Two Fair Rows of Houses

Excavations along the interior of the west palisade wall in the 2003-05 field seasons uncovered the cobblestone foundations of two large fort-period structures, both of which had brick chimney bases. One of these structures is a strong candidate for the first governor’s residence in the fort. Separated by a 10′ gap, the buildings were oriented to the west palisade and were set back from the wall by about 12 feet. The westernmost of the two structures measured 92 feet in length and 20 feet in width. The foundation was built of cobblestones laid in a yellow clay mortar-like material. A timber framed structure would have stood on these foundations. Three “H”-shaped chimney bases were found in the structure for a total of six fireplaces, which established that the building had at least six rooms. One chimney base contained several limestone cobbles from Bermuda. The presence of Bermuda limestone in the structure was significant because it placed the construction date after May 1610 when the first ships from Bermuda came to Jamestown. At least one of the rooms in this building had a wooden floor. Evidence of three entrenched floor joists was found in the western-most room. Excavations into this building’s foundation yielded two English white ball clay tobacco pipes. One was a complete pipe, c. 1610-40. The other was a pipe bowl found imbedded in the builder’s trench. It has a pinwheel maker’s mark on the heel, which is known in London from c. 1610-30 contexts.

The eastern structure was very similar but smaller at 64 feet by 20 feet. A large portion of one “H”-shaped chimney base survived with this building and another was likely lost to Civil War activity in the area, which had heavily disrupted sections of the cobblestone foundation. The presence of a second chimney base indicated that the structure had four fireplaces and likely four rooms. Evidence of six entrenched floor joists was found in the far eastern room, but no wood survived. Flooring nails were still upright in many of the joist slots.

Documentary evidence strongly supports that these buildings were constructed in 1611. Ralph Hamor, an original settler, described two fort buildings constructed under the direction of Governor Thomas Gates as, “two fair rows of houses, all of framed timber, two stories, and an upper garret, or corn loft.” According to Hamor, Gates’s “chieftest residence” was at Jamestown, and he erected many improvements at the settlement in 1611. There is reason to believe the eastern end of the smaller row house, if not the entire building, was the governor’s residence.

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