The site of the Governor’s Well at Jamestown, prior to excavation.

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Governor’s Well

In the summer of 2022, the Jamestown archaeologists were tracing the path of a 17th-century ditch just north of James Fort. This work took them into the filled-in moat for ca. 1861 Fort Pocahontas, which had cut through the earlier ditch when the Civil War fortification was built. As the team removed the soil inside the moat, they were surprised to find intact brickwork that had obviously been carefully placed, not tossed away as refuse. These bricks were laid in a circular pattern, with an open center, and could only be one thing: a well.

Wells are exciting finds for archaeologists because they often became trash pits once the water inside spoiled. At Jamestown, wells are often filled with thousands of artifacts, everything from discarded food remains and broken household items to old clothing and armor. In particular, in the mud at the bottom of wells, we find organic materials that do not survive anywhere else. Items made of leather and wood, seeds, leaves, and even cloth may be preserved in this low-oxygen environment and offer unique insights into life at Jamestown in the 17th century.

The structure of this well, particularly the use of wedge bricks and the size of the builder’s trench, are similar to the ca. 1617 Smithfield well, which was excavated in 2002. The Smithfield well was the first excavated by Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists and is recreated in the Archaearium Museum. Inside the well, archaeologists found shoes, armor — including a complete breastplateanimal bones, and a pewter flagon with its owner’s initials on it. If the new well dates to the same time period, it may be associated with Deputy Governor Samuel Argall, who served between May 1617 and April 1619, and lived only a short distance away. Hopefully, this well will contain similar artifacts, and yield new information on Jamestown’s teen years.

Jamestown archaeologists will excavate the well throughout 2023. Follow the excavations by signing up for our monthly newsletter and Dig Updates, visiting Jamestown in person, or by watching our livestream of the well dig.

Support for the excavation of the Governor’s Well is provided by the Jamestowne Society.