The barracks, first discovered by Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists in 1995, was one of the earliest buildings at Jamestown. It stood from approximately 1607 or 1608 to 1610, as evidenced by the artifacts recovered from the pit at one end of the building which show it was filled in during Lord De La Warr’s clean-up of the fort in the spring of 1610. The archaeological evidence indicates a large (approximately 18 feet by 54 feet) mud and stud building. The depth of the postholes suggests the posts supported a two-story structure. A building this size could have housed 20–40 men.
In preparation for the site’s 400th anniversary, Jamestown Rediscovery decided to interpret the barracks with a reconstruction. Along with the archaeological features, surviving parallels in England and research into vernacular architecture provided guidance for what the framework would look like. The building would have had a central wood-framed chimney, covered with clay. Forked structural posts held up a top plate and a hipped roof. The walls were infilled with wooden mid rails and vertical “studding” which provide the structure to add the clay to make the walls. Once dry, the clay would be pargeted to provide protection from the elements. The barracks probably had a dirt floor, wooden doors, and open windows.
The frame of the building was reconstructed by the Jamestown Rediscovery team in 2006 in the same location as the original building, although the postholes are slightly offset from their original counterparts to avoid disturbing the archaeology. Construction took a little more than 3 months. Locust wood harvested from western North Carolina was used, and the team hoped to get 10 years out of this experimental archaeology building. An experiment to recreate the mud walls showed that they would be short-lived without waterproofing. You can read more details about the construction process in the Dig Updates from October and November 2006.
This project was popular in explaining what the first buildings looked like and the power of archaeology in recreating the lost landscape, but by early 2020, the structure had become unstable. It was dismantled and a new barracks frame is being built in its place this summer, again respecting the archaeological evidence. This is also an opportunity to improve on the design and introduce modern preservation techniques for wood in direct contact with Virginia soils. Colonists would not have initially been aware of termites and other destructive insects that would have attacked their buildings. After De La Warr’s arrival in 1610, the colonists adapted to their surroundings by building structures without cellars or post-in-ground supports.
Stemann | Pease Architecture and Black Creek Workshop assisted Jamestown Rediscovery in coming up with a modified plan for a building frame that will appear as it did in 1607, but last longer than the 4 years the colonists got out of it and the 13 years archaeologists did. Initial construction for the new structure took place during the summer of 2020. This project is graciously funded by the Jamestown Society.