Episcopalians join celebration of first Anglicans in Virginia

April 26, 2007

Before Jamestown, there was Virginia Beach -- or as it was first called, Cape Henry.

In late April of 1607, after almost five arduous months at sea, 105 English men and boys from the ships Discovery, Godspeed, and Susan Constant gratefully made landfall in what they called the New World.

And on a cold spring day 400 years later, three ghostly ships, replicas of the original vessels, appeared again off the coast of Virginia as part of a celebration of their arrival.

In the shivering crowd on April 26, seated in decidedly modern bleachers on the beach, were many local Episcopalians, members of Episcopal Communicators, and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, there to witness a reenactment of the English landing at what is now called First Landing State Park, near the city of Virginia Beach.

The park today is much as the English found it, with dogwood, redbud and wild strawberries, said Roy Allen Dudley, one of the organizers and the chair of Friends of the Parks at First Landing State Park.

The original plan was for a landing party representing members of the Virginia Company to row to shore aboard a small boat, known as a shallop, and touch land at the site of the original first landing. But weather conditions were such that the shallop floated offshore while the reenactors, dressed in period costumes, emerged from behind a stage to perform a "living history" skit.

One of the company, George Percy, wrote that the voyagers were "almost ravished at the first sight" of the new land.

But the landing party encountered a group of "the naturals" as they returned to the ships, and two of the invading English were wounded. More groups explored the area for two more days, and on April 29 claimed the new land for James I and named the capes for his sons, Henry and Charles, erecting a cross on the site.

Among the reenactors was "Robert Hunt," the first Anglican chaplain on American shores, who was part of the landing party. Dressed in a 17th century Protestant clergyman's garb, he clutched a Book of Common Prayer -- the 1552 edition, he assured those who asked, more Protestant than the 1549 version.

"It's a remarkable witness to 400 years of Christian presence on these shores," said Jefferts Schori.

She reported that Dudley was enthusiastic about the importance of the Anglican Church presence here.

"It's a rare part of the country that can say that," Jefferts Schori said. "It seems very important here, people identify their roots in a particular Christian tradition that began here and spread throughout the country."

Jefferts Schori plans to return in June and in the fall for additional events connected with the 400th anniversary celebrations.

After the reenactment, visitors strolled through colonial and American Indian exhibits throughout the park.

Lee Lockamy of the Nansemond Indian Tribe and Dr. Helen Rountree, Old Dominion University professor emerita of anthropology and the author of many books on the Indian presence in Virginia, supervised the building of an Indian community along the Cape Henry Trail.

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