Military Buttons
Military Buttons

Despite Jamestown Island’s use for a brief time during both the American Revolution and the Civil War, very few military buttons have been recovered from the site. The collection contains just seven definitive military-related buttons, though it is certainly possible that some of the undecorated 18th-19th century buttons could be associated with soldiers of the two wars. All of the buttons were found in disturbed contexts.

During the American Revolution, the island was a site where prisoners were exchanged between the two armies. Additionally, French soldiers sought refuge at Jamestown after the Battle of Green Spring in 1781. Though the buttons recovered from Jamestown indicate specific French Infantry regiments, they don’t necessarily mean that regiment was present. Due to the schedule that troops were outfitted, how the regiments changed numbers relatively often, and how individuals were occasionally sent with other troops, tracking the presence of specific French regiments through the appearance of their buttons is not a straightforward task! 

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Confederate soldiers built an earthen fort on the island due to its strategic location downriver of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. This construction, Fort Pocahontas, was intended to be part of the defense system to block any attempts the Union made to advance up the James River. The fort was only in Confederate hands for one year. In 1862, Union troops took over and occupied the fort for the duration of the war. In addition to wartime occupations, people, including military veterans, have visited Jamestown since at least the mid-19th century. Despite the fact that the 17th century James Fort was assumed to have eroded away, visitors still flocked to this place of historic importance even when there wasn’t much to see. Early visitors may have also come to see Fort Pocahontas, as visiting Civil War sites was and still is, a popular activity. When Historic Jamestown opened to the public as an official tourism site in the early 20th century, visitation increased drastically. This led to a greater chance of accidental artifact deposits, providing interesting insight into visitation and tourism. In the case of military buttons, two of the seven date to the 20th century and were almost certainly from site visitors.

military buttons in the jamestown collection

PhotoTime PeriodDescriptionNotes
American RevolutionCopper Alloy
Turret-style fastener
Obverse: '8' in a broken circle with touching iris ends and a raised stipple above
8th Regiment – French Infantry – possibly Bourbonnois Regiment
American RevolutionCopper Alloy
Turret-style fastener
Obverse: '47' within two concentric broken circles with touching iris ends on the outer circle a raised stipple above
47th Regiment – possibly French Artillery
American RevolutionPewter
Turret-style fastener
Obverse: '104' in a broken circle with touching iris ends and a raised stipple above
104th Regiment – Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment – Germans fighting under French command
Mid-19th CenturyCopper Alloy
Braided edge
Obverse: 'CADET W.M.S.': with an image of a building Reverse: 'SCOVILLE MG CO . SUPERFINE.'
This is a button from the former Westwood Military School in Lynchburg, Va. which operated for a few years leading up to the Civil War.
Civil WarCopper Alloy
Obverse: Virginia state seal depicting Virtus slaying the tyrant. 'VIRGINIA SIC SEMPER TYRANNUS'
Made by Scovill and supplied to Confederate VA troops by Mitchell and Tyler, who were jewelers, watchmakers, and suppliers of military goods based in Richmond from 1845-1866.
World War ICopper Alloy
Obverse: Displayed eagle with shield on chest clutching arrows and olive branch, with a ball bearing 13 stars above its head. The banner clutched in mouth states 'pluribus unum'.
General service button depicting the "Great Seal". It was likely dropped by a visitor at some point during Jamestown's long history of visitation.
Photo coming soon20th CenturyPlastic, Sew-through
Obverse: Anchor
Button that appears to be from the trousers of Navy enlisted dress blues. This style goes back to at least the early 20th century. It is another lost button from a site visitor.