Water and access to clean drinking water were crucial to the settlement’s survival at Jamestown. John Smith writes of “excellent, sweet water” coming from the colony’s first well, which he ordered the colonists to dig in 1608. Unfortunately for those living on Jamestown Island, most wells dug to supply fresh water quickly became unpotable. This was probably due to several factors, including the number of people requiring fresh water, quickly drawing down the supply. Luckily for archaeologists, many wells at Jamestown were filled with seventeenth-century trash once they were defunct. The first well alone was filled with over 500,000 artifacts!
This bucket handle and two iron lug elements to attach the handle to the bucket were found thrown away in a brick-lined well that served the colony beginning around 1617 and filled with trash in the early 1620s. This iron handle itself would have been heavy even without a bucket full of water attached. The handle was designed to be heavy because this weight would help to tip the wooden bucket onto its side to allow water to pour in. The swivel design is part of this purpose as well. The loop at the top of the handle was attached to either a rope or an iron chain. Although the bucket no longer remains, the measurements of this handle tell us that the bucket was likely about 30 cm in diameter.
The handle is missing one arm – perhaps this is why the entire bucket and handle were discarded in the well as trash in the 1620s.