Project details

  • Date

     December 15, 2014

  • Client

     Bly Straube, Senior Archaeological Curator, 2014

  • Task


  • Category

     Arms & Armor, Iron

Halberd, iron, wood, and copper alloy, England, (JR2158AB, W31)

Unlike the bill [see Bill] which required no special training for its effective use, the halberd had a slender spike and had to be handled deftly. Early on it seems to have been reserved for officers with special training. Over the years the design of the halberd was modified to increase its effectiveness and, because it became a weapon of the gentlemen officers, to incorporate surface decoration. While they could still be used as weapons, halberds in the early 17th century were mainly ceremonial arms carried by officers and bodyguards for important people.

Fifty halberdiers arrived at Jamestown in 1610 to serve as the personal guard of the new governor Thomas West, the Lord De La Warr. Although De La Warr returned to England less than a year later, the halberd of one of his soldiers was left behind in the bottom of a James Fort well. The association with De La Warr can be seen in the intricate openwork and engraving on the blade, which incorporates griffin heads. Griffins, mythological creatures with the heads of eagles and bodies of lions, were used as heraldic devices, and the West family crest is the head of a griffin.

Because it had been buried in the anaerobic environment of the well, part of the wooden staff is still attached to the halberd blade with thin metal straps called languets. The heavily reinforced blade had been purposely bent into a hook by the colonists, perhaps to retrieve objects [see Roman Lock Pistol] that had been accidentally dropped down the well.

Provenience: James Fort Structure 177
c.1611-17 well in northern bulwark area