This artifact, although now missing many of its recognizable box elements, like a protective escutcheon for the key hole or furniture lock hasps, appears to have once been the lid to a box. It is also possible that this artifact is a book cover, but without other book hardware present it is difficult to determine this artifact’s original use. Some iron is still present, which may have been protective strapping used to keep a box or book intact and the corners protected from wear. The artifact is made mostly of wood, with a leather covering attached by copper alloy tacks which were also placed to create a decorative design. Leather-tacked coverings on wooden items like boxes or book covers was commonly used to protect an item and provide an element of waterproofing as it was used. Over 100 loose tacks were also found scattered throughout the same early fort period cellar where this artifact was found in May 2015, and it seems likely that those tacks once belonged to this item but have fallen away as the rest of the artifact slowly deteriorated.
Chests, boxes, or coffers were used to transport possessions to Virginia and this rare surviving example could be evidence of such a container that once held a settlers’ personal items. The living conditions aboard the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery were extremely cramped. Not only were personal possessions allowed aboard, but enough supplies to last the four and a half month-long journey and other provisions to establish the settlement upon arrival in Virginia were stuffed onto the tiny ships.
While this artifact is fragmentary, the small size of the tacks and the clustered design indicate that if it was the cover to a box, the box itself would have been somewhat small. Like today’s briefcases or binders, document boxes or leather-covered books were used to protect papers from the elements and keep them organized. A document box or leather covered book would have helped maintain paper records of the daily life in Virginia and preserved communication between the colony and England. It may be thanks to an artifact like this one that researchers today are able to read documents written by settlers living at Jamestown in the early 17th century.
This is the most intact example of leather-covered wood with decorative tacks that has been found at Jamestown, although smaller fragments of similar items have been recovered from both the first and second wells and the factory. Jamestown conservators spent several weeks cleaning and preserving the artifact following its excavation.