Hands holding mended sherds of a round-bottomed clay pot with stamped exterior
Roanoke Simple Stamped Pot

One of the most common ceramics in James Fort contexts of the 1607- 1610 period is Virginia Indian pottery. The 37,000 pot pieces found around the fort site remind us of the intensity of the mixing of English and Virginia Indian cultures. Unlike European wares found in the same contexts, Virginia Indian ceramics are hand-made, shell-tempered, unglazed, and low-fired.

Since food was the Virginia Indians’ most valuable item to barter to the English, women were a key part of the exchange. John Smith wrote “the Indians brought us great store both of Corne and bread ready made,” and these foods may have come in the pots used to cook them, carried by the women who would do the cooking. Powhatan peoples usually ate whenever they were hungry from food the women made over continual cooking fires. The shape of their pots reflects this usage: instead of a pot aimed at one moment of presentation on a flat table, their rounded bases could be wedged among the coals of a longterm fire.

Some of the Powhatan women may have stayed in the fort. The Spanish claimed that by 1612 a significant number of colonists had “married” Native women. With the scarcity of female colonists in the first few years, these women filled an obvious need by doing the work their society had trained them to do. The English wrote that Virginia Indian women produced ceramics by using clay to coil and smooth into a pot. To shape the pottery and compress the fabric, the women would paddle the surface with a leather-wrapped flat, wooden stick. The ceramic type was first identified by archaeologist J.C. Harrington after being recovered in excavations on Roanoke Island in North Carolina.