These small L-shaped iron fasteners are known as tenterhooks. After cloth or wool was washed and cleaned it was then stretched to dry on a wooden frame. These frames, called tenters, consisted of parallel posts with pairs of horizontal rails. Inserted into the horizontal rails, one- to two-inch-long tenterhooks were used to keep cloth from shrinking by stretching it tightly as it dried. The familiar phrase, “on tenterhooks,” refers to the sensation of taut cloth pulled to fit onto a frame; it has been used figuratively to describe suspense or unease since 1601.
More than 300 tenterhooks have been found at Jamestown, excavated from James Fort period (ca. 1607-1624) features including the soldier’s pits, the first and second wells, the factory, and the blacksmith shop/bakery. While in England they were used to process cloth, at Jamestown they were probably used to stretch and dry animal skins.
Furs, especially those of beavers and otters, were popular clothing items for the elite in England, and the Virginia Company hoped that they would become a profitable commodity exported from Jamestown. While they were part of the goods traveling back to England from Virginia, furs and animal skins were likely also coveted by the colonists themselves, to keep warm and also to replace clothing or other cloth or leather goods that became worn over time. Furs may have also been traded locally in Virginia for other commodities, such as foodstuffs to support the colony.