A Brick-lined Well Outside the Fort Wall

Excavations outside James Fort to the north of the western palisade in 2002 revealed an early 17th-century well that was circular, brick-lined, and extended to a depth of 14′ below modern grade. After the well was abandoned it became a trash pit and was filled with several hundred artifacts dating to the early fortified years of Jamestown. The well appears to have been built around 1617 and filled in during the 1620s. This well can not be the fort’s first or second well because these wells were recorded as having been located within the palisade. Instead, this may have been the well built by Governor Samuel Argall in 1617. This well reveals that archaeological finds from the fort period (ca. 1607-1624) exist just outside the palisade, and that future excavations should continue outside the bounds of the fort to better understand the early years of Jamestown.

A complete breastplate was recovered from the well fill, as were gun parts, a sword blade, three spade nosings, and a large concentration of armor. The armor included several gorgets, tassets, and a burgonet helmet. This abundance of armor suggests that, at the time the well was filled, the military climate in the colony no longer required plate armor for defense. This is substantiated by the historical documents, which reveal that after the 1614 marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe there was a period of peaceful relations between the colonists and the Virginia Indians that lasted until 1622. A pewter lidded flagon, a pewter wine measure minus its handle, a significant portion of a Bartmann jug, and a complete Portuguese earthenware jug were found in the bottom of the well. All four of these vessels likely were lost into the well while colonists were attempting to retrieve well water.


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