Small copper alloy house
Toy House

When archaeologists excavated this object from the cellar of a blockhouse of James Fort, it looked like a small copper alloy blob. After almost 400 years of being buried in the Virginia soil, the artifact had become completely encased with corrosive products. Conservators spent many hours cleaning the artifact and gradually began to see a little house. More work revealed a front doorway and a porch! Just an inch tall, this tiny house is very narrow with a steeply pitched roof, just like a Dutch house in the 17th century.

Archaeologists think this was a toy windmill. The blades, now missing, probably attached through the hole in the roofline, with a rod passed through to the other side of the object. By pulling a string wrapped around the rod, you would be able to make the blades spin. You could then rewind the string on the rod by turning the blades in the opposite direction and start all over again—a 17th century yo-yo! Two of this type of toy have been found at Jamestown; the other example found in June 2017 is also missing its windmill component. It is possible they were part of a pair.

Just because the windmill is called a “toy” doesn’t mean that it belonged to a child at Jamestown. There were very few children in the colony during the first years. Toys are commonly found on archaeological sites from the colonial period that were occupied by soldiers because soldiers would play games to pass the time when they had nothing else to do. The early James Fort colonists probably did the same thing at a time when very few of them knew how to read and there were no modern distractions such as TV, computers, or video games.