- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

JAMESTOWN, Va. (AP) — The remains of a 17th-century well in historic Jamestown have provided glimpses into a massacre, the pioneering settlement’s early struggles, and the colony’s later success with tobacco, archaeologists said yesterday.

The well, built as early as 1617, likely is the earliest of two dozen wells discovered at the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Unearthed in summer 2002, it has yielded a treasure trove of artifacts — from drinking vessels likely dropped by accident to armor used to protect colonists from American Indians.

A pewter flagon, which dates to sometime before 1620 and bears the initials P, R and E, might have belonged to colonists Richard and Elizabeth Pierce, who arrived at Jamestown aboard the ship Neptune in 1618.

The couple lived on an outlying plantation near present-day Williamsburg during the 1622 massacre, when Powhatan Indians killed nearly 350 settlers. They might have lost the flagon in the well after the attack when the surviving colonists were told to return to Jamestown for protection.

“We know that after the attack they are listed as living in a different area than they were before the attack,” said Bly Straube, an archaeologist and curator of the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeology project, sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

“So because there was this movement of people from the affected area into fortified areas, we suspect that Pierces did come to Jamestown, where they lived a short while until the areas outside were secured,” Miss Straube said.

Only three feet below the surface, excavators turned up a rare breastplate modified to include an iron square on the underarm area — an alteration that provides a nonslip rest for the butt of a gun.

Also among the military artifacts were two helmets, a neckpiece and other iron plates used to protect the upper thighs and hips.

Deep in the well, archaeologists uncovered an assortment of agricultural tools. Among them are an iron spade nosing that could date to 1618 and the kind of hoes used to till Jamestown’s fields after demand for Virginia tobacco began to transform the colony’s struggling economy in 1614.

“These hoes are all of the early type, and they were essential for tobacco cultivation,” Miss Straube said. “So you definitely can see one of the major changes at Jamestown there.”

Also discovered were a German stoneware jug dating to about 1618 and an iron fireplace shovel. A distinctive brass ornament on the shovel links it to a previously recorded fireplace tong. The tong, uncovered at the site of a James River plantation called Martin’s Hundred, dates to 1620 or earlier.

Miss Straube said a number of never-used items, including agricultural tools, were found in the well — possibly because of a critical event at the settlement.

One reason for the pileup could be a shake-up after the Virginia Company, a joint-stock corporation that established the colony in 1607, lost its charter. When Virginia became a royal colony in 1624, new leadership might have led to sudden changes that forced people to quickly shed goods, Miss Straube said.

The well appears to have been filled in 1624.

Despite the wealth of artifacts, archaeologists are not able to answer all questions about the colony’s apparent water problems.

However, tests of the well and the surrounding area’s water table revealed none of the unusually high salt levels that some believe contributed to settlers’ deaths in the winter of 1609-10, in addition to starvation and disease, said William Kelso, director of the archaeology project.

Mr. Kelso said he hopes to test other wells in Jamestown to prove his theory.

“I feel there’s a good chance we can eliminate at least one cause of death — and that is salt in the well,” he said.

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