A Jamestown Warehouse

The middle of the 1620s saw James Fort decline in importance as Jamestown came into its own as the capital of the Virginia colony. The change from military outpost to a more stable community is reflected in the archaeological record, especially in the architecture. Throughout the second quarter of the 17th century, the use of more permanent building materials became more common as the town grew out of the fort. Brickmakers arrived in Virginia as early as 1608, but it wasn’t until the 1620s that brick was used extensively in the construction of buildings.

The site of John White’s house and/or warehouse was located just east of James Fort. It represents the transition from the wood and mud barracks-type buildings of James Fort to the brick structures that sprang up around “New Towne” on the eastern part of the island after the Fort ceased to exist. At 46 feet x 30 feet, it is a large structure by 17th-century standards. The foundations are built of brick and stone. Only two other buildings at Jamestown have footings constructed in this manner: the 1617/18 church and a warehouse from the 1620s that is on the waterfront 100 feet to the east.

Built sometime after the mid 1620s, the building seems to have burned sometime before 1650. The fact that it burned is of special interest to archaeologists. Usually, once a building is abandoned it is scavenged of all usable materials. It then becomes buried in time by its own collapse and through the refuse dumped by nearby inhabitants. By the time archaeologists arrive on the scene hundreds of years later, it is not known whether the artifacts found in association with the building have anything to do with the original use of the structure or with its occupants. Unlike an abandoned building, a structure that burns is the equivalent of a time capsule. With luck, archaeologists will find items exactly where they were at the time of the fire. These artifacts can tell the story of the use of the building and, hopefully, something about the people who used it.

Documentary records show that a merchant/politician named John White acquired an acre of land on this site in 1644. It is likely that this structure served as his warehouse with a half-timber constructed living quarters on the second floor.

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