Praying in the New World

Within two hours after the Jamestown settlers landed in Virginia, their Anglican minister built a makeshift church by "nailing a piece of timber between two trees," and stretching "a square of sailcloth over it." Thus, on May 13, 1607, they attended their first prayer service in the New World.

Captain John Smith, leader of this group of British entrepreneurs, described services under the "old saile" as "more like the real praising of God, than any he had ever heard in the costly buildings of the old world."

That was 400 years ago. Throughout 2007, the Virginia Commonwealth is celebrating the anniversary of this first permanent English settlement in North America with several special events including a main gala on May 11-13.

Unlike the later Puritan colony at Plymouth, the Jamestown group was driven less by faith than by gold and other material ends. Still, most (if not all) of the settlers were members of the Church of England. In the midst of hunger, conflicts with the Indians, sickness, and internal dissension, the colonists attended daily morning and evening prayer, heard two sermons on Sundays, and received Communion every three months.

Some Jamestown settlers tried to convert the Indians to Christianity. From the beginning King James I had admonished them to proclaim the "Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God …" They were largely unsuccessful, but with a few notable exceptions—including the native princess Pocahontas.

You can visit the Jamestown Settlement, a reconstruction of the fort, ships, and an Indian village—all complete with costumed interpreters. Down the road is the original Jamestown site, where an impressive ...

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