A wide array of rare artifacts, maps, books and portraits from the founding of the historic Jamestown settlement will be exhibited starting Friday. They will be displayed for free at The Lyceum, Alexandria’s History Museum.
Jamestown is not the first continuous European settled site in what is now the United States. Spain established a fort in St. Augustine in what is now Florida in 1565.
However, it was England and not Spain that would found the 13 colonies that would ultimately revolt and become the start of the United States.
Therefore, the English settling of Jamestown in 1607 in what is now Virginia is “the beginning of what led up to where we are now,” said Kristen Lloyd, curator of The Lyceum.
In the 1920s and ’30s a man named D.E. Steel owned Jamestown Island, where the settlement had originally been, said Gary Eyler, who is organizing the Jamestown exhibit. During this period he excavated some of the area where the settlement had been. In this way he acquired some artifacts that were passed on to his family when he died, Eyler said.
In the mid-1990s the family put them up for auction and Eyler bought all 25 artifacts.
The Lyceum’s exhibit starting Friday, and another one planned for next year, will be the only time anyone will have a chance to see the artifacts outside of Jamestown. After the 2007 exhibit, also at The Lyceum, Eyler plans to donate them to a Virginia-owned museum near Jamestown.
AMONG THE artifacts will be one of the earliest European-originated pieces of ceramics found in America, two bottle seals from one of Virginia’s early governors, a 17th century ale bottle, and pieces of smoking pipes.
Perhaps even more interesting, there will also be important historic maps, manuscripts and books on display. “This is a power-packed exhibit,” said Eyler, who sells 17th century American manuscripts, books and rare prints at his Old Colony shop in Alexandria.
The exhibit will display a copy of “A Declaration of the State of the Colony and Affairs in Virginia.” Published in England in 1620 this book advertised the conditions of Jamestown in the hope attracting more settlers and investors. It also had a constitution for the settlers. This served as the basis for the first English legislative meeting in America, in 1620.
Also in the exhibit will be:
• a valuable 1590 Theodore de Bry map of what is today the Virginia and North Carolina coast,
• a 16th century Spanish cross excavated from a Spanish mission established next to the Chesapeake Bay in 1580,
• a print showing Native American customs,
• a history of Virginia written by John Smith, the first leader of Jamestown, and published in 1624,
• portraits of four people who were key to Jamestown’s history and explanations of their importance.
“It’s really neat that he has the John Smith book,” said Bly Straube, senior curator for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.
The exhibit will also have panels explaining the history of Jamestown and the significance of the displayed items.
The exhibit will be at The Lyceum from Friday to Labor Day. It is free and open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday. The Lyceum is at 201 S. Washington St.