Water Table Brick
Water Table Brick

Although most of the earliest buildings in James Fort were post-in-ground structures, the colony’s first kitchen contains what is likely the earliest brick masonry in Virginia, two brick ovens. The bricks used to construct the ovens were probably imported from England. Historical documents suggests that by 1610, brickmakers, bricklayers, and lime-burners were requested to be sent to the colony. Brick production at Jamestown began between 1610-1617, and a number of features dating to this period and just after, including the bakery which replaces the first kitchen, the Governor’s House and Row Houses, and the Smithfield well were constructed using some of the first bricks made in Virginia. Seventeenth century manufacturing techniques indicate that bricks at Jamestown were made using two different methods: stock molded, and struck or scraped. Once formed, both stock molded and scraped bricks were left to dry for a few weeks. Firing before they were dry could have led to breakage or misformed bricks in the kiln. Bricks are fired in a permanent structure called a kiln or a single use structure called a clamp, which could have produced a few thousand bricks at a time. 

It can be very difficult for archaeologists to determine whether bricks are stock molded or are struck/scraped. However, some key characteristics help to identify the method of manufacture. Other brick types with different shapes, manufacturing characteristics, and bricks imported from the Netherlands are all found at Jamestown. See below for more details about the bricks in the Jamestown collection.

related videos

brick types in the jamestown collection

Brick TypePhoto(s)Description
Stock BrickStock bricks were made in a large open mold on a movable tabletop called a stock. Clay was prepared, and the wetted mold was sprinkled with sand and laid out on the stock. The wet, sand-covered mold acted like a greased and floured baking pan – allowing the molded bricks to be released from the mold smoothly. Clay was worked into the mold and the mold was pulled off the bricks, leaving the bricks on the stock. They were then carried to the hack, a designated drying area, where they were removed from the stock and left to dry for a few weeks before firing. Archaeologists can identify stock molded bricks because they typically have sand on all sides and sometimes have clay "feet" where the clay squished out underneath the mold during production. They often have sunken edges from the mold.
Scraped BrickScraped bricks are formed in a box mold with an affixed bottom that molded about 2-4 bricks at a time. Brickmakers had multiple sets of the mold so many people could work to produce them. The clay was prepared in the same way that stock brick clay was prepared, then worked into the wetted and sanded mold, before a long piece of wood was used to strike or scrape off the excess clay in the top of the mold. The striking process left tell-tale scrape marks on top of the bricks and removed any sand that would coat that side of the brick – features that archaeologists look for to identify this manufacturing method. The brickmaker's assistant took the mold to the hack, tipped out the raw bricks for drying, and brought the mold back to the brick making station to be used for the next brick.
Dutch BrickClick here to learn more and see images of Dutch bricks.
Bricks with PrintsClick here to learn more and see images of bricks with prints.
Water Table BrickWater table bricks are molded, cut, and shaped to direct water away from a structure. Brickmakers took special care to prepare clay that did not have rocks or other debris in the temper, then molded the brick and cut it before firing. After firing at a low temperature so the brick remained slightly soft (or placed further away from the heat source in the clamp), the brick was cut, rubbed, or sanded into a shape. Sometimes these bricks simply had sloped sides or they could be more ornate and have grooves cut and rubbed to form a decorative element for a structure. Fewer than 30 water table bricks have been found at Jamestown. The earliest on the site were recovered from the colony's Second Well, the Governor's Addition, and the Smithfield Well. Today, water table bricks can be seen as part of the Memorial Church, constructed in 1907.
Mullion BrickMullion bricks are diamond-shaped, and act as separations for glass in windows. Only two diamond-shaped mullion bricks have been found at Jamestown, both recovered in the summer of 2022. These bricks may have originally been part of Jamestown's third/fourth church, constructed out of brick in the 1640s.
Coping BrickCoping bricks are molded in a semi-circular, triangular, or curved side shape. Typically used to cap walls, directing water away from the structure. Only 20 coping bricks have been recovered at Jamestown, most from contexts near to the Ambler wall. Coping bricks still cap this wall that surrounds part of the Churchyard today. One was recovered in the summer of 2017, helping archaeologists better understand the construction of the wall and the space to the East of the churchyard.
Compass BrickCut or molded into a tapered shape, compass bricks are used in arches of buildings and walls of brick-lined wells. Only 7 compass bricks have been found at Jamestown, the majority from a well which was filled with trash in the late 17th or early 18th century. This indicates that compass bricks were not used at Jamestown during the Fort period.
Glazed BrickAccidentally or purposefully sprinkled with salt or other additives after being almost completely fired to create a glazing on the exterior surface of the brick. Sometimes these glazed bricks were used to create patterns while bricklaying in buildings' exterior walls. Many glazed bricks and brick fragments have been found at Jamestown. It is unclear whether they were used decoratively in construction at the site, or whether their production was simply happenstance and they were used as needed.
Industrial BrickWedge-shaped bricks used in window or door arches. At least 22 bricks found at Jamestown are called industrial bricks, the majority of which were found in early 17th century contexts. Their exact use is unclear at this time, especially as a number of them were found in contexts associated with mud and stud structures.
Shaped BrickOther fragments found in the collection are scotia brick fragments and other unknown shaped brick fragments.