Fort James (Jamestowne), Virginia


Fort James

As we walked along the path, the first thing that greeted us was an iron gate which I find strange, it’s like a gate in a residential house. Here is the history behind the fort as taken from their official website.

Soon after the English settlers landed on Jamestown Island in May 1607 they were attacked by Powhatan Indians. A fort was needed. George Percy reported that “the fifteenth of June, we had built and finished our Fort, which was triangle wise: having three Bulwarkes at every corner, like a halfe Moone, and four or five pieces of Artillerie mounted in them.”

Scale model of James Fort

Much of this fort burned in January 1608, but it was soon repaired. William Strachey wrote in 1614 that the river side of the fort was 120 yards long and the other two sides were 100 yards each. Surrounding the fort was a pallazado or stockade made of oak and poplar upright logs that were about 14 feet high and 8 to 10 inches in diameter. The fort enclosed an area of about one acre. According to Captain John Smith, by the fall of 1608 more pallazadoes were added to the triangular core to make the fort five-sided. Smith also recorded that the fort had 24 guns of different types in 1609.

Jamestown Marker

The fort fell into disrepair in the 1620s, and after the colony’s government moved to Williamsburg in 1699, Jamestown Island became a tobacco plantation. Jamestown’s many houses were ground down by plowing, and in 1861 Confederate forces graded more of the town’s remains to build an earthen fort for a cannon battery in the Civil War. By the late 1800s, the only remnant of 17th-century Jamestown left above ground was the brick church tower.

Shoreline erosion accelerated in the late 1800s and threatened the tower. In 1893 the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities formed and acquired 22 acres of land on the western end of the island where the tower and its burial grounds stood. They built a concrete seawall to stop the erosion by 1907. But most thought the site of the 1607-1624 James Fort had already been washed away.

In 1994 the APVA (now Preservation Virginia) hired archaeologists to search for the footprint of 1607 James Fort. In 22 years of exploration, the Jamestown Rediscovery team has unveiled the long-lost mosaic of life inside the fort. Archaeologists have found the trenches dug to support the protective timber walls of the “triangle-wise” James Fort, and semi-circular palisade trenches and a ditch have marked the location of the bulwarks at the corners of the fort. Soil stains left by decayed timber supports show the size of buildings inside the walls. Cellars and wells have been filled with artifacts of the daily lives of soldiers, artisans, gentlemen, commoners, and families. More than two million artifacts now tell a fresh story of Jamestown’s fledgling years.”

There were a couple of markers dedicated to the Fort, and upon entering you will see an orange brick church and here is the history of the church that has been rebuilt several times.

1608 Church

“Excavations here unearthed the remains of the first substantial Jamestown church built in 1608. The large post-in-ground building was identified by the spacing of several major structural posts matching the dimensions of the church recorded by Secretary of the Colony William Strachey.

This church was the scene of one of the most significant weddings in American history. It was here that Chief Powhatan’s favored daughter, Pocahontas, married planter John Rolfe in April of 1614. Their union marked the beginning of a time of peace between the English and the Powhatan Indians.”

17th Century Church

“The 17th-century brick church tower is the last surviving above-ground structure from the days when Jamestown was the capital of Virginia. The tower has survived fires, the fortification of the area during the American Civil War, and decades in which it was left to molder in the thick woods that grew after the colony’s capital moved to Williamsburg in 1699.

It’s exact construction date is still debatable. What is known is that in 1617 Captain Samuel Argall ordered the construction of a church to replace the large timber-framed church where Pocahontas and John Rolfe married in 1614. The Argall church was the meeting place of the first representative legislative assembly in British North America, in 1619. The Argall church was later replaced by a brick structure to reduce fire hazards and better serve an expanding colonial population.

Marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas

In 1699 the churchwardens of James City Parish asked Virginia’s General Assembly for money to pay for the “steeple of their church, and towards the repairing of the church.” A visitor in 1702 said the Jamestown church had “a tower and a bell.” This church and tower continued to serve a congregation until about 1750, when the congregation moved to a new church constructed about three miles away. Gradually the site of Virginia’s first capital was reclaimed by farmland and woods, and the brick church crumbled. But the tower remained as a draw to sightseers throughout the 19th century.

Interior of the church

The nonprofit organization that now goes by the name of Preservation Virginia acquired the tower and 22.5 acres around it in 1893. Repairs were made, and a brick church was constructed next to it for the 300th anniversary of Jamestown. In 2013 and 2014 the church tower got a major fix of its failing mortar and crumbling bricks. The project was part of the collaboration between Preservation Virginia and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for the operation of Historic Jamestowne. Cement and rainwater had damaged the top three feet of brickwork to the point where large sections were no longer attached. Colonial Williamsburg tradesmen removed all of the cement, down to the bottom of the tower, and uncovered evidence about how thick the floors were in the church tower’s rooms, pieces of charred wood from fires, and signs of two generations of tower construction. The tower walls are about 34 inches thick at the bottom and about 17 inches thick at the top. There has been no roof on the tower for centuries, though preservation experts are working on plans for a hidden roof that will keep rain off the historic bricks.”

Here is a summary of the list of churches built in the same spot.

The First and Second Churches
Captain John Smith reported that the first church services were held outdoors “under an awning (which was an old sail)” fastened to three or four trees. Shortly thereafter the colonists built the first church inside James Fort. Smith said it was “a homely thing like a barn set on cratchetts, covered with rafts, sedge and earth.” This church burned in January 1608, and was replaced by a second church, similar to the first.

Exterior of the church

The Third Church
In 1617-1619, Governor Samuel Argall had the inhabitants of Jamestown built a new church “50 foot long and twenty foot broad.” This wooden church stood atop a foundation of cobblestones one foot wide capped by a wall one brick thick. You can see this foundation preserved under glass on the floor of the Memorial Church. The first assembly met in Jamestown’s third church.

The Fourth Church
In January 1639, Governor John Harvey reported that he, the Council, the ablest planters, and some sea captains “had contributed to the building of a brick church” at Jamestown. Built around the third church, the fourth church remained incomplete until sometime after November 1647.

The Fifth Church and Tower
The fourth church burned on September 19, 1676, during Bacon’s Rebellion. By 1686, a new church was built using the walls and foundations of the older charred church. The tower of this church is the only 17th-century structure still standing at Jamestown. Abandoned in the 1750s, the fifth church fell into ruin by the 1790s. Although the tower remained intact, bricks from other portions of the church were reused to build the present graveyard wall.

During the 19th century, the tower became a silent symbol to many Americans of their early heritage. In the 1890s, the APVA Preservation Virginia acquired, strengthened, and preserved the tower as well as the foundations of earlier churches on the site.

Current Church

Near the church beside a tree was a statue dedicated to Jamestown’s most famous resident; Pocahontas. She was a symbol of the Native Americans especially when you were a child and you watch animated movies such as the Disney one, which totally altered her life to make it interesting to children.





Erected in 1922, this statue by William Ordway Partridge, honors Pocahontas, the favorite daughter of Paramount Chief Wahunsenacawh (better known as Powhatan), ruler of the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom.

Statue of Pocahontas

Pocahontas was born around 1595, probably at Werowocomoco, 15 miles from Jamestown. In 1608, she made frequent and welcome visits to Jamestown, often bringing gifts of food from her father. Captain John Smith believed she saved his life twice during the colony’s first years.

In April of 1613, Captain Argall kidnapped Pocahontas and brought her to Jamestown. While a hostage, she received lessons in Christianity, converted, and was baptized.

Her marriage to John Rolfe in April 1614 helped establish peaceful relations between the Powhatan and colonists. In 1616, she visited England with Rolfe and their infant son Thomas, and was presented to the Royal Court. She died on March 21, 1617, and was buried in St. George’s Church in Gravesend, England. Today, many Americans claim descent from her son and granddaughter.

I won’t discuss much more about the Native American heroine for everyone almost knows about her and her life. After taking some pictures with her statue we headed to the water front where another statue was located, John Smith.

John Smith

Since there was only dedication about John Smith here is a history of his life before and during his time in Jamestown. If you read it you might feel he lived a very exciting life and the question was if everything he said or wrote were accurate.

Born in 1580 in Willoughby, England, Smith left home at age 16 after his father died. He joined volunteers in France who were fighting for Dutch independence from Spain. Two years later, he set off for the Mediterranean Sea as a sailor on a merchant ship. In 1600 he joined Austrian forces to fight the Turks in the “Long War.” A valiant soldier, he was promoted to captain while fighting in Hungary. He was fighting in Transylvania in 1602 when he was wounded in battle, captured, and sold as a slave to a Turk. This Turk then sent Smith as a gift to his sweetheart in Istanbul, but Smith wrote that this girl fell in love with him and sent him to her brother for training to join Turkish imperial service. Smith said he escaped by murdering the brother and fleeing through Russia and Poland. He traveled throughout Europe and Northern Africa before he returned to England in the winter of 1604-05.

Captain John Smith

Restless in England, Smith became actively involved with plans by the Virginia Company to colonize Virginia for profit. Smith was on the fleet of three ships that set sail Dec. 20, 1606, and during the four-month voyage was charged with mutiny by the leader of the expedition, Captain Christopher Newport. Smith was a prisoner when the ships reached Virginia in April 1607 — but was released when the other colony leaders opened orders from the Virginia Company and discovered Smith was to be on the governing council. The colony struggled to feed itself, and Smith proved skillful at securing food from the Virginia Indians. He was exploring the Chickahominy River region in December 1607 when he was captured by Chief Powhatan’s men. Smith’s first meeting with Chief Powhatan, the supreme leader in the Chesapeake region, was eventful, but historians have cast doubt on whether the captain’s life was really saved by Powhatan’s favorite daughter, Pocahontas, as Smith reported years later. What is known is that Powhatan released Smith, and the ongoing rise and fall of the relationship between Smith and Powhatan determined many of the early successes and challenges of Jamestown.

Selfie at the statue

On September 10, 1608, Smith became president of the council for the colony. He installed a policy of rigid discipline, strengthened defenses, and encouraged farming with his order that all must work or face starvation. Smith had settlers dig the first well inside the fort (and Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists have found that well and the many unique artifacts it held when it became a trash pit). Smith ordered the repair of many buildings and the expansion of the fort into a five-sided structure, which archaeologists have also traced. Smith also led the first English explorations of the Chesapeake Bay and was almost killed by a ray on the first of the two expeditions. Smith’s strong leadership helped the colony survive and grow but also made him enemies within the fort. As he slept in a boat in the river one night, Smith was badly injured by a mysterious gunpowder explosion. He return to England for treatment in October 1609 and never set foot in Virginia again.

John Smith

Smith produced some of the most detailed reports about early Virginia, such as True Relation of Virginia in 1608, Map of Virginia in 1612, Generall Historie of Virginia (beginning in 1624, there were six editions in eight years), and True Travelsin 1630. Recent archaeology at the original fort site has confirmed some of his most famous details. Smith died in England in 1631 at age 51.”

The John Smith Statue faced the James River and turning to its immediate left. Remnants of The Barracks with its wooden foundations can also be found in the area. We walked towards it and explore around which has a marker on it.

The Barracks

“Most buildings found at James Fort were at earthfast or post-in-ground construction. Main structural posts were seated directly in the ground without the use of footings. Once the building disappeared, rotted posts and postholes remained. Based on the tell-tale patterns of these postholes, it is likely that the early structures were constructed in a style know as “Mud and Stud,” a way of building well recorded in 17th-century documentary sources and in centuries-old standing buildings in Linconshire.

This building had a cellar, which was the first major archaeological feature from the fort period to be identified by the Jamestown Rediscovery project. The cellar became a trash pit once the building above it fell into disrepair. Through careful excavation and water screening of the cellar, fill many thousands of late 16th- and early 17th-century artifacts were retrieved.”

After that, we walked around the fort and looked at the center of the triangular fort, according to the information,  the archaeologists found the remains of a storehouse and the fort’s first well.

Storehouse and First Well

A rectangular pattern of large structural postholes marked the storehouse site and indiacted that it was a substantial building supported by upright timbers frimly seated in the ground. An adjacent cellar structure with a barrel-lined well in the floor served concurrently as a storage space and water supply. Sometime before 1611 the well and cellar were abandoned and then backfilled with rubbish containing several hundred thousand artifacts.

Inside the fort

The storehouse continued to be used for many years, serving as a temporary place of worship in 1617 while a new church was constructed. Remnants of the 1617 church foundations are exhibited under the glass in the nearby 1907 Memorial Church.

1607 Burials

Archaeological excavations here revealed 30 grave shafts. They are located beneath the remnants of the ca. 1611 “Councillor’s Row” building, and therefore pre-date the construction of that structure. According to 1606 Virginia Company instructions, the colonists were to conceal their numbers of sick and dead from the Virginia Indians, hence these burials inside the fort likely date to the disastrous summer of 1607 when only 38 of the original 104 settlers survived.


To date, only three burial shafts in this area have been excavated – two each contained the remains of two men, and one the remains of a teenage boy. A Virginia Indian stone arrow point was found next to the boy’s left leg, suggesting that he was the person reportedly killed by the Indians on May 25, 1607 – the first Jamestown settler to be killed in battle.”

We turned around and walked back by the church where there are more excavations going on. There were several markers located on site and here are some.

Chancel Burials

“In the east end of the church, then chancel, archaeologists found four graves. The chancel was the holiest part of the church were the communion table stood and where the most important people were buried. After being lost to history for more than four centuries, the discovery and identification of the men – the Rev. Robert Hunt, Captain Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman, and Captain William West – reveal new clues about the challenges faced by the colony and the importance of religion at Jamestown.

Plenty of information in this little area, and it was the location of one of the most important events in US history.  We went out of the fort and continued walking around the Jamestown  e-learning more about the Fort that extend out to became a village.

Here is the link for more information:

Say Cheez!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s