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.

well cam video highlights

DescriptionClose UpFrom Afar
September 19: Saw blade excavationWell Cam Closeup September 19 Saw blade excavationWell Cam from Afar September 19 Saw blade excavation
September 19: Dagger (or the end of a sword) blade excavationWell Cam Closeup September 19 Dagger (or the end of a sword) blade excavation
September 21: Sword excavationWell Cam Closeup September 21 Sword excavationWell Cam from Afar September 21 Sword excavation
September 27: Bill excavationWell Cam Closeup September 27 Bill excavationWell Cam from Afar September 27 Bill excavation
September 28: Adze excavationWell Cam Closeup September 28 Adze excavationWell Cam from Afar September 28 Adze excavation
September 28: Burned wall fragment excavationWell Cam Closeup September 28 Burned wall fragment excavationWell Cam from Afar September 28 Burned wall fragment excavation
September 28: Possible tasset pieces excavationWell Cam Closeup September 28 Possible tasset pieces excavationWell Cam from Afar September 28 Possible tasset pieces excavation
September 28: Rope fragments excavationWell Cam Closeup September 28 Rope fragments excavationWell Cam from Afar September 28 Rope fragments excavation
September 28: Spoon excavationWell Cam Closeup September 28 Spoon excavationWell Cam from Afar September 28 Spoon excavation

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.

moving from the field to the lab

The incredible artifacts recovered by the team are now in the collections lab undergoing cleaning, conservation, and research. Some artifacts, like copper straight pins, are relatively simple to conserve. Others, like the sword hilts, will take more time as they get thoroughly cleaned, undergo air abrasion, then the drying process, and beyond. The water-logged organic artifacts, like the leather shoes, rope, and wood, are the most complex and will require lengthy intervention. On the research side, this is the time when our initial artifact identifications can change. Follow along on the behind-the-scenes live lab cam!

next steps in the field

In the field, the archaeology team will return to the Governor’s Well closer to the end of the year to excavate the remaining layers of the builder’s trench and the interior of the well.

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.