Virginia Historical Society Takes Innovative Look at Jamestown’s 400th

Exhibition Examines Settling and “Unsettling” of North America by English, French, Spanish
February 27, 2007

Richmond, VA—1607 marked the beginning of a turning point in world history. It was a collision of empires, cultures, and ideas. The first permanent English settlement was established at Jamestown, but that was just the beginning. In the following years, the French would establish Québec (1608), and the Spanish would push north from Mexico to establish Santa Fe (1609). The “New World” offered the hope of opportunity to Europeans, but Native Americans and, soon, Africans would pay the price. A new exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS), co-organized with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, tells the story of dramatic twists of fate, strategic alliances, and violent conflict between the three mighty European empires and the Native people living in North America. It is a story that changed the face of the world as we know it today.

Jamestown, Québec, Santa Fe: Three North American Beginnings will be on display March 17 through September 3, 2007. The exhibition will be presented in three languages and with multiple perspectives. “This exhibition is going to give the audience a broader perspective,” said Dr. James C. Kelly, director of museums at the VHS. “People tend to think of Jamestown as an isolated incident, but in many ways, Jamestown is a small part of a much larger story. The colonization of North America was not just a westward movement from a single starting point. The stage had been set for quite a few years before Jamestown. Many Native people had prior contact with Europeans and trade had already been established in several of areas. It was the permanence and eventual expansion of the colonies that intensified all the forces that had been set in motion by initial contact.”

Jamestown, Québec, Santa Fe: Three North American Beginnings utilizes rare surviving Native and European artifacts, maps, documents, and ceremonial objects from museums and royal collections on both sides of the Atlantic. The result is a path-breaking exhibition. A 1622 broadside advises English settlers on what to pack for their journey to the Virginia. A wampum belt from the French royal collection illustrates how gift-giving became an important tactic as the French sought alliances with the Huron people. Spanish armor engraved with Christian symbols exemplifies the religious dimension of the Spanish conquest of New Mexico.

“The English, French and Spanish were all establishing these three permanent settlements almost simultaneously. This exhibition helps museum visitors understand the multinational nature of North American history and absorb the implications of that legacy,” said Barbara Clark Smith, co-curator of the exhibition and Colonial history curator at the National Museum of American History.

This exhibition is made possible with the generous support of LandAmerica, Robins Foundation, Jamestown 2007, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Educational resources include a catalog of essays and artifacts as well as a Banner Lecture by Dr. Kelly Thursday April 19, 2007, and gallery walks through the exhibition on May 23 and August 22, 2007.

After showing at the VHS, the exhibition travels to the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis (28 October 2007–16 March 2008), the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Québec (9 May–7 September 2008), the Albuquerque Museum, New Mexico (25 October, 2008–29 March, 2009) and to the Smithsonian’s International Gallery (tentative dates, 18 May, 2009–31 October, 2009).

The Virginia Historical Society invites visitors to reexamine this important part of world history through the eyes of the powerful, the dispossessed, and the enslaved.  Although a private, non-profit institution, the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) is unique in that it is the Official State Historical Society of Virginia. The VHS is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, an American Experience, a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday–Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m.–5 p.m. (Museum Galleries only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries only), free/ under 18 and members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit