Henricus Historical Park

17th century life in one of America’s earliest colonies

08/21/2013
Experiential Learning

Leave the 21st century and walk through the palisade walls and gates of the Henricus fort of 400 years ago; follow the path to the Corps du Garde where you will be challenged by a soldier tending a cook fire and prepping his musket for the day’s drills. The blacksmith is starting the fire in his forge; the goats, pig, chickens and cats are being fed at the planter’s house; tobacco is being sowed in the field. The new “stately church” to be built of brick has begun; Powhatan Indians come from their nearby village and fields to trade corn and hides to the English for metal tools and copper.

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The City of Henricus began in 1611, 80 miles upriver from Jamestown, near the James River waterfalls — in the middle of today’s capital city of Richmond. Built by 350 men and boys under the leadership of Sir Thomas Dale, Henricus was started in response to the difficulties — swampy land, hostilities with the Indians, and the “starving times” — encountered at Jamestown. Henricus was originally slated to become the capital seat of early Colonial Virginia. Beginning as a military fort, it was set in a “sweet and healthie” site with fertile farm lands, upon a defensible cliff high above the river. It was named Henricus in honor of Prince Henry of Wales — the eldest son of the then English King, James I.

School groups of all ages come to Henricus Historical Park to participate in life 400 years ago at one of Virginia’s earliest settlements along the James River. What was life like 400 years ago for the different cultures that met, interacted and occasionally clashed during these earliest colonial days?

Today’s Henricus Historical Park, located within the counties of Chesterfield and Henrico, commemorates this second “successful” colony, a colony that was critical to the early history of the American experience. Henricus is known for its close ties to Chief Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas, who would be instrumental in bringing about a temporary peace between the English and the Virginia Indians; for the beginnings of today’s representative government; and for the earliest successful American economic venture — the tobacco trade.

Henricus brings to life — in a grade-level appropriate and hands-on interactive format — this little-known era of early American history. Our programs (grades Pre-K–12) take place in the original environment of Dutch Gap Nature Preserve, and in our re-created 17th century Powhatan Village of Arrohateck and the Citie of Henricus. Professional educators and costumed interpreters lead the groups in activities that enhance the knowledge of cultural interactions and of the technology, economics, and government that took place 400 years ago. Each program targets specific state and national standards of social studies, history, mathematics, science and literature.

Pre-school and elementary grade levels participate in programs that show how the Indians and English used natural resources and their own levels of technology to meet their life needs. Gardening, scraping canoes and hides, practicing hunting skills, cooking and touring the long houses are all part of the Indian experience. Militia drills, working with carpentry and a forge, hoeing tobacco and trading this tobacco for goods from England are a part of the English experience.

These programs include: History Kids: Indian and English (for Pre-K–K) People of the River: Powhatan Indians, Success of the Citie/Henricus 1611--1622, Two Lives of Pocahontas and Voyage to Virginia (grades first through fifth); mapping skills are practiced with 17th century maps and navigation tools in the Mapping the James River Program.

Archaeological activities focus the middle and high school programs by helping students understand how we can know and re-create the past. Each program compares and contrasts the different cultures that met and interacted in this 17th century environment. Students delve into 17th century medicine, soldiering, and sciences and role play early governmental decisions under Martial Law through programs such as “Colonial Cultures of the James River,” “Virginia Governments,” “People in Environment,” “17th Century Sciences” and “Math and Mapping the James River.”

A new program for middle and high school students, Civil War on the James River, features activities that highlight political, military- and technological events occurring in this area. Federal Major General Benjamin Butler devised a plan to construct what is now the Dutch Gap Canal in an effort to make the journey to and from Richmond shorter and less hazardous, bypassing enemy territory.

A trip down the James River in a pontoon boat can be chosen as an optional program for smaller school groups. Float past soaring bald eagles, watch sturgeon and other fish swim this historic river and see the sites where historical events dating from pre-Colonial to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars took place.

Henricus Historical Park is the ultimate experience in colonial history. Join thousands of school children in encountering the past in a three-dimensional and up-close experience. Touch, smell, see and hear what the past was like.

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Issue 19.1 | Summer 2017

Southeast Education Network

Our Mission: to reinvigorate the spirit of American education