Kings Touch Token
King’s Touch Token

This token is the most common type found at Jamestown, and it is found in two different sizes. The smaller tokens (average diameter 19mm) are more prevalent, while the larger size (average diameter 29mm) are rare. A total of 64 have been recovered, many from early fort period features including the Factory, the First Well, the West Bulwark Trench, and the Blacksmith Shop/Bakery. They are stamped on only one side with the image of an intertwined rose and thistle under a crown within a beaded boarder. Originally dated to the reign of King James II, the finds recovered from Jamestown disprove that theory, as they have been found in contexts which predate James II’s reign. The symbolism of the intertwined rose and thistle indicates that these tokens were more likely made during James I’s reign, and they could have been struck just prior to the founding of Jamestown. A similar symbol was used by James I on halfgroat, penny, and halfpennies, acknowledging the union of England (represented by the rose) and Scotland (represented by the thistle).

It is unclear what the original use of these tokens was. The name “King’s Touch” comes from the theory that these tokens were “touch pieces” given as souvenirs of the King’s Touch ceremony. During this ritual which was established in the Book of Common Prayer, an individual afflicted with the “King’s Evil”, a disease affecting the lymph glands, could be cured by the divine touch of the monarch. The ceremony and the symbolism on these tokens would reinforce to the populace the divine right of the king, which would have only recently been passed from Queen Elizabeth to King James I. It is well documented that Elizabeth I performed this ceremony, often at St. Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster. A “touch piece,” or token, would be given to the healed person as a combination ticket for entry and souvenir. 8 October 1603 was the first recorded King’s Touch ceremony performed by King James I.

Although these tokens retain the name King’s Touch, it seems unlikely that they are associated with the ceremony. Documented tokens associated with the King’s Touch ceremony were made from gold or silver, and these tokens from Jamestown are all copper alloy. Instead, these tokens could be commemorative pieces made as souvenirs to commemorate King James I’s coronation, which took place in 1603.

Whatever their original use, it is likely that these tokens were no longer valid or in use in England, and were therefore brought to Jamestown for use as currency. A system of currency does not appear to have taken hold, resulting in most of these artifacts being either thrown away or lost at Jamestown around 1610.

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