be his field office. After I looked at this exhibit, I stopped to talk to the friendly park ranger at the counter who informed me that the glass is up there for a very good reason... the tent IS George Washington's and so is the trunk!

Yorktown Victory Monument. The monument was authorized October 29, 1781 by Congress, just after the Battle was over on October 17th. Construction was not begun until 100 years later, completed in 1884. Of interesting note is that the original statue of "Liberty" was damaged by lightening (need another lightening rod, Ben!) and replaced by 1956.

This diagram gives a good description of the view seen and its place. I imagine that the island in the background may be the one where "Benny" Tarleton ("Bloody" Tarleton to most southerners) was waiting with reinforcements and to where Cornwallis hoped to escape to when the battle turned against him. He was thwarted in this plan by bad weather, like the weather that thwarted my tour of Fort Wool!

This is the historic district of Yorktown. The monument and park where I was at earlier is at the end of the street in the distance.

Hop the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown...

And arrive in this swampy mess, on an island with no fresh water source, filled with mosquitoes, not inhabited even by the Native Americans, became the site of the first "successful" English colony in North America, the famous Jamestown, Virginia, founded 1607 (thank you, Mr. Driggers!). Why here? It's complicated. It had to do with being on the river, accessible to the Atlantic and to supplies from England, upriver enough to be defensible against the Spanish (who claimed the land the English colonists were squatting on), and apart from the Indians enough to be comfortable. The result was near starvation for a greater part of the colony, some possible incidence of cannibalism, and general disarray of order. Strenuous beginnings, to be sure.

Jamestown National Historic Site is owned by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Here we are at the entrance to the original fort area, the Jamestown Church, and the grand statue of John Smith. The lady on wheels has got the right idea... this ol' pirate was getting worn out after that Jamestown Island tour with its many side-treks.

Jamestown Church, partially built in 1639 in Jamestown, Virginia, is one of the oldest surviving buildings built by Europeans in the original thirteen colonies. It is attached to the remaining bell tower of the first church, built in 1639. The present location of the church, and, presumably, the first church was built on one wall of the original fort. That sort of indicates the disappearance of the fort by that time. Of course, a fort built from rough wood planks doesn't stand up well to Indian attack... and especially, hurricanes. The church seen here was built by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in 1906, and the original cobble-stone foundations of the older church may be viewed behind glass in the wall/floor.

Pocohontas. There is far too much information to include here on this famous personage. Needless to say, I will leave it to you to look that up on wikipedia or whatever reference you choose. Let me just say that John Smith's accounts of the (actually 15-year old girl) young lady saving his life were probably exaggerated. I mean, Smith himself told the story much later than it actually occurred and his original report said nothing about her saving his life. Playing to an audience. I guess he knew what he was doing, though... the tale stuck. She did marry John Rolfe, though and traveled to England. But, she died soon after, probably from European diseases from which she had no natural defenses. Good statue, though. I'm not sure how accurate it is. I'm not that familiar with Powhatan dress codes.

The bell tower that remains from the 1639 structure.

Captain John Smith himself... well, the statue made in honor of himself. This faces out from a position of prominence over the James River. The archaeological dig is immediately behind the statue, but due to the dreary weather, it was covered with a heavy plastic tarp.

This is a reconstruction of the palisade facing the water. The barracks has been partially re-built as well. The palisade continues to the bastion and cannon placements are at the far end. The one behind me is the only part of the fort's structure that was claimed by the river erosion before 1901, when the sea wall was built.

Another cannon... boy, is it a good day for me! I was able to talk my way out of the troubles at Yorktown, so I'll leave this one well enough alone... for now. This replica is made to resemble the cannon likely at the fort from 1607 on.

Back toward East Carolina University and some decent barbeque!

Entrance to the famed Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT), a 23-mile long tunnel-bridge combo that connects the Delmarva Peninsula with southeastern Virginia. I saw a TV special on this tunnel and the difficulties in building it. Lots of trouble!

The trip was relatively successful... I learned alot, asked probably too many questions, annoyed park officials, and spent way too much money! But, this is America's birthplace. Well, for a North Carolinian like myself, this is the "second" birthplace... Roanoke is the main dude! You just can't beat 1587!

Oh... one more thing... can't pass North Carolina's first capital city without stopping...

Happy History from Edenton on the Chowan River!

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