The First Line of Defense

The east bulwark or bastion of James Fort was located in December of 1995. The first indication of this feature was a curved palisade line similar to the south curtain wall. The westernmost part of this palisade was destroyed by the construction of a 1920s monument to Pocahontas. It also seems to have been impacted by some sort of earth moving on the southern section closest to the modern seawall. This could have happened early in the history of the fort during one of the rebuilds or, possibly, as part of the 1861 Confederate earthworks construction nearby.

Ten feet outside the bulwark palisade, and following the same curve, is the bulwark trench. This trench was the result of digging soil to pile up along the palisade, thus creating a greater defensive barrier than a palisade alone. After following the palisade curve for over 40′ the trench changes direction heading east and forming a point before being lost to shoreline erosion. This may have been what George Percy was referring to when he said the bulwark was “like a half-moon,” which may mean demilune, a military term for a work constructed beyond the main ditch of a fortress intended to defend attacks on the palisade wall.

The trench was open during the early James Fort period as indicated by the artifacts found in the lower levels of the trench, which are consistent with the material found in Pit 1. The presence of crucibles containing melted glass and copper residue is a clear sign of industrial trials associated with the 1607-1610 time period at the fort. A large amount of waste from glassmaking was found in the western end of the trench. This is undoubtedly the byproduct of the “tryall of Glasse” which took place in or around the fort in November and December of 1608.

Many other early artifacts were found in the trench. Of particular note is a complete Border ware drinking jug that was found just under a deposit of glassmaking slag. Also from the trench came an early breastplate, an archaic handheld shield known as a buckler, and many other elements of arms and armor.


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