More than 170 cities, towns and counties are opening exhibitions, creating heritage trails, planting patriotic gardens or holding concerts and other events as part of the Virginia 2007 Community Program.
No other area, though, may be as connected to the quadricentennial of America's first permanent English settlement as Virginia Beach. Before the colonists arrived at the swampy peninsula they would turn into Jamestown, they first landed in what is now this coastal resort city, at a site they named for the son of King James.
"I don't think many people realize that Cape Henry was to the Jamestown settlers what Plymouth Rock was to the Pilgrims," said Mac Rawls, chairman of the Virginia Beach 2007 committee. "The big difference is they landed here 13 years before the Pilgrims in Massachusetts."
Virginia Beach is aiming to emphasize this often-overlooked bit of historical significance with events including a re-enactment of that landing, a display featuring one of only four original remaining copies of the Magna Carta and a history festival.
The city won't be able to gauge the economic impact of the events until afterward, said Ron Kuhlman, director of tourism marketing and sales for the visitors bureau. But he said the city already knows that some motor coach tours are coming to town for the re-enactment, a convention was planned around the event and tickets for a special re-enactment for school groups sold out in a few days.
The first settlers, intending to turn a profit in Virginia, departed England in December 1606 and arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay just before dawn on April 26, 1607.
A small landing party rowed ashore. That first night, Indians attacked, wounding two settlers.
The next day, a second group explored a bit farther inland, finding evidence of Indian camps and eating roasted oysters the Indians left behind.
On the third day, the Englishmen used a shallop - a small, open boat that can navigate shallow waters - and explored the lower bay. In what is now Hampton, they reported finding strawberries four times bigger than English strawberries and an Indian dugout canoe.
On day four, they erected a cross at their original landing site as a religious symbol - and more.
"There were a lot of colonizing powers looking for new territories and cruising by the coast of Virginia and what ultimately became other colonies," Rawls said. "This was their way of saying â€˜This land is claimed.'"
While in Virginia Beach, the settlers also opened their sealed orders to find out that John Smith was designated to be one of the leaders of the Jamestown colony. That was lucky for Smith, who was supposed to be hanged for concealing mutiny plans, and lucky for the colonists, because he later helped them endure drought, famine and disease at the settlement. The settlers didn't stay long in Virginia Beach because they were instructed to seek a fort site on the James River, away from the coast, that could be defended if the Spanish attacked. They wound up some 50 miles upriver.
Virginia Beach began its commemoration of Jamestown's anniversary in March, with lectures by archaeologists and historians and the opening of an exhibition bringing together a nearly 800-year-old copy of the Magna Carta, which barons wrote to set standards for democracy and the rule of law in England, and several other important legal documents, including an early broadside of the Declaration of Independence. The documents will be on display at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia through June 18. On April 26, replicas of the settlers' three ships will anchor off Virginia Beach to re-enact the first landing. The ships are from the Jamestown Settlement living history museum near Williamsburg. Joining the three ships will be a replica of the shallop that Smith used to explore the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. The nonprofit Sultana Projects Inc. of Chestertown, Md., crafted the 28-foot replica mostly with traditional tools. In addition, First Landing State Park has built a replica of a Chesapeake Indian community, in cooperation with the Nansemond Indian tribe and the National Park Service. On April 27, the shallop will retrace the colonists' exploration of Virginia Beach's Lynnhaven River, accompanied by a kayak flotilla. The shallop later will retrace Smith's 1608 voyage, stopping at 28 points in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C. On April 28, more than 100 organizations, including civic groups, schools and the military, will take part in a history festival along a 15-block stretch of Virginia Beach's oceanfront boardwalk. The following day, the settlers' erection of the cross will be commemorated with an observance at the Fort Story Army base.