Jamestown’s earliest structures were made from locally available wood and clay. Known as “mud and stud” architecture, these first buildings were constructed using large wooden support posts in the ground with smaller, upright wooden studs or laths between them. Daub, a mud mixture, was applied to the wood in between the posts to create the walls.
Daub was made from local clay and a mixture of twigs, grass, marsh reeds, straw, or other materials to act as a binder for the clay. Daub typically survives archaeologically if it has been burned. Similar to a clay pot fired in a kiln, daub walls become hardened if they are exposed to fire. The Jamestown collection includes examples of daub that appear to have different binders, indicating the colonists were using local, easily accessible materials when constructing their first structures. Much of the daub recovered at Jamestown has been fired and appear with different colors due to that burning process.
Similar types of architecture have been used in many different cultures for thousands of years. However, mud and stud style buildings at Jamestown were likely inspired by buildings that some of the colonists would have been very familiar with. Mud and stud architecture was popular in 16th – 17th century Lincolnshire, England, and a number of these buildings still stand today. Captain John Smith, a Lincolnshire native, likely directed the construction of many of the early structures at Jamestown during his presidency, relying on his hometown for inspiration.
Notable examples of mud and stud structures on the site include the corps de garde, the most intact mud and stud structure found to date, the barracks, the factory, and the colony’s first Church, constructed in 1608. The colonists soon discovered that mud and stud buildings exposed to the weather and temperature fluctuations of tidewater Virginia required significant labor to maintain. In May of 1617, Governor Samuel Argall, finding “the church downe, the Palizado’s broken, the Bridge in pieces, the Well of fresh water spoiled; the Store-house they used for the Church”, ordered a new church to be built. This time the colonists constructed a timber framed building as their place of worship and site of the first legislative assembly. As bricks continued to be produced in greater numbers on the island, construction efforts continually turned to sturdier materials. Most buildings on the site by the mid-17th century were made partially or entirely of brick, including the 1663 Statehouse, the foundation of which can be viewed today through the floor of the Archaearium museum.