Rediscover the Lost Founding Father in 'America's Hidden Stories: Mystery at Jamestown'

Rick and Christina Gables
Courtesy of Smithsonian Networks

Jamestown, the first successful English settlement in the Americas, is best known for the legend of John Smith and Pocahontas, but now archaeologists are on the hunt for a pioneering and controversial forgotten founding father.

America’s Hidden Stories: Mystery at Jamestown premieres Monday, July 29 on Smithsonian Channel. This special episode of the series reveals how Sir George Yeardley and a single year, 1619, set the course for the nation’s future.

On July 30, 1619, Sir George Yeardley presided over the first democratic assembly in English-speaking America. Just a few weeks later, he purchased the first captive Africans for an English colony, opening America to the horrors of slavery.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Networks

Since the remains of John Smith’s original triangular fort were discovered by archeologist Bill Kelso in 1994, a team from Jamestown Rediscovery and Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Doug Owsley have steadily uncovered details of the colony’s history.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Networks

Now, new excavations have revealed several burials within the remains of Jamestown’s original 1617 church, one of which could be Yeardley, a self-made son of a tailor who rose to be knighted and named the second governor of the colony in 1618.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Networks

The special follows the forensic detective work as scientists excavate and analyze the burials, hoping to match clues from the grave with historical records of Yeardley’s life. Dramatic reconstructions transport viewers back to the precarious first years of the colony, when rivalries between leaders, disease and starvation, and conflict with the Powhatan confederation, a powerful group of Native Americans who inhabited the Chesapeake area.

America’s Hidden Stories: Mystery at Jamestown, Premiere, Monday, July 29, 8/7c, Smithsonian Channel