Ken Plum: Celebrating with understanding
Four hundred years ago next year will be the quadricentennial of important events happening in Virginia in 1619. Those events are not the rah-rah kind of happenings that are too often recognized with simple merriment. They are not examined for what we can learn from whence we came to understand how we got to where we are. The English established their first permanent colony in what became America in 1607; they did not “discover” America. There were an estimated 50,000 residents on the North American continent when the English bumped into the continent on their way to the riches of the Far East. The Spanish had visited the mid-Atlantic region decades before the English arrived but did not stick around since they found no gold or fountain of youth.
The indigenous people living in what the English named Virginia had a form of government in a confederation under the Great Chief Powhatan, an agricultural system, environmental protection, and a religion based on the natural spirits. They resented the people showing up in great ships and booming guns and taking land on which their forbears had lived for as many as 15,000 years. There should be no surprise that the indigenous people begrudged these illegal immigrants coming and taking their land and responded with what some people called savagery.
Joining the new settlers at the community they called Jamestowne in 1619 were an essential component of keeping a community thriving into the future–women. Just in time for the 2019 celebration, the Women’s Commission has construction underway for a monument celebrating the contributions of women in making Virginia thrive. Not a bit too soon!
Women were invited to join the men at Jamestowne to help start a new life in a new world. Not invited to join the white men and women were the enslaved Africans who were dropped off at Jamestowne without their consent and with an indentured servant agreement that could never be paid off. The enslaved Africans in 1619 were the first that would be brought to the colony to work in the tobacco fields and to do the hard labors without any of the benefits a new start in life was supposed to bring. The relationship between the white and black populations in Virginia was to dominate so much of the history of the state to the senseless killings of the Civil War and the complexities of race relations today.
In 1619 representatives of the plantations in the colony of Virginia met together in the mud-dab constructed church in Jamestowne to form a local government, much like a homeowner’s association, because the real power of governance continued to reside in London. That meeting is celebrated as the first meeting of representative government tracing its beginning in 1619 through the Revolutionary War, with a slight deviation of the Civil War, to today.
Please keep up with the celebrations for next year by visiting the website of www.americanevolution2019.com or watch for announcements of events in my electronic newsletter, Virginia E-News, available by free subscription (sign up at kenplum.com). In our celebrations, let’s continue to critically examine where we are in light of where we have been.