Henricus: Museum, Park, and Colonial City

My first visit to Henricus Historical Park, an interpretive museum located in Chesterfield, was absolutely amazing. In the park, you can experience what life was like when the first English settlers moved to the New World. Henricus Park specifically tells the story of the second successful English settlement in America, settled in 1611 by Sir Thomas Dale. The city was built next to the James River and right where the Appomattox tribe used to inhabit. 

When you first go into the park, you enter into a small building to buy tickets. The gift shop is also in this building but does not have much variety. Then, still in the same building, you can watch a short video telling a little bit about the park’s history. Without anywhere to sit, the video can be an inconvenience in case you have small children who can’t – and, of course, don’t want to – stand still and be quiet. Also, it can get really uncomfortable and tiring. After that, you can finally get into the interpretive park and museum.

The canoe being built. Photo Credit: Mariana Castro

The canoe being built.
Photo credit: Mariana Castro.

You start with the Indians exhibit, where people dressed up as Native Americans explain to you how they actually lived during this time period. One young Native American woman taught me a great deal. I learned about the strained relationships between Native Americans and British settlers, traditional Native American houses, and their lifestyle. An interesting fact is that they use to make canoes by burning a tree trunk and then shaving it with a shell. I tried this for less than one minute, but I got no work done and realized how tiring it must have been. Finally, I also learned how to make my own rope with a tree fiber; after some failures but much patience, my five-year-old cousin and I had our own little piece of rope made by ourselves. 

Making my own rope. Photo Credit: Alice Collins

Making my own rope.
Photo credit: Alice Collins.




After chatting with the Native American and walking through her camp, we passed through a well-protected wall to get into the British settlement. As we walked into to it, we found two people actually building a house in the middle of the camp. Dressed up as 1600’s British men, they told us a little bit of how they got to America, their lifestyle, and their battles with the Indians. We got into their really small house, explored their arsenal, and checked out their observation tower. It actually felt really original, though none of the buildings are actually from the 1600’s. 

Photo Credit: Mariana Castro

Photo credit: Mariana Castro.

We kept going through the tobacco plantation and met with young, middle-class farmers who were making their lunch: chicken, eggs and some herbs. They had a single room house, though they told us that usually whole families – often with more than five children – had to sleep in the same room and that many times, as the family didn’t have a place for the servants, the servants also slept in the small room together with the family. While the adults chatted with the reenactors about plantation and country life, the kids were entertained by a really fat and smelly pig, who would probably become a meal soon.

Photo Credit: Mariana Castro

Photo credit: Mariana Castro.

The last place to see was a small village on the edge of the park. We visited a charming church (where you can actually get married if you schedule with the museum administration) an empty hospital (supposedly the first hospital in America), and an upper class family house. Inside the house, a tailor was working on some hoods and told us a little bit about his daily life.

The most interesting thing I learned was about Pocahontas’ life after she went to live in the English settlement. According to the tailor, Pocahontas got sick because of the food: pork meat, bread, and cheese; things that she was not used to having. Also, she had to start drinking wine during the meals and beer when she was thirsty, which can be a really confusing and not healthy thing to do when you are a sixteen-year-old native girl.

Although we were told that there was a Civil War museum inside the Henricus Park, we couldn’t find it, and after leaving the tailor’s house, we had to come all the way back to the parking lot. Even though the park was small and, according to some people, not as exciting as James Town (which I have not visited yet), Henricus was very interesting for me. It was my first interpretative museum, and I got to learn many things and spend quality time with my family. I personally found that the park can be really entertaining to small children, and my little cousin confirmed it when yelling “This was the best day of my life!” But it can also be an incredible place for adults to learn a bit about American history and have something different and fun planned for the weekend.  

How Pocahontas learned to read. Photo Credit: Mariana Castro

How Pocahontas learned to read.
Photo credit: Mariana Castro.

About the author

I'm an exchange student from Brazil, looking forward to learning and growing during my six months of experience in Collegiate.