This ornate button was found in Jamestown’s Memorial Church in backfill related to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities’ (APVA) 1901-1902 excavations. This early work was focused on relocating the foundations of the earlier churches which stood on the area where today’s Memorial Church now stands.
This button is comprised of a wooden core wrapped in fine silver threads. Parallel examples to this fancy button are found on many extant garments in museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Though very common during the seventeenth century, only eight textile buttons have been recovered from James Fort. This is because organic materials like wood and thread degrade quickly, and rarely survive in the ground for 400 years. This one may have survived because a building, the Memorial Church, was constructed overtop of the area where this button was deposited, protecting it from the elements. Most of the textile buttons that have been found by Jamestown archaeologists still have their wooden cores, which can be seen peeking through the threads. In some of these cases, the wood base survived due to the presence of copper salts that leached from the silver thread, preventing bacteria from breaking down the organic wood. However, one of the buttons was recovered from the Second Well where it was likely preserved due to the lack of organic-consuming bacteria in the anaerobic, or waterlogged environment.
Of these eight buttons, six are from Early Fort Period contexts including the Kitchen and Cellar, First Well, Second Well, Factory, and Soldier Pits. While this particular button was discovered in a mixed context, its location under the floor of the church and the use of silver thread suggests that it may have adorned a person of rank who was interred directly below the floor of one of the churches that stood on the site in the 17th century. The button was likely disturbed from its original context as APVA preservationists excavated burials in the chancel and body of the church in the early 20th century. Recent excavations inside the Memorial Church yielded more evidence for the identities, status, and memorialization of those buried below the multiple church floors, including through the recovery of this elaborate doublet button.