JAMESTOWN, Va. - Fond of promoting the endurance of freedom, President Bush yesterday hailed the nation's humble beginnings as a reminder that new democracies required 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, 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."

On his first visit to Jamestown as president, Bush soaked in the scene like a tourist - first watching a dig for artifacts, then climbing aboard a replica of a majestic sailing 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. He spoke from the place where the country's roots began centuries ago in a swampland.

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

He specifically 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, 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 people in the audience for the celebration.

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

On a day that 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.

Bush then strolled through Jamestown Settlement, where early-17th-century living is reenacted. 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.

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