Historic Jamestown at Risk from Rising Seas

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell got a firsthand look Thursday at the effect of climate change on ever-receding Jamestown island, concluding that America’s first permanent European settlement is clearly vulnerable to rising seas. Led by National Park Service rangers, Jewell trekked around the island, where some sections now lie beneath the James River, and heard of the devastation in 2003 when Hurricane Isabel raked the low-lying landscape. The storm left many parts of the island underwater and destroyed thousands of artifacts retrieved from archaeological digs. Many are still being restored.

A 1 1/2-foot rise in sea level would put 60 percent of the island under water and a 4-foot -plus rise would increase that number to 80 percent.

You can read more about this danger in an Associated Press article at http://goo.gl/aZCgni.

My thanks to newsletter reader Ritchie Hansen for telling me about this story.

5 Comments

Perhaps they need to put a 6-foot wall all around the island. Would not prevent the sea water from coming in eventually but should delay it. Or maybe move all the artifacts to higher land and reproduce the island inland. Sad to see this happen but the rise in sea water seems inevitable unless we have some really cold weather for the next few years. Many of our East Coast cities are in danger. Sure glad I don’t live on the coast.

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I read James A. Michener’s “Chesapeake” many years ago, and he explained the disappearing island problem there. The island where most of the action took place was found to be wearing away due to the composition of the ground as well as weather action, etc. Islands formed at one time and then were subject to erosion over a great deal of time. Coastal lands too, of course, if they were of the same composition. There was no narration about rising sea levels. Eventually, in the novel, the Indian tribe that lived there had to go elsewhere because the land mass couldn’t any longer sustain them. Sea walls, such as are used in Florida, might help–but then again, they might only be a temporary fix, I don’t know. BTW, I wish the “Enter your comment here…” directions at the beginning of this field would disappear when we type into it. Right now there’s no way to proof what is written at the beginning. At least not on my darkish monitor.

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I hope someone has corrected Sec. Jewell that Jamestown is not America’s first permanent European settlement, and that St. Augustine, Florida is the first permanent European settlement. Jamestown is the first permanent English settlement. Both are coastal and subject to hurricane tides and have been since they were settled.

It is unfortunate that artifacts that were safe in the ground for centuries, have been excavated by archaeologist, and are now in harms way. I think there may be a disconnect in responsibility at issue here.

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Whenever the mainstream media report stories about rising sea levels one crucial item is always missing? Hard data. All the stories tell us how much the sea will rise in the future but pointedly ignore how much the sea level has risen in the past. Why? Could it be because there is absolutely NO DATA that indicates any sea level rise to be alarmed about? The world’s leading expert on sea levels, Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner, has pronounced all the scare stories about rising sea levels to be untrue. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/5067351/Rise-of-sea-levels-is-the-greatest-lie-ever-told.html

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Kathryn Marie Kelly June 19, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Hurricane Isabel is responsible for the flood damage, a rising sea level is not.
I quote:
“Excavations began in 1994 with the hopes of finding some evidence of the original 1607 James Fort.” – APVA (http://apva.org/rediscovery/page.php?page_id=1)
Now…..why did historians wait so long? Why wait until 1994 to excavate a significant piece of history? Historians honestly thought that the original Fort Jamestowne was submerged in the James River because published reports led them to believe that the sea level had risen significantly since 1607:
“As early as 1837, eyewitness accounts claimed that the fort lay submerged in the James River. They were basing this statement on the assumption that a lone cypress tree one hundred yards off shore at the western end of the island marked the place where, according to chronicler George Percy, the settlers’ ships could be moored to the trees. It was assumed that the fort site was situated in that general vicinity and had since eroded away. ”
Then:
“….armed with years of experience accumulated while conducting research and rescue excavations on 17th-century farm sites along the James River….”Archaeologists Dr. William Kelso, Bly Straube, Nicholas Luccketti, and Ivor Noel Hume…..” ( – Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now Preservation Virginia)) determined that it was possible that remains of the Jamestowne fort could be found.
And….voila….given the research, remains of the fort were found in the vicinity of the church, as determined by the archealogists.
Let us tell the truth about this disaster. It is certainly a shame that valuable artifacts were damaged due to an ‘Act of God'; but blaming rising sea levels does not help anyone to find a solution that will prevent further damage in the future.

Some background info:
Let us put into perspective the truth of the origins of Fort Jamestowne.
The first colonists were extremely proud that they were ‘Englishmen.’ They thought like Englishmen; they acted like Englishmen; they talked like Englishmen; they worshiped like Englishmen; they ate like Englishmen; they farmed like Englishmen; they built their fort like Englishmen. By golly, they were ENGLISHMEN. And so…. they dressed like Englishmen. ALWAYS. During the humid heat of the Virginia summer, they wore layers of clothing under heavy Armour. And because they were Englishmen, they did not bathe. So, then, The Englishmen were overdressed, smelly people that decided to settle in the middle of a swamp. This low ground that they settled is a SWAMP.
When the ‘Discovery’, the ‘Susan Constant’, and the ‘Godspeed’ arrived at the island that the first settlers called Jamestowne, there were NO Native Americans in the vicinity. It was approximately one year after the settlement of the colony that Native Americans discovered the colonists.
And the Native Americans wondered, “Who are these SMELLY, COMPLETELY DRESSED people living in the middle of a SWAMP? They must be CRAZY.”
Not everything that Captain John Smith wrote about the Virginia Colony may be true.
In the succeeding years books recounting the adventures of explorers, such as the fiction tale “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe……. ” were very popular. Captain John Smith’s writings had an audience:
“Captain John Smith’s first writings about Jamestown were sent it to England on a supply ship, along with an early map, even before his landmark voyages. This account was published as “A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Noate As Hath Happened in Virginia.” …..
When Captain John Smith returned to England, he expanded his letter into a book, which he published along with his remarkable map in 1612 as Proceedings of the English Colony of Virginia. The book is in two parts—one part written by Captain John Smith and the other part written by several of his crew including Walter Russell, Anas Todkill, and Thomas Momford….
Many years later, Captain John Smith published two more books: Generall Historie of Virginia (1624), and The True Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith (1630)”” -http://www.smithtrail.net/captain-john-smith/smiths-journals/
So, getting to the heart of what did actually happen at Jamestowne Plantation in it’s first years entails a lot of detective work. The determination of the location of the original fort took a lot of sifting through the evidence of time. We can be thankful for the evidence, and the clues to the past that the archaeologists have unearthed; and we need to find a way to preserve the artifacts for the future.

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