Almost 100 grape seeds have been recovered from a variety of early James Fort features, including Pit 5, the Blacksmith shop/Bakery, the Kitchen and Cellar, and the Second Well, like those pictured here. John Smith recorded grape vines with many fruits growing abundantly in sunny places, near rivers and Native Virginia Indian settlements. He referred to the grapes as “hedge” grapes, and also described another type of grape, growing almost as large as a cherry that the Native Virginian’s called “Messamins”, which may be what we call Muscadine grapes today.
According to Smith, both types of grapes were used to make wine, which was apparently the preferred method of consuming the grapes. Unfortunately, the wine produced was not quite as good as French wine available in England at the time, and Smith suggests that the wine would be better if the vines were fertilized.
By 1619, it appears that growing grapes, whether for consumption on their own or for wine production was a significant part of daily life at Jamestown. Lord De La Warr also recognized the success of local grape vines and wrote to the Virginia Company suggesting that European grape vines and skilled vignerons, or grape vine workers be sent to the colony. The Virginia Company, hoping that wine production and subsequent export could become a profitable endeavor eagerly complied. Among other rules for planting crops like corn, flax, hempseeds, mulberry trees and aniseeds, in August 1619 the newly established Virginia House of Burgesses codified grape production by requiring each household to plant and cultivate at least 10 grapevines yearly. This may explain why grape seeds were also recovered by archaeologists from the Drummond house, a building which dates to the mid-17th century.