Front and side view of a red, white, and blue bead
Front and side view of a chevron bead

After beadmakers emigrated from the 16th century bead manufacturing center of Venice to Amsterdam in the 1590s, chevron beads became more common on English colonial sites due to established trade between England and the Netherlands in the early 17th century. However other bead types found alongside chevron beads at Jamestown indicate that the chevron beads arriving in Virginia in 1607 were more likely to have been produced in Venice. Navy blue Nueva Cadiz beads were never produced by the Dutch. It is likely that the two types—Nueva Cadiz and chevron beads—traveled across the ocean from the same manufacturing center – Venice.   

These significant but tiny artifacts raise questions about trade in the English colonies in America. If England itself was obtaining most of their beads through trade with the Netherlands when Jamestown was founded, then how did beads from Venice arrive in an English settlement in Virginia? There are a few hypotheses, one being the possibility that newly-established interactions across eastern North America between the English, the French to the North, the Spanish to the South, and Native peoples from many locations were already at work creating new North American trading patterns. Goods that were part of established trade among Europe may have moved differently between these local groups in the early 17th century, even as early as 1610.   

The chevron beads in the Jamestown collection all have seven layers: a bright navy exterior, followed by white, redwood, white, bright navy, white, and a bright blue core. The facets are ground, which can be identified under a microscope. Of the over 40 beads of this chevron type, the vast majority have been found by archaeologists in features which date to the earliest years of the fort, meaning they were in use on the site most commonly between 1607-1610. Notably, more than half were discarded into the fort’s first well, and about a quarter of the chevron beads were found in the feature called the Factory, which due to its location outside the palisade walls may have been used as a trading site with Native Virginians.