• Weird History

10 Mysterious And Creepy Items Discovered At Jamestown, Virginia

Jamestown, VA, is the site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Established in 1607, the colony was initially the creation of a corporation called the Virginia Company of London. One could buy shares in the new venture or travel to the area themselves. The Jamestown settlement struggled during its first two decades. The earliest residents endured a "Starving Time" that decimated the small population, and they experienced other challenging circumstances. Bad press about living conditions and life expectancy traveled back to England, and for a time it was difficult to convince people to settle in the new colony.

By the 1630s, though, things had become calmer in Jamestown. The English Civil War sent a number of royal supporters packing, and some of them went to Virginia to settle. The original settlement was essentially abandoned by the late 17th century, and for 200 years, Jamestown was largely forgotten. Many experts even insisted that the original James Fort had washed away into the James River, and - like the mysterious Roanoke Colony - it was considered lost to history.

In the early 1990s, historian and archeologist Bill Kelso insisted the original site, trod by Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, remained exactly where it was in 1607. Kelso was right. Since 1994, Preservation Virginia and Jamestown Rediscovery have carefully excavated the site marking the storied colony of Virginia. What they found is as strange as it is amazing.

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  • The Remains Of A Teenage Settler And The Arrowhead That Ended Him

    Photo: Didier Descouens / via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Archaeologists at Jamestown discovered the remains of a 14 or 15-year-old boy. The teen had a Native American arrowhead buried in the bone of his left leg, suggesting he was cut down in a fight. Skirmishes and battles with the Powhatan people were not unusual, but this burial happened very early after the arrival of the first colonists, in 1607. The boy also appears to have been hastily buried, due to the position of his body and the fact that the dirt covering him was completely lacking in any European artifacts. Some historians believe he was the colony's first fatality.

    Both Captain John Smith and Captain Gabriel Archer wrote about an incident that occurred a mere two weeks after their arrival and the establishment of Jamestown. The men described how they had lost a young man in a skirmish with the Powhatans. 

    According to the Wisconsin Historical Society's American Journeys Collection, Captain Smith noted: "[The Native Americans] had ent'red the fort with our own men, which were then busied in setting corn... in which conflict most of the council was hurt, a boy slain."

  • A Catholic Reliquary

    Video: YouTube

    Jamestown archeologists discovered a burial site containing the graves of four early and prominent colonists. One of these graves held the remains of a young man named Gabriel Archer, who arrived on the first voyage to Virginia and had a great rivalry with Captain John Smith. For 400 years, it was presumed that all colony leaders were devout Protestant Christians. And yet, Archer's grave contained a small Catholic reliquary, a container holding objects of religious significance. Via CT scan technology, scientists were able to discover that there were even shards of bones inside the box.

    Jamestown was established in 1607 as an English colony in Virginia. England was by then a firmly Protestant Christian country after years of religious wars, and the Protestant James I was on the throne. Spain, however, was still very Catholic and establishing their claim in the New World. English leaders felt compelled to achieve their own Protestant foothold across the Atlantic. They believed that if they did not, then the entire New World would be Catholic. England was in no way interested in returning to the wars of religion.

    Politics aside, plenty of closeted "Papists" still existed in 1607. Considering that, it's less surprising to find a Catholic reliquary buried with an early Jamestown colonist. Still, it was exciting to find the object with the Protestant Archer. Jamestown archeologists have discovered a variety of other Catholic items as well, including rosary beads and crucifixes. Historians assumed that those items were merely the result of trading with Spaniards passing through the settlement, but the discovery of the reliquary is leading them to reconsider religious life in Jamestown.

  • Double Graves

    Early Virginia Company records show that the original colonists of 1607 were charged with ensuring the native peoples did not have knowledge of any sickness or death within the fort. So, as the first settlers began to pass from the Powhatans or illness, a graveyard was created within Fort James. This close proximity of living near graves was not typically practiced by Europeans, but the Virginia Company's orders were followed. The new graveyard filled rather quickly; John Smith recorded that 50 colonists perished between May and September of 1607 alone.

    As archaeologists began excavating these burial grounds, they quickly discovered that some of these graves contained more than one person's remains. No one knows for certain why two bodies were placed together that way, though it may well have to do with saving time digging graves and conserving space within the fort.

  • A German Brass Counterweight

    Photo: Captain John Smith (1612) / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    17th century Jamestown was far more cosmopolitan than many assume. Polish glassblowers were brought over in the first decade of the colony to establish a much-needed glass industry. Despite the hard feelings between their two countries, English settlers regularly interacted with Spanish settlers. And some Jamestown colonists were already world travelers, as demonstrated by the items unearthed by archaeological digs.

    Some of the pieces experts have found hail from places other than England. Take this German brass counterweight, for example. Though it was found in a dig associated more with the Civil War than early Jamestown, the lion-shaped weight dates to early 17th century. It was manufactured in Nuremberg and weighs just under two ounces. The counterweight was designed to assist in proper measurement when using a balance scale.