The cherry pits found at Jamestown are likely of a wild cherry variety that was found nearby, probably the species cf. serotina sp. or virginiana sp. Only nine cherry stones or pits were found in the colony’s second well, but this is still a significant number, as only a total of 13 have been found across the site in total. Although this sample size is small, it indicates that cherries were consumed on site at least by 1611. The absence of pits from water-logged contexts dating to James Fort’s first years suggests those may have been fruitless years for local cherry trees, perhaps because of extreme drought in the region from 1606 to 1612 that was documented by tree-ring reconstruction.
Prunus serotina (black cherry) and Prunus virginiana (chokecherry) were historically consumed by native peoples in the regions where they thrive. Many parts of the chokecherry tree specifically have been used by Native American’s in medicinal recipes. Notably, serotina sp. grows alongside trees of other species which are represented in the Jamestown collection, including Black walnut and Hackberry. The pits or stones of both species can be toxic, and just like we do today, are usually not consumed but are discarded as trash. If swallowed they typically pass whole through the digestive system. In both cases, this increases the chance of the pits survival on archaeological sites.
Cherries were known to the English colonists prior to their arrival in Virginia, and the presence of cherry trees and their fruits is noted in multiple first-hand accounts, including by John Smith. Gervase Markham in 1615 recorded a recipe in his book The English Housewife for a cherry tart. The ingredients included sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and of course, cherries.