Every 50 years since 1807, there has been special recognition of the importance of Jamestown, with commemorations involved extensively elaborated sequences of events, and renewed a sense of historical continuity. From 1807 to 2007 there were five major Jamestown anniversary celebrations: the Grand National Jubilee of 1807, Jamestown''s 250th anniversary, the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition, the 350th Anniversary of Jamestown and the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown. Patriotic ritual and history were abundant at the Jamestown commemorative observances. These brief descriptions of each highlight the sociopolitical context of their celebration.
In 19th century, the competition between New England and Virginia provided a backdrop for Jamestown to hold anniversary celebration. Virginian patriots hold a “Grand National Jubilee” to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first arrival at Jamestown as a defensive action to respond New England’s “Pilgrim Day” which commemorated the first settlement of the Plymouth Colony. The antagonistic purpose between North and South became an inescapable reality in nation.
In the early 20th century, the Tercentennial Exposition was proclaimed by President Theodore Roosevelt and held at Sewell’s Point in Norfolk by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in 1907. After Spanish-American war, in an effort to promote images as a mighty military power to the world, the American government seized the opportunities to display naval prowess in celebration. The demonstration of United States’ military power and construction of particular group’s identities were intertwined at this exposition.
After half a century, the focus was Jamestown itself and marked by a concerted effort to investigate, preserve, and reconstruct various aspects of the colony''s history this time.The historical experiences of Virginia Indians and African Americans received few attention or representation in the face of the American government limited their participation.Moreover, American had been gone through War World II, Korean War and Cold War in the middle of 20th century. The historical interpretation of the 350th anniversary of Jamestown was influenced by these events.
Moving into 21st century, through the extensive international and national media reporting, significant commemoration messages that promoters attempted to convey could reach all over the world. Tellingly, the 400th anniversary was the first time the organizers deemed African Americans and Virginia Indian tribes as organizational partners to integrate their historical perspectives into the commemoration. They were seeking ways to construct and reconstruct their identities, and these performances of identity construction twin with the exposition. This work will analyze how these major Jamestown commemorations reflected the character of its time and the main functions of Jamestown commemorations in its era.