Fishhooks

Project details

  • Date

     January 31, 2015

  • Task

     Study Collection

  • Category

     Foodways, Iron

  • Object number – Various
  • Material – Iron, copper
  • Place of Origin – James Fort
  • Date – c. 1607-1624
  • Context – James Fort
  • Location – Study Collection
  • Category – Foodways

Several hundred brass and iron fishhooks, of all sizes, have been found scattered throughout James Fort. Some are nearly as large as an adult hand and would have been suitable for offshore fishing for larger fish such as cod. Many are smaller and more appropriate for the common fish species of the James River — perch, sheepshead, striped bass, channel pickerel, and catfish. Lead weights would have been attached to the fishing line, and many of these weights have also been recovered by the archaeologists. Nets with lead sinkers would have been used to trap sturgeon, which may have reached 12 feet in length in 1607. When in use these hooks were likely fastened to hemp twine and attached to a square wooden frame. The sheer volume of fishhooks indicates that the colonists came expecting to fish, but further research demonstrates that most of the original colonists were lacking in fishing expertise.

The Jamestown archaeologists have also uncovered a copper alloy double hook in one of the fort’s early cellars. This type of hook was traditionally used in Europe to catch pickerel or pike. Its presence at James Fort shows a degree of fishing specialization on the part of at least one of the colonists — perhaps a gentleman who had fished for pike in England.