A few shoes and other leather artifacts have been found in the wet anaerobic (without oxygen) environments of James Fort’s wells. In 2006, fragments of a child’s first shoe were found in a timber-lined well filled with trash ca. 1617. The goatskin shoe was a “draw-bridge” style that came into fashion about 1600. The size 1 shoe showed signs of slight wear, perhaps from the infant’s first steps on Virginia soil. This shoe was a prestige item and reflects the status of the infant’s parents. It is also one of the rare objects found during the archaeological search of the fort that represents children. It is from such details that we may develop the narrative about people and events that had been lost to history.
This find is all the more rare because shoes were in short supply in the early Jamestown colony for everyone. Captain John Smith blamed this on sailors who would pilfer supplies meant for the colonists and then sell them in a black market—sometimes even to the colonists themselves! Smith reported that it was particularly hard to harvest oysters without proper footwear. He recalled that “for want of Shooes among the Oyster Bankes wee tore our hatts and Clothes and those being worne, wee tied Barkes of trees about our Feete to keepe them from being Cutt by the shelles amongst which wee must goe or starve..”