Spade Nosing

Project details

  • Object number – J-11385
  • Material – Iron
  • Place of Origin – England
  • Date – 18th century
  • Context – Memorial Church "Sexton's Closet"
  • Location – Jamestown Vault
  • Category –Craft & Industry

Jamestown Rediscovery’s collections span over 400 years of Anglo-American settlement, 8,000 years of Virginia Indian occupation, and over 100 years of archaeological excavation. On Jamestown Island, the first excavations began behind the brick church tower in the late-1890s, representing some of the earliest work in historical archaeology. This important fieldwork revealed the foundations of three sequential churches, the Knight’s Tombstone, dozens of burials, among other church-related features. One curious feature uncovered by the APVA was a foundation for a small room in the southwest corner of the last church (1680s-1750s) to stand on this site. The room, identified by early excavators as a “Sexton’s Closet,” contained keys, bottles, and a number of tools—notably, several spade nosings.

A spade nosing is the flat metal digging end of a shovel. Prior to the mid-19th century, shovel handles consisted of the handle shaft with a flat shovel-shaped wooden end. The wide end fit inside a narrow socket in the iron nosing, which could be easily removed, repaired, or replaced. Nosings were carefully forged by blacksmiths, and required a higher-quality iron to withstand the impacts from digging. To date, over 100 spade nosings have been uncovered in and around the fort, suggesting that they were commonly used and regularly replaced throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

As a familiar tool, spade nosings are of particular interest to Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists. The vast majority of the features we find today were constructed, in large part, with the very same nosing we find archaeologically. These include wells, cellars, pits, ditches, graves, and the post holes for buildings, fences, and palisade walls. The more unusual spade nosing found in the sexton’s closet of the church, pictured here, likely dates to the early to mid-18th century. This longer spade was used for digging posts, ditches, and other deep and narrow holes. This includes the dozens of burials inside and outside the church walls. As we continue our current excavation inside the church, we will continue to revisit many of the artifacts uncovered in this area over a century ago. Stay tuned.