When the British Prime Minister and the President of the United States strode onto the sunny south lawn of the White House, the head of archaeological research at Historic Jamestowne was in the second row.
“I thought it was impressive,” Dr. William M. Kelso said after returning from the pomp and circumstance.
Kelso was one of a dozen people invited to the March 13 ceremony to represent the close ties between Great Britain and the United States. Just the week before, it was announced Kelso had received one of Britain’s highest honors: Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).
The CBE is awarded for especially inventive and celebrated contributions in the recipient’s specific area of achievement. Under Kelso’s leadership, archaeologists at Historic Jamestowne have discovered more than 1.4 million artifacts on Jamestown Island including the location of the original 1607 James Fort–thought to have been lost to the tides of the James River.
He didn’t get to shake hands with President Barack Obama or Prime Minister David Cameron, but he was impressed with two soldiers that were in the group invited by the British Embassy. He said he spoke a long time to British Army soldier Gerhard Wheeler and US Marine Peter Huntley, who served together in Afghanistan.
“It was an honor to be asked to be there. I’m even more humbled to be there with these soldiers who served in Afghanistan,” Kelso said. “I just get to dig Jamestown, learning about America when it was part of England. I’m having fun doing it, and I am glad it too can contribute in some way to Anglo-American unity today.”
Kelso said the highlight of his visit was meeting another invitee who had attended his alma mater: William Harrison Dillard, a member of the US Olympic team at the 1948 London Games. Dillard won gold in the 100m and 4x100m relay.
“That was one of the biggest thrills for me. I guess I’m just a sports guy at heart,” said Kelso, who played football in college. “We had a lot of things in common to talk about.”
Kelso, his wife Ellen, and the other special guests were also hosted at a luncheon by the British Embassy. The events were part of a two-day visit by Prime Minister Cameron to Washington, DC; Dayton, Ohio; and New York City.
Kelso’s trip did not include his ceremonial investiture into the Order of the British Empire. He is already in the order, and a ceremony to recognize that will be conducted at a later date.
Kelso and his Jamestown Rediscovery team have recently revealed the location of a church dating to 1608, providing insights into the importance and prominence of religion in the settlement. The 1608 church is most notably known as the wedding site of Chief Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, and gentleman and tobacco farmer John Rolfe.
Historic Jamestowne is jointly administered by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia to preserve the original site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World.