Brantley Bolling Knowles always had a special relationship to the story of Jamestown's first English settlers.
That's because one of those 104 settlers who came to Virginia in 1607 is her direct ancestor.Knowles, a Richmond woman known for her dedication to historic preservation, is a descendant of Robert Beheathland, one of only two original Jamestown settlers whose hereditary line is believed to exist today.
Having grown up in a family that prized its heritage, Knowles is proud of the connection. But she also believes all Americans should take pride in the roles their families have played in the country's development from its earliest days until now."I feel like it's a lot to live up to, that one might be related to someone who made such a historic voyage from England," Knowles said in a phone interview. "And I think Americans have a lot to live up to, to all those who started our country at a lot of different stages."
The connection to Jamestown and America's earliest Colonial times is so prized that numerous organizations, known as hereditary societies or lineage groups, have been created by and for those who can prove their family connections.
Descent from the original group of 104 settlers is a rare thing, but there are thousands of modern Americans with enough family connections to early Jamestown to populate such organizations as the Jamestowne Society and the Order of First Families of Virginia.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch invites readers to stop by its offices at 300 E. Franklin St. to pick up a free Jamestown 400 celebration poster, which is suitable for framing.
The Jamestowne Society, which began in 1936 and now boasts more than 6,000 members, will gather May 12-13 at the Williamsburg Marriott hotel. The group expects to send more than 1,000 members in 50 busloads for ceremonies at Jamestown Island on the morning of May 12, said Carole E. Morck.
Membership in the Richmond-based Jamestowne Society is limited to descendants of people who lived on or near Jamestown Island, or served in the government there, before 1700.
Morck, a descendant of Thomas Graves, who arrived at Jamestown in 1608, said the society's chapters, known as "companies," have a practical mission of restoring historic deed and will books. The group also awards an annual academic fellowship to graduate students researching the history or culture of pre-1700s Virginia.
Morck said the Jamestowne Society has asked Queen Elizabeth II to attend their gathering because one of the queen's ancestors, Nicholas Martiau, qualifies her for membership.
Membership in the Order of First Families of Virginia is limited to descendants of those who helped establish Jamestown and the Virginia colony between 1607 and 1624. The group will not entertain requests for membership by anyone not invited into the association, according to the group's listing on The Hereditary Society Community Web site.
Direct descendants aren't the only ones gathering in honor of the commemoration. Edward Maria Wingfield, a leader of the first group to reach Jamestown, did not have any known descendants, but more than 200 members of the Wingfield Family Society are expected to hold a reunion in Williamsburg later this month.
Jocelyn R. Wingfield, who has worked tirelessly as a researcher and author to elevate the historical importance of Wingfield's contributions, is a descendant of Wingfield's great-uncle, a society spokeswoman said.
Knowles, the descendant of Robert Beheathland, is a member of the Jamestowne Society and a number of other hereditary organizations. She is a trustee of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, which owns the part of Jamestown Island where the remains of the first fort were discovered in the 1990s.
"I've always been interested in history," she said, explaining why she has gone to the trouble of confirming her hereditary link to the early settler.
"Some people don't understand that it's about the history and about the scholarship to do the research. It's not about anybody thinking that they're special in an unearned way."