The Governor’s House Expands North

In 2005, archaeologists following the foundations of the two rowhouse buildings, the Governor’s House and Councillor’s Row, came across a substantial structure added to the easternmost building. This addition had a foundation made up of a mix of cobblestones and bricks. Jamestown’s early documentary records suggest that this addition to the governor’s residence was constructed between 1617 and 1619.

As noted elsewhere, the two rowhouse structures were likely the “two fair rows of houses” referred to by colonist Ralph Hamor in 1611. Such were built according to the “care and providence” of Sir Thomas Gates and later noted by Hamor in 1623 as “wherein the governor always dwelt, [with] an addition being made thereto in the time of Captain Samuel Argoll.” Taking into account the historical and archaeological evidence, this building is likely the addition to the governor’s house built by Argall during his deputy governorship between May of 1617 and April of 1619.

The building had been divided by a partition foundation into two large rooms. The southern room was about 18 feet by 24 feet. The northern room had no surviving foundations, but if we assume the west fort wall was still standing when the structure was constructed, then the north room of the addition could not have been more than 18 feet wide. Both of these rooms were heated as evidenced by the two fireplaces incorporated in the large “H”-shaped chimney base along the partition. The builders of this chimney structure made the mistake of placing it directly above a backfilled well and the chimney settled substantially during the building’s use. This was evidenced by the supplementary support buttress and by the multiple paving episodes in the fireboxes as the structure sank and the colonists attempted to compensate for the error. The well beneath this structure was likely James Fort’s second (c. 1611). Based on excavations in 2009, the first well (c. 1608) apparently was located in the center of the fort.

Another architectural feature of note associated with this building is a curious three-sided brick foundation attached to the exterior of the structure’s south wall. The bricks in the footing, secured by shell-tempered mortar, were low fired and soft, and some appeared underfired. While the south side of this feature was parallel to the south wall of the building, the other two walls were set at roughly 45 degree angles from the wall. Because its location and elevation provided a nearly complete view of the fort’s interior, this feature may have been the foundation for a bay window, a balcony, or possibly an elevated gun mount.

Future archaeological and documentary research will continue to add valuable insights into this structure. There is already some evidence that there may be yet another less permanent addition to the south of this building. Stay tuned.


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