Fond of promoting the endurance of freedom, President Bush on Sunday hailed the nation's humble beginnings as a reminder of the value of perseverance and the promise of democracy.

"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, America's first permanent English colony.

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

Bush visited the settlement where the country's foundation took shape centuries ago in a swampland.

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

America, he added, "is proud to promote the expansion of democracy and we must continue to stand with all those struggling to claim their freedom. The advance of freedom is the great story of our time and new chapters are being written every day." Bush specifically mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said values such as respect for the law and the belief in individual liberty "took root at Jamestown four centuries ago. They have flourished across our land and one day they will flourish in every land."

Jamestown in 1607 was a grueling commercial venture, and colonists dealt with hunger, violence and hopelessness. But, over time, it became a starting point of representative government, free enterprise and cultural diversity.

The president said the United States must stand by other fledgling governments, including Iraq's.

"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 in the audience for the celebration.

Earlier, Bush and first lady Laura Bush played tourists. He said he enjoyed being "where it all started."

On a day turned from gray to sunny, they began with a walking 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. So, too, have tools, pottery and jewelry.

The president viewed the remains of a water well and the original brick foundation of 17th century governor's home.

He watched as workers sifted through remains at the active dig site. "So this takes place every day?" he asked. Workers nodded yes.

He also looked at a new find — a sword handle dating to the first days of the settlement. The hilt serves as a guard for the hand. Workers found it just as Bush was there. Michael Lavin, senior conservator at the site, said there was no pressure to find something special during Bush's visit.

"We find something cool every day," Lavin told reporters.

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

The president looked at weapons and tools of the time, and watched as the sails of one of the replica ships, the Susan Constant, were unfurled.

Then came four ceremonial canon blasts — so loud they made the president shudder.

His speech took place at nearby Anniversary Park. The former campground was built just for this three-day 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 Indian — to tell a fuller story.

With the arrival of the English in May 1607, native Indian tribes eventually were pushed off their lands, and slavery in America is traced to Jamestown, where the first Africans in the country arrived in 1619.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Jamestown 10 days ago, accompanied by Vice President Dick Cheney and Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. She toured the grounds at length, returning to a spot that she had seen as queen in 1957, in her first visit to the United States as England's monarch.

Bush came on the actual anniversary of the settlers' arrival.

Four centuries ago, a group of 104 English men and boys began a settlement on the banks of James River, enduring lack of food, disease and struggling attempts at commerce en route to establishing a permanent colony.