The First Casualty

Project details

In the summer of 2004 a burial was excavated just inside James Fort’s western palisade wall. This burial was the northernmost of more than 30 burials associated with a 1607 burial ground. The skeletal remains in this burial had not been fully extended due to the cavity being too short for the height of the individual. Therefore, the neck had been bent, and the back of the skull rested against the side of the grave shaft. The individual had not been buried in a coffin but may have been wrapped in a shroud, as evidenced by the ankles and knees resting close together and nearly touching. The bones and dentition were preserved well enough for forensic anthropologists from the Smithsonian Institution to determine that the remains belonged to a young male in his early teens. Age was determined by the ends of the long bones which had not completely ossified and the wisdom teeth that had not fully erupted.

Next to the boy’s left femur was a Contact-period quartzite projectile point. The point had likely been embedded inside the individual’s left thigh at the time of death. It is possible that the boy was the young man mentioned by Captain John Smith as being killed in May of 1607 during an attack by the Virginia Indians — an attack that precipitated the rapid palisading of the fort. “Indians the day before assalted the fort . . . most of the Counsel was hurt, a boy slaine. . . . With all speed we pallisadoed our Fort.” Smith lists four boys among the first 1607 colonists—Samuell Collier, Nathaniell Pecock, James Brumfield, and Richard Mutton. There is evidence to suggest that Collier and Pecock lived beyond 1607, leaving either Brumfield or Mutton as strong candidates for this individual; their names do not appear in later records.