Evidence of Bacon’s Rebellion

In the fall of 2008, archaeologists focused excavations on a brick-lined cellar after uncovering a chimney base and a shallow foundation from the same building 20 feet to the east. The alignment of the chimney base with the cellar left little doubt they were the remains of the same building. The overall dimensions of the building were 40 feet by 20 feet. The cellar itself was 14 feet by 19 feet. Burnt timber in the cellar indicated that the building was timber framed and set upon a brick foundation that had been plowed or robbed away. The structure was oriented east to west on the same axis as the mid 17th-century brick church tower to the southeast, suggesting that the two structures stood at the same time. The building may have been a casualty of the intentional burning of Jamestown in 1676 during Bacon’s Rebellion.

After the building burned, the cellar became a trash pit and it was filled mostly by brick and mortar rubble generated during the salvaging of the building’s ruins. In these rubble layers a 1656 French coin was found, confirming that the building was destroyed after this date. Under the trash layers was the destruction layer, a dense burnt layer, which confirmed that the superstructure over the cellar had burned. This layer contained the charred remains of timber framing and the structure’s contents. The charred remains of six upright casks, two bucket bottoms, and a small wooden box with a lock plate were found in the debris along the southern and western walls. These objects indicate that the cellar was being used for storage at the time of the fire. Dry goods likely were kept in the upright casks because liquid-tight casks were generally stored on their sides with the tap at one of the heads.

The removal of the fill layers revealed the brick foundations or cellar walls, the builder’s trench for these walls, a brick floor, a sump pit, and two sets of steps. The brick floor was laid after the construction of the walls and consisted mostly of bricks placed in a soldier course (on edge), but contained several cobbles and brick tiles set on end. The bricks were various sizes, had been fired in differing conditions, and some were whitewashed, which indicated that the material for this floor was laid with recycled bricks.

The sump pit was located in the center of the cellar and was brick lined with a brick bottom. The sump was rectangular in plan, 2′ wide, and 1’10” deep below the floor. The entire brick floor of the cellar gently sloped towards the sump pit to facilitate drainage, keeping the cellar dry.

There were two sets of cellar steps, both located at the southeastern corner of the cellar. The wider set of steps, located along the southern wall, was a 4′-wide exterior entrance. This width allowed for larger containers, like barrels, to be loaded into the cellar. The stair treads were brick with wooden nosings that had burned or rotted away. The second set of steps was located along the eastern wall near the southeastern cellar corner. These 2′-wide steps led to the interior of the structure. They were steep and some charred sections of the wooden nosings survived. A hole left between the brickwork along the side of the steps revealed where a wooden nosing had been secured.

Artifact evidence found among the destruction rubble could date the destruction of this building to 1676. If the building burned during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the land plats from this period show that either Richard Lawrence or William Drummond owned the property. The building seems to be located along the property line between the two plats. Both Lawrence and Drummond were co-conspirators with rebel leader Nathanial Bacon during Bacon’s Rebellion, and both burned their own homes during the sacking of the town to set an example for the other rebels.

In September 1804, the Richmond Esquire published a letter written by the anonymous T. M. to Privy Council member Robert Harley that described the event:

“Here resting a few daies they concerted the burning of the town, wherein Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Drumond owning the two best houses save one, set fire each to his own house, which example the souldiers following laid the whole town (with church and state-house) in ashes, saying, the rogues should harbour no more there.”

explore the artifacts

related videos