The Trees’ Knees

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These beautiful trees continue to stand firm along this badly eroded bank of the James River near Jamestown.  The bank drops quite suddenly, straight down by five or six feet beside the footpath at one of the parking areas along the Colonial Parkway.  Erosion has been a problem along the banks of the James and York rivers for a while now, especially extreme erosion resulting from river flooding during hurricanes and nor’easters.

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When I was in school, we learned the original settlement at Jamestown had been washed away many decades ago as the river’s banks eroded.  We satisfied ourselves with the recreation fashioned at Jamestown Festival Park, based on the records left behind by the original settlers.  Actors and actresses dressed up as native Americans and English settlers.  The public school version of history is substantially simplified and sanitized for broad consumption.

Even when I first taught American history, our curriculum perpetuated the story that the area originally inhabited in 1607 was lost.  It was at about this same time, in the early 1990s that a group of archeologists, led by Dr. William Kelso, dared to disagree.

Based on the location of the original 17th Century Jamestown church tower, they began a project called “Jamestown Rediscovery,” in 1994, and within a few seasons located evidence of the original palisade between the church and the present banks of the James River.  The project continues today, and visitors to the site may walk through the dig, watch archeologists at work, and see many recovered artifacts, including human skeletons, recovered at the site.

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I had the privilege of accompanying groups of students to the site on field trips during my last few years of teaching in public school.  The truth is uncovered at last, and students have access to a far more realistic and honest interpretation of life in this original permanent English colony along the mid-Atlantic coast.

In fact, over the last 20 to 30 years, archeologists and historians have uncovered, documented, and publicized quite a bit of our history which had remained hidden in the past.

We are learning about the European Templar Knights who explored North America more than a century before the birth of Christopher Columbus.  We have evidence of Egyptians in Arizona and Runic inscriptions in the Midwest.  And, perhaps more importantly, we are learning more about the motives and purposes of those who founded our county in the 16th through 18th centuries.

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One man, mentioned only tangentially in most history textbooks, we now know was one of the most important men driving the efforts of the Virginia Company of London.  Living a life shrouded in secrecy from his birth, never publicly acknowledged by his natural mother, although she was one of the most powerful women in the world at the time; he grew to become the driving force behind one of the most powerful secret societies in 16th Century Europe.

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One of the first true scientists, who developed the “scientific method” of Enlightenment Europe; he also helped to organize the Virginia Company, raise funds for its activity, and give it its purpose.

A prolific writer, he wrote a Utopian novel called, “The New Atlantis.”  It was so politically subversive, in its day, it was only partially publicly published, in Latin, before his passing.  His personal motto, “Occulta Veritas Tempore Patel” translates as, “Hidden truth comes to light in time.”

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We witness the fulfillment of this core belief in our own times.  Our nation was founded in an era when serious scientific inquiry was conducted in secret.  The royal governments of Europe, and the politicized churches, controlled the flow and acquisition of knowledge.  Publishing a conflicting point of view often resulted arrest, torture, even execution in the 16th Century.  Real inquiry, and serious discussion was held in closed societies of “brothers” who pledged fidelity to one another.  And the notes, correspondence, and proceedings of these societies were closely guarded.

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That is why many believe that our Founding Father, Sir Francis, shipped many of his papers, books, and artifacts to Virginia for safekeeping, well out of reach of both Royals and Priests.  The legend relates that a vault was built beneath the foundation of that original Jamestown church, and a special “library” deposited in the vault by “friends” emigrating here to Virginia during those early years of the Jamestown Colony.  Some speculate that Sir Nathaniel Bacon may have had a hand in transferring  documents and establishing this vault when he moved to Virginia in 1635.

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In fact, although Sir Francis was said to have died quite suddenly of pneumonia in 1626, while visiting a friend; there is no record of a funeral or burial for him.  His monument stands, or rather sits, in St. Michael’s Church in St.Albans; but there are those who believe he secretly boarded a ship and headed to one of his several colonies here in the “New World.”  Whether he ended up in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, or Jamestown, we don’t yet know.

What we do know, is that the contents of that original vault were supposedly transferred away from the coast, and the river, to an inland location at “Middle Plantation” sometime between the 1640s and 1683, when the original brick church was completed.  The foundation of that original structure still stands in the churchyard of the present Bruton Parish.

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Various structures in Middle Plantation were connected with a series of subterranean tunnels, which still exist.  There are those who believe that access to the vault was through one or more of these tunnels, probably even used by other “Founding Fathers” such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Henry Clay a century later.

George Wythe's home, with the Bruton Parish steeple visible across the garden.

George Wythe’s home, with the Bruton Parish steeple visible across the garden.

They would have had access from the home of friend and teacher George Wythe in order to study the documents in this most special library.  George Wythe’s home still stands near the church yard.

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Access to those tunnels may have also come with the purchase of properties, in the early 20th Century, by those who believed it important to preserve the history of Colonial Virginia.  Surely such a priceless library has been preserved, along with so much else.

Bruton Parish stands in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg, although it is not owned by the Foundation.  It is still an Episcopalian church.

Bruton Parish stands in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg, although it is not owned by the Foundation. It is still an Episcopalian church.

And many hope that like so much else which has remained hidden, it too, one day, will be revealed; and that more of the true history of our America will come to light, for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2013-2014

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“The glory of God is to conceal a thing, but the glory of the King (a Man) is to find it out: 

As if the divine nature, according to the innocent and the sweet play of children; which hide themselves to the end that they may be found,

took delight to hide his work to the end that they may be found out;

and of his indulgence and goodness to mankind has chosen the soul of man to be his playfellow in this game.” 

Sir Francis Bacon, in Instauration Magna

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