Jamestown and the Queen

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is visiting the United States, with her visit timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent British colony in North America. Like most Americans, I hold no brief for the monarchy, but I do have a fondness for my cousins across the Atlantic. Queen Elizabeth visited Jamestown fifty years ago; I wonder if at that time she could have imagined returning as an 81-year-old. One thing's for sure: She's unlikely to still be around for the 450th anniversary, although it surely would frost Prince Charles if she was, since he's been sitting around waiting longer than the Maytag repairman. His mum will be one of the longest-serving monarchs in British history; Charles' reign will almost certainly be much shorter.

This month's issue of National Geographic magazine has an article about the founding of Jamestown and the hardships those first colonists went through. Unlike the Massachusetts Bay colonists who arrived in family groups thirteen years later on the Mayflower, the men who founded Jamestown were mostly adventurers looking to get rich quickly by prospecting for gold and silver. For most, it was a vain hope, with mortality rates around 75% between 1607 and 1624. Diseases caused by bad water and a lack of knowledge about sanitation probably were the main culprits; hunger and warfare with the natives also were contributing factors. And of course, Virginia didn't have rich supplies of precious metals. It was, however, a good place to grow tobacco, which was brought in from the West Indies.

Today the Queen will be attending the Kentucky Derby. And of course, it's also Cinco de Mayo. So, what are you drinking? Mint julep or Jose Cuervo? You'd probably be wise to stick to one or the other; mixing drinks can make you sick.