Nov 22, 2007
"The Crowded Hut" is a Yiddish tale about a man who lived with his family in such a dwelling, and liked to complain because it was too cramped. He sought the advice of a wise old woman (or a Rabbi in some versions) who offered some rather unorthodox advice. This story seemed, for reasons that become apparent on listening to it, to be appropriate for Thanksgiving, which is the day on which this episode is being posted.
Several years before the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by settlers in Massachusetts, another group of rugged immigrants established the first English colony in the new world by the James River in Virginia, a settlement near present-day Williamsburg that came to be known as Jamestown. Since 1957, Jamestown Settlement has provided visitors a colorful glimpse into the beginnings of our nation. The site features not only an extensive indoor museum, but also replicas of Fort James, the Powhatan Indian Village, and the three ships on which the colonists arrived. Hands-on activities include opportunities to "steer" one of the ships, and to help dig out a dugout canoe, which the Native Americans fashioned from logs with the aid of fire.
If you come here before April 2008, you can view a major, one-time, yearlong showcase called "The World of 1607". To commemorate the colony's 400th birthday, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation sent word to other nations that they were seeking artifacts from that time frame for a special exhibit. They expected SOME response, but they were absolutely SWAMPED with items from all over -- too many to exhibit at once, so they were divided into four parcels, to be displayed in rotation. It's amazing to think that while John Smith was struggling to get a new country started, Shakespeare was in his prime.
The Settlement portrays the experiences and contributions of three cultures: the English, the Native American, and the African. Slaves on a ship bound for Central America were seized by British privateers (a fancy word for pirates with a permit) and redirected to Virginia, where their forced labor helped the new civilization survive and thrive. Their chapter in the story is often given scant notice in the history books, so it's especially welcome to see so much coverage of it here.
We do hear a great deal about the Native Americans, of course, but what we hear is often wrong. The chief of the Powhatan Indians was not named Powhatan (accent on the first syllable, if you please); that's just what the settlers called him, after the tribe itself. And that romance between John Smith and Pocahontas? Forgeddaboutit! (What? You mean Disney got some things wrong??) Actually, when John Smith arrived, Pocahontas was only 8 years old. We also asked our guide (and they have many knowledgeable guides here, many in period costume) about the legend of Pocahontas saving him from execution at the last minute. Wasn't that really a staged initiation stunt or some such? Well perhaps, he said. But note that John Smith (yes, that was his real name) traveled to several countries, and kept lengthy journals; and it seems that just about everywhere he went, he reported that some princess had saved his life. Hmmm... Looks like he may have been a fellow spinner of folktales himself.
Dennis (old man), Kimberly (old woman) and Zephyr (narrator) assisted by various beasts