Mended earthenware butter pot
Midlands Purple butter pot

Midlands Purple butter pots highlight the evolution of Jamestown over time from a military fort to a permanent port town. They are found frequently in early James Fort period features, indicating that butter was a heavily imported commodity. Packed into the pots in layers, hand-churned butter was separated by thin layers of salt as a preservative. Yet without ice to keep the vessels cool, butter probably would have been consumed quickly on board the ships traveling to Virginia. The butter stored inside Midlands Purple butter pots would have rapidly become rancid Especially upon arrival to the hot and humid Virginia climate. Unfortunately for the butter-loving colonists, between 1607-1611 there was no way to replace butter stores as cattle and other livestock had not yet been imported to Virginia. This may account for the large numbers of butter pots arriving to Virginia in the early fort period. Once the butter inside was consumed or discarded, the large jars were probably used for storage of other commodities at Jamestown.

However, in 1611, the arrival of livestock began to change the amount of butter and therefore the number of butter pots imported to Jamestown. Dairy products such as butter, milk, and cheese could be made locally. Because butter never seemed to survive the sea-faring journey, locally-made products would be fresher and could easily be stored in the previously disused pots. Just as it is today, butter and the salt it was packed with were important ingredients in many 17th century dishes. Foods consumed at Jamestown would have changed significantly in flavor and preparation as the settlement became more permanent. By the 1640s, as the port town of Jamestown bustled with imports and exports, Midlands Purple butter pots are almost gone from the material record, replaced instead by locally-made storage jars, cheese strainers, and milk pans.