An Outpost for Trade

The excavations of a 50′ palisade wall trench extending east from the triangular James Fort revealed a mud-and-stud building. This building was defined by a series of postholes with limits that measured 18′ by 72′ and was oriented north/south. It had a large 13′ x 25′ cellar, an 18′ by 24′ northern room with a prepared clay and ash floor outlined by postholes, and three brick hearths. The name given to this building is the Factory.

The Factory was large enough to have had multiple uses, which may be identified by further analyses of the material and chemical samples recovered from the floor surface. Test excavations of the clay floor recovered 47 jettons, possible clues to one function of this space. Jettons were used as mathematical aids in accounting, suggesting that the Factory may have served as the storehouse for the colony’s goods. Scores of glass trade beads and pieces of scrap copper used in commerce with the Indians suggest that it also may have functioned as a trading center. The building’s location at the perimeter of James Fort’s addition made it a secure place for dealing with the Virginia Indians without allowing them inside the fortified walls. Other possible activities in the building include a space in the northern room for malting and for metallurgical processes. Multiple artifacts used in the search for precious metals were found in this context including a glass alembic (a domed vessel used in distilling), a distilling flask, crucibles, and distilling dishes.

Two unusual artifact caches were found in the floor at what was possibly an entrance to the north room. One of the holes contained a nearly complete Border ware saucer candlestick, and a 1577 Livonian silver coin. Nearby, an early 17th-century case bottle was found buried in association with dozens of small quartz pebbles, which may have once been collected inside the bottle.

Complete excavation of the Factory’s cellar feature revealed steps descending from one corner carved into the natural clay. The cellar once had been partially walled with timber, had a fire place area visible with burnt clay on the floor, and had two barrels buried in and below the floor to drain it. There also were small postholes near the steps that seemed to indicate a partition. This did not make sense for an ordinary room partition because it only cut off a small area at the steps, but its location does make sense if the cellar had at one point served as a prison. This area could have served as the dungeon where John Smith records holding a Powhatan Indian captive.


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