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Bush hails nation's start at Jamestown

Says the road to democracy is long, hard

President Bush (left) spoke with guide Greg Schneck near a display of weapons from the 17th century as he toured Jamestown settlement in Virginia yesterday. (Jason Reed/reuters)

JAMESTOWN, Va. -- On the closing day of festivities marking the first permanent English settlement in America, President Bush yesterday hailed the nation's humble beginnings as a reminder that new democracies require huge sacrifice.

"From our own history, we know the path to democracy is long and it's hard," Bush said in a ceremony honoring the 400th anniversary of Jamestown.

"There are many challenges, and there are setbacks along the way," he said. "Yet we can have confidence in the outcome because we've seen freedom's power to transform societies."

On his first visit to Jamestown as president, Bush soaked in the scene -- first watching a dig for artifacts, then climbing aboard a replica of a majestic ship. He even grabbed a baton and playfully led the 400-piece orchestra before heading back home.

In his speech, Bush said the United States must stand with those struggling to gain their freedom.

"Today, Democratic institutions are taking root in places where liberty was unimaginable not long ago," the president said. He cited Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The advance of freedom is the great story of our time, and new chapters are being written every day," he added.

Jamestown in 1607 was a grueling commercial venture, and colonists dealt with hunger, disease, violence, and hopelessness. But, over time, it became a starting point of representative government, free enterprise, and cultural diversity. "It is a chance to renew our commitment to help others around the world realize the great blessings of liberty," Bush told several thousand of people at the celebration.

Earlier, the president and Laura Bush walked the grounds at a leisurely place.

On a day that turned from gray to sunny, they began with a tour of Historic Jamestowne, where archeologists continue to unearth storied remains. The structure of the settlers' original triangular fort -- long thought to have been washed way -- has been recovered.

Bush marveled at a new find: a hilt basket, which is a hand guard that goes around a sword's handle. The item was discovered the day Queen Elizabeth II visited Jamestown recently, said Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

Bush then strolled through Jamestown Settlement, where early-17th century living is reenacted. The settlement has replicas of the three ships that sailed from England to Virginia, along with recreations of the colonists' fort and a Powhatan Indian village.

The president looked at weapons and tools of the time, and watched as the sails of the replica ship he had earlier boarded, the Susan Constant, were unfurled.

Then came four ceremonial cannon blasts -- so loud they made the president shudder.

Bush's speech came on the final day of the anniversary weekend, the centerpiece of an elaborate 18-month commemoration in the works for a decade.

Virginia has thrown major Jamestown celebrations every 50 years, but this one has given more recognition to three cultures -- English, African, and Native Americans -- to tell a more complete story. Native Americans lost their land during the settlement, and Africans were eventually forced into slavery.

The Bushes contributed items to a time capsule to be opened at the next grand celebration, in 50 years. They included a letter from them both, a gold coin, and items from the queen's recent visit to the White House.

On Saturday, a group of modern-day John Smiths rowed away in a small, open boat from the site of the first settlement, which Smith helped found.

The replica of a boat like one Smith used to explore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries shoved off on the second day of the commemoration of Jamestown's anniversary, which also included concerts, military drills, and cultural and artistic demonstrations.

The boat's 121-day voyage over 1,500 miles will retrace much of Smith's journey and inaugurate the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the country's first national historic water trail.

Several hundred cheering people lined the shore of the river as Captain Ian Bystrom, followed by his crew of 11, slowly stepped onto large rocks at the water's edge and into the 28-foot boat, called a shallop. The boat will stop at more than 20 spots in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington before returning to Jamestown on Sept. 8.