Jamestown’s Final Years as the Capital

Excavation expanding the site to further expose the eastern course of the 1607 fort’s western palisade wall located a large brick-filled feature. This proved to be a cellar that disturbed, and therefore postdated, a chimney base of one of the 1611 row house buildings. The limits were defined as a 20′ by 8′ rectangle, oriented roughly east/west. The cellar’s walls were brick and set in English bond. The floor was dirt, and there was no evidence of an entryway. Large postholes were found at the southern corners of the cellar, evidence for the posts that had supported the structure that stood over the cellar. Sixteen feet south of the cellar were several large postholes that were likely associated with this building. The presence of these posts provides an overall dimension of 20′ by 24′ for the building.

The cellar was completely excavated, and the fill contained many datable artifacts, including fragments of locally produced earthenwares such as Challis (c. 1690-1710) and Green Spring (c. 1660-1680). Post-1676 Morgan Jones pottery from Westmoreland County, Virginia, was also recovered. An English delftware cup (c. 1670-1710), a wine glass stem (c. 1680-90), and window leads marked “W.M. 1683 R.D.” and “E.W.*1693*W.C.* confirmed that Structure 173 was a late 17th-century building.

The floor of the cellar had an intact occupation layer that provided clues as to the final occupant of the building. Ten intact, yet empty, c. 1680-1700 glass wine bottles were found sitting upright on the dirt floor. One of the wine bottles had a seal on its shoulders with the initials “FN.” This bottle was most likely made for Sir Francis Nicholson who served as Virginia’s lieutenant governor from 1690-92, and then as the governor from 1698-1705. Nicholson was living in rental property while at Jamestown, as the governor’s residence promised by the English crown had not yet been built. It is very possible that he was the late 17th-century occupant of this structure. After the statehouse burned in 1698, the seat of government and the governor moved to Williamsburg. Six c. 1680-1710 European tobacco pipe bowls, 2 iron stirrups, an iron spit, hoe blade, and gun barrel were in the fill, along with 17 pieces of window lead ranging in size from 1 1/2″ to 28″ in length. This particular find established, with an unusual degree of certainty, the late 17th-century date for this cellar’s final use.


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