With a unique cinquefoil lobed glass body, decorative copper alloy top, and iron shank, this button type is one of the most elaborate styles of doublet buttons in the collection. Thirteen such buttons have been cataloged thus far and likely all came from the same garment. Of these, seven were recovered from Pit 5 a feature just outside the fort walls to the east. This circular pit may have been a cellar or underground living space during the earliest years of James Fort. The pit was filled in with trash during the “cleansing” of the fort in 1610 after the Starving Time winter, and perhaps a doublet with these buttons still attached was tossed in as part of this cleansing. Two of the other buttons were also recovered from features that date to this period in Jamestown’s history — the First Well and the Factory.
Of the remaining buttons, one is from a mid-17th century ditch that cuts through the eastern portion of the fort and disrupts earlier features, while the remaining three are from mixed contexts. Despite their seemingly poor contexts, these buttons are overwhelmingly from the same general area on the landscape. Later features and activities, like plowing or the construction of the Confederate fort, disturb the earlier 17th century features. This causes fort period artifacts to appear in later contexts, though through processes such as cross-mending we can still place these disturbed artifacts into the wider puzzle. In this case, the recovery of a very specific and rare button style allows for an association between 17th century features and later contexts.
While no parallels to these buttons have been found so far, Jamestown’s curators will continue to research them, including searching museum collections for similar buttons on extant garments. These fancy buttons would have likely belonged to an extravagant piece of clothing — highlighting that the display of wealth and status was important to the English in the early 17th century, even here at Jamestown.
Another way in which curators are researching these buttons is by investigating their material makeup to provide a better understanding of where these buttons may have been made. This analysis is ongoing, but the results will be shared as soon as they are available!