History is part of what has made Checkered Flag a staple in households throughout Hampton Roads, so any new discoveries in the area are fascinating. Everyone is excited about this week’s discovery at the Jamestown Settlement.
Unearthing Jamestown’s Leaders, and a Mystery
By NICHOLAS FANDOSJULY 28, 2015
WASHINGTON - One man was thought to be the first Anglican minister in the Americas. Another, an early explorer of the Mid-Atlantic region, was a rival of Capt. John Smith’s. And two of them, kin of Sir Thomas West’s, the governor of Virginia, helped save a colony on the brink of collapse.
All four, some of European America’s earliest leaders, died in colonial Jamestown from 1608 to 1610 and were long thought lost to history.
But on Tuesday, a team of researchers from the National Museum of Natural History and the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation announced that they had unearthed and identified the men amid the ruins of a church on the site of Fort James.
The structure is the first Protestant church built in the New World, and the men’s burial there signals their high status in the colony, the researchers said.
The men, who helped shape the fledgling community during its tumultuous early years, included the Rev. Robert Hunt, thought to be the first Anglican minister in the Americas; Capt. Gabriel Archer, the early expeditionary leader; Sir Ferdinando Wainman, the cousin of Sir Thomas’s, the Virginia governor; and Capt. William West, the governor’s uncle. The discovery is the first to identify the remains of such high-status early European colonists at Jamestown, and it is likely to set off renewed interest in the study of the colony, researchers said, in particular the role religion played in the colonial world.
Researchers revealed that skeletons found buried at a Jamestown, Va., church built in 1608 were most likely the remains of four leaders of the first permanent English settlement in America. By Agence France-Presse on Publish Date July 28, 2015. Photo by Susan Walsh/Associated Press. Watch in Times Video »
“This is the first colony, and it’s closely connected to what follows, so what takes place at Jamestown in these early years is not separate from the mainline of development of American society,” said James Horn, the president of Jamestown Rediscovery, the organization leading the dig there. “This is the beginning of American society, and religion is a very big part of that.”
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, established in May 1607 near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
The men died during the settlement’s tenuous early years when colonists struggled to grow enough food to survive and clashed with the Powhatan Confederacy, an association of Native American tribes that dominated the region.
Archaeologists found the men’s remains in the chancel of the church, which was built in 1608 and was later the site of one of the colony’s most important early events: the marriage of the Powhatan Pocahontas to the colonist John Rolfe in 1614.
The team of researchers, led by William M. Kelso, has unearthed a slow but steady stream of discoveries about the settlement since they began digging there in 1994, centuries after Fort James was thought to have washed into the James River. Rising sea levels threatening the low-lying island have made excavation all the more urgent in recent years.
Dr. Kelso’s team discovered the remains of the church in 2010 and began investigating the four burials in November 2013.
They were able to recover only about 30 percent of each skeleton, but after overlaying findings from forensics testing, archaeology, micro-CT scans, genealogy and other archival records, the researchers said they were confident in the identities of the men.
The Smithsonian Institution has created an interactive 3-D digitization of the Jamestown dig, available on its website, to allow the public to explore the burial site in detail but will not be displaying the artifacts themselves.
Douglas W. Owsley, division head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian, who helped lead the efforts to identify the men, said his team had looked carefully for forensic clues: the presence of pollen, which can indicate when the men were buried, and lead and nitrogen levels in the men’s bones, which can help determine their economic status. (Wealthy English men of the period have higher lead counts due to exposure to metals like pewter; likewise, higher nitrogen levels indicate a meat-heavy diet.)
“It’s a real detective mystery, where even small bits of information that don’t quite seem to be important on their own fit together, and it makes sense,” Dr. Owsley said.
Mr. Hunt, who died the earliest, in 1608, around age 39, appears to have been given the most humble burial, without a coffin and facing west toward where his congregation would have gathered.
Captain Archer died at 34 in late 1609 or early 1610, during the “Starving Time,” a six-month period during the winter of 1609-10, when famine and disease nearly wiped out the colony.
Also among his remnants: a small silver box that researchers have identified as a Roman Catholic reliquary containing seven fragments of bone and two pieces of a lead ampulla, a type of flask used to hold holy water. The letter M and what appear to be arrows are etched into the surface of the box, which the researchers said they believed was placed atop Captain Archer’s coffin. If correctly identified, the finding could indicate that Captain Archer, or those who buried him, secretly harbored Catholic faith, even as the colony was outwardly Anglican.
Dr. Horn said the small artifact, which researchers were able to replicate with a 3-D printer, was potentially the most exciting discovery of all, with the potential to alter historians’ understanding of early religious history in the American colonies.
The other two men arrived in Jamestown with Sir Thomas after the “Starving Time” in 1610. Sir Thomas, who was also known as Lord De La Warr (for whom Delaware was named), resupplied and then led the colony.
Sir Ferdinando died that year, at 34. He is thought to be the first English knight buried in the New World and, along with Captain West, appears to have been buried in an anthropomorphic coffin.
Captain West died in 1610, at 24, during a skirmish with the Powhatan. Researchers found the remains of a silk sash over the chest of his skeleton, likely indicating his military rank.
The men are the highest-ranking leaders of the colonies to have been unearthed, though researchers acknowledge the four are little known outside scholarly circles.
“It is true that people don’t know their names. It’s not John Smith,” Dr. Owsley said, referring to one of the colony’s first leaders. “Yet, these are investors and principals in that colony, and so I see this very much as at the core and foundation of America.”
At a news conference on Tuesday, Dr. Owsley said the researchers would continue studying the four men, particularly to try to identify if they have any surviving descendants.
Source: [NY Times]
What an incredible find in the Hampton Roads area. Piecing together the history that makes the Hampton Roads area is fascinating.
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