The tiny lead horses arch their necks, trotting in place, manes tied into running braids and tails docked, poised to move into battle. Somewhere along the way, however, they lost the riders to spur them into action. Through long-ago wars, these fine animals have also lost most of their legs and cannot stand. No longer useful or interesting for playtime warfare, the battered ponies were thrown away with such other James Fort trash as food remains, broken pottery, and shattered glassware.
Hollowcast in the same mold, the toy horses are modeled with a saddle that was in use at the time of James Fort. Characterized by a high cantle, or rear, and a bulbous pommel, the robust wood-framed saddle developed from the need to provide an armored rider with a secure seat for battle. A hole runs vertically through the toy horse saddle, presumably for seating the rider and for standing the horse upright. Toy horses were often mounted on stationary stands, on wheels to be pushed and pulled, or on wooden sticks to be waved about during play.
Written and pictorial sources show that toys were a part of 17th-century childhoods. Children’s toys were mass-produced in Europe (usually as a secondary business for most manufacturers) from the 14th century until the 18th century, when toy-making became a specialty. But children’s toys are rarely identified on archaeological sites. Many toys were made of wood, which does not survive most soil conditions, and those made of base metal could be recycled into something else. Probably a good number of children’s toys found in excavations go unrecognized because only fragments survived the rough treatment of playtime. The few toys found at Jamestown are the earliest documented from colonial Anglo American contexts. But of course children’s play was not restricted to items made specifically for them. Jamestown’s children may have played with natural objects such as shells, stones, and bones or with broken and discarded adult artifacts.