square cut copper piece with a pierced hole in one corner
Copper Pendant

Before the English arrived in North America, Native Virginian Indians already had established trade networks to obtain copper. When worn, copper served as a symbol of one’s social and spiritual status within the community. This pierced pendant was probably worn as an ornament around the neck, serving as a valuable and attractive status symbol. A 1580s water color of a North Carolinian Indian by Roanoke colonist John White depicts a Native Indian individual wearing a nearly identical copper pendant.

Prior explorations in North America by Europeans had made this information known to the English. Copper was brought in 1607 knowing that it would be used to trade for foods including meats, nuts, corn, squash, and possibly prepared meals delivered in pots made by the Native Virginians. The English had been instructed by the Virginia Company to focus not on farming but on various industrial activities to develop exports from Virginia to London. Therefore, this trade of copper for foodstuffs was vital to the colonists’ survival. 

Thousands of fragments of cut copper have been found by archaeologists in almost all contexts at Jamestown, but this artifact similar to one found in 2011 is one of only a few completed pendants found inside the fort. Almost all of the remaining pendants are found in features which were in use prior to the starving time (1607-1610), which may highlight changing relations between the two groups over time.

related images

Artistic illustration of a Native American man wearing a necklace of a square piece of copper
English artist John White’s portrayal of a Native American man