Iron Breastplate

This breastplate was found in a well that was filled in by 1625 and is of the peascod shape typical in the early 17th century. In the English army at that time, breastplates were worn only by pikemen, the soldiers who carried pikes in massed squares in front of the men carrying firearms. Yet at Jamestown, the type of warfare with the Virginia Indians required a change. In 1611, Governor Sir Thomas Dale observed that too many of the men were dying from being hit by Indian arrows. He ordered that all men, even those carrying muskets, had to wear plate armor.

The modification of a small iron plate riveted to the upper right armhole of this breastplate was made in response to Dale’s 1611 order. It provided a way for the men carrying firearms to steady the butts of their weapons against the slippery surface of the breastplate. This butt stop has only been observed on two other breastplates, both from early 17th century Virginia sites.