The Common Kettle

Situated ten feet to the east and oriented with the cellar that housed James Fort’s first well was this L-shaped cellar. The cellar measured 24 feet long by 14 feet at its widest spot. Carved into the subsoil clay in the northern end of the cellar were steps leading down into this subterranean space. At the lowest levels of strata in the cellar there was evidence of metal working, and two bread ovens with brick façades had been carved in the clay walls of the southern end. Burned red subsoil clay on the walls of the ovens testified to their heavy usage. In addition, a thick ash layer, a byproduct of the ovens, was found dispersed on the floor in the southern end of the cellar. The presence of the ovens suggests that this cellar may have served as the fort’s common kitchen possibly referred to as a stove in the following: “Captain Newport, having landed, lodged, and refreshed his men, employed some of them about a fair storehouse, others about a stove, and his mariners about a church, all which works they finished cheerfully and in short time.” If indeed this cellar was the kitchen or stove referred to above then the cellar would have been constructed in early 1608 when Newport arrived at Jamestown for the second time.

Scattered on the surface of the ash layer associated with the ovens were numerous sturgeon scutes and fin bones from the bony fish that were often a staple of the colonists’ diet. Interestingly, Captain John Smith wrote about colonists using sturgeon meat and eggs to make bread: “We had more sturgeon than could be devoured by dog and man, of which the industrious by drying and pounding, mingled with caviar, sorrel, and other wholesome herbs, would make bread and good meat.” This cellar may be where the sturgeon processing mentioned by Smith was taking place.

Smith’s quote seems to fit the historical timeline well. His sturgeon reference was from the warmer months of 1609 before the infamous “starving time” winter of 1609-10 set in. The cellar was abandoned and filled in with trash in 1610 when the new governor, Lord De La Warr, arrived and ordered the fort to be cleansed. Therefore the layer of ash and sturgeon remains likely predates the winter as it was deposited prior to the 1610 fort cleanup. Evidence for a 1610 backfilling of the cellar could be found in the form of butchered dog and horse bones. The colonists consumed all of their dogs and horses during that winter in an attempt to survive. There were also reports of survival cannibalism from Jamestown that winter. In the same fill layers that yielded the horse and dog bones the mutilated skull and severed leg bone of a young English female were found. Forensic analysis of these bones demonstrated overwhelming scientific evidence that the young woman had been cannibalized. The Rediscovery team decided to name her Jane as her true identity may never be known.

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