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Mystery of the Lost Colony Solved? Not So Fast!

A recent Virginia Pilot headline declared “Mystery Solved,” referring to the long unanswered questions about the English attempt at Colonization of the New World in 1587 on what is now the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This so-called “Lost Colony” has been the subject of many archaeological digs, theories, conjecture, a quaint play, and even a horror movie. What happened to those 114 people who sought to compete with Spain, England’s chief rival, in reaping the benefits and resources of the New World?…

Something Wicked, This Way Comes — to Virginia.

Today we usually only think of witches at Halloween… ugly wicked hags who wear pointy black hats and fly around on brooms. It is interesting, however, to look at the historical truth — which doesn’t begin in Salem, Massachusetts. Did you know that we had supposed witches and devils here in Virginia long before they appeared up in Massachusetts?…

Recognizing The Strength of Our Community: A Letter to Our Supporters

Over the past few months, the difficult decisions we have all had to make and the stressful times that have united us, have put the meaning of “community” into perspective for me. We are all part of many communities, both small and large, that connect us and influence our lives every day…

A Polio Epidemic and the Unflappable People of 1950 Wythe County, Virginia

During the Summer of 1950, Wythe County, Virginia experienced a polio outbreak that quickly spread, becoming one of the worst per capita epidemics of polio in U.S. History. The death rate reached almost 10% that summer, roughly twice the country’s average at the time. Despite medical advancements since then, including the creation of the first effective polio vaccine in 1952, the reason why Wythe County experienced such extreme cases of polio remains a mystery…

The Yellow Fever Outbreak of 1855 and a Surprising Connection to St. Luke’s

On June 6, 1855 a steam ship known as the Ben Franklin came into port in Norfolk, Virginia for repairs. The ship had traveled from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, a place Yellow Fever was known to be prevalent. Local authorities were concerned about the possibility of Yellow Fever onboard because of the ship’s origins and interviewed Captain Byner upon arrival…

Against All Odds: George Washington, Smallpox, and the American Revolution

In July of 1775, just three months into the conflict with England that would become known as the American Revolution, George Washington took command of the patriot army. He faced not only the greatest military power in the world, but also the scourge of Variola. He had a difficult decision to make: Should he inoculate the army?…

A Pox and the Social Covenant: 1721 and 2020

Several years back, I wrote a book about a 1721 Boston smallpox epidemic and the introduction of inoculation into colonial America entitled The Pox and the Covenant. The fact that there are parallels between that epidemic and our current pandemic should not surprise us given the immutable character of human nature. However, that fact should also give us comfort that we can endure…

Jamestown: A Story of Unexpected Survival

A 1972 New York Times article referred to Jamestown as “the blunder that started America.” The author, H.H. Morris, certainly had a lot of fodder to support his claim that Jamestown was a complete and utter failure…