Memento Mori ring
Memento Mori ring

This gold signet ring found in 2008 has a reverse design on it that makes a positive impression in sealing wax that would be attached to letters and legal documents. This is a unique symbol for the owner who makes the wax impression to certify who wrote the document or who signed it. Signet rings were typically worn on the index finger and were necessary for business: they provided a symbolic proof of signature to a largely illiterate population.

This ring depicts a skull with the initials “CL” and the Latin legend “Memento Mori” (“remember thy death”). This symbol was used by Puritans to impress on their followers that they should live a pure, sinless life because they will eventually die and be accountable for what they did in life. A similar theme was found on a silver seal also recovered from James Fort.

Elizabethans wore rings on every finger but the middle one. They would also wear rings on a necklace or attached to a sleeve. Women tied oversized rings onto their hand with black string wound around their wrists to provide greater contrast and show off the ring more.

The initials on this ring could belong to Captain Christopher Lawne, a Puritan of significant wealth and stature. Captain Lawne arrived at Jamestown on April 27, 1619, and paid 15 settlers to help him establish one of the first English settlements in Isle of Wight County on a creek that still bears his name, across the James River and downstream from Jamestown. Captain Lawne and Ensign Washer represented Lawne’s Plantation in the first House of Burgesses that met at Jamestown on the 30th day of July 1619 — the first representative assembly of lawmakers in English North America. Lawne died in November of the same year.

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