This ornate button was found in Jamestown’s Memorial Church in backfill, related to Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities’ 1901-1902 excavations. Commonly uncovered on sites of the period, this type of button fastened a garment known as doublet, an item worn by men from the 14th through the late 17th century. By the founding of Jamestown in 1607, doublets were typically short, tight-fitting jackets or vests worn by all ranks of society. While originally designed to be worn under other clothing, doublets were frequently worn as outerwear by the early 17th century.
Among the elite, doublets worn as outerwear represented a highly visible opportunity to convey one’s status, differentiating themselves in unspoken ways. This could be accomplished through the quality of the fabric and weave, the presence of gold or silver lace, and the relative expense of doublet buttons. This particular button fastened one such expensive jacket or vest, and once belonged to a set of 10 or more identical buttons.
Two similar buttons have been uncovered in James Fort, both within contexts dating from 1607-1611. For each of these examples, silver thread was woven around a wooden base, which was once wrapped in fabric. The wood base survives due to the copper alloy in the silver thread, and specifically the salts that leach from copper, preventing bacteria from breaking down organics. While discovered in a mixed context, finding this item in the floor of the church suggests that it might have adorned a person of rank buried in the floor itself. The button was likely disturbed from its original context when the APVA preservationists excavated burials in the chancel and body of the church in the early 20th century. Excavations yield more evidence for the identities, status, and memorialization of those buried in the multiple church floors.