The Archaeology of 17th-Century Virginia

Theodore R. Reinhart and Dennis J. Pogue, editors. Special Publication No. 30 of the Archeological Society of Virginia, 1993. x + 402 pages, 50 figures, 9 black and white photographs, 10 tables, references. $17.00 (paper).

First Review

Reviewed by Virginia R. Busby
University of Virginia

This volume is the fifth in a series sponsored by the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV) and the Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA). It contains papers presented at a symposium sponsored by ASV and COVA on Virginia archaeology. Whereas the first four volumes dealt with Virginia's prehistory, this volume focuses on the archaeology of the 17th century. John Cotter, well known for his involvement in the early days of Jamestown archaeology, provides a preface to the volume’s eleven papers.

The archaeology of the first century of Virginia colonization is important for several reasons. First, the founding of Jamestown and Virginia’s role in the development of American culture loom large in the national historical consciousness. Second, the development of Chesapeake society during this early period provides for the study of culture contact, culture change, and cultural construction--three important themes in anthropological and archaeological inquiry. Third, the development of archaeology in Virginia played an important role in the shaping of the field of historical archaeology in the United States. The present volume provides a sample of the ways in which the archaeology of 17th-century Virginia is pursued today.

The first three papers treat culture contact in 17th-century Virginia. Mary Ellen N. Hodges reviews and evaluates archaeology’s contribution to understanding post-Contact native American society. Finding this contribution disappointing, she proposes the adoption of a statewide research plan with the goal of studying cultural processes and explaining variation in the "consequences of European contact on Native American societies" using a spatio-temporal framework (p.10). Her exhaustive review, including an appendix detailing native Contact period sites in the state, combined with her constructive critiques make this paper an invaluable tool in the development of Chesapeake Contact period studies.

E. Randolph Turner III and Antony F. Opperman provide a summary of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ study of Powhatan Indian and English settlements during the Virginia Company period (1607-1624). The authors first discuss the documentary and archaeological evidence for sites within a "core area" along the James and York Rivers and also the Eastern Shore. Next they provide an analysis of conflicting English/Powhatan settlement patterns. Turner and Opperman suggest that English adoption of essentially native American subsistence practices (the growing of maize and tobacco) at almost identical levels of technology led to competition for the same ecological environments (p.86). However, the authors point out this is but one aspect of the complex interplay between cultural and environmental factors involved in determining settlement patterns. Indeed, other researchers have examined the interdependence of the English and Powhatans during this early period, including Mouer (this volume). Fausz (1990) details the lack of English reliance upon native foodstuffs obtained through trade and corn raids until at least 1614. Hantman (1990) has similarly suggested alliance and trade and native American cultural strategies as factors involved in initial English settlement patterns.

L. Daniel Mouer examines the creation of a creole society in 17th-century Virginia through the interaction of native, African- and Anglo-Americans. Mouer points out that negotiation of identity and race was more fluid during this earlier period without the "clear relations of domination" which existed in later Virginia history (p. 112). Anyone familiar with J. Douglas Deal’s (1993) treatment of race and class on the Eastern Shore will see similarities in the two approaches. Mouer offers the insight of the archaeological record to this understanding. This paper is a welcomed contribution to a field that all too often separates its units of analyses into "red, black, and white."

Carter L. Hudgins' essay concerning the 20th-century archaeologists of Virginia's 17th century serves as an introduction to the remaining seven papers that focus on aspects of English colonial culture. These papers include such topics as domestic and military architecture, town development, settlement patterns, and more traditional material culture studies.

Charles T. Hodges and Fraser D. Neiman both examine what the archaeological record can reveal about early architecture in the Chesapeake. Hodges asks, "[w]hat are the distinctive characteristics of a fortification in an area known for its insubstantial architecture?" (p.184). Using six examples, Hodges provides a substantial beginning to understanding private fort construction and how Virginia’s military architecture fits in with broader colonial patterns. Neiman employs an evolutionary approach to examine temporal variability in the organization of space in house plans in Maryland and Virginia. He links archaeologically-observable changes in spatial relations to changes in social relations among planters and their servants and slaves.

Dennis J. Pogue uses archaeological data to evaluate 17th-century Chesapeake standards of living. Documentary evidence suggests a "rude sufficiency." Pogue’s examination of household level assemblages offers a more complex understanding of past colonial lifestyles. This research demonstrates the importance of archaeology as an independent source of information, and that often it is the only source of information concerning past lifeways.

Using previously collected archaeological data, Kathleen Bragdon, Edward Chappell, and William Graham ask, "What if anything made Jamestown urban?" (p.224). The authors present interesting results including the finding of a more pronounced difference in material circumstances between rich and poor in the second half-century of colonization than previously acknowledged (p. 245). This research is a significant contribution to understanding processes of colonization in the Chesapeake and attests to the value of utilizing existing archaeological collections.

On a larger scale of analysis, Andrew C. Edwards and Marley R. Brown III test a model of settlement patterning developed for Flowerdew Hundred with data from Martin’s Hundred. Their goal is a better understanding of regional settlement patterns. The authors call for the "conjunctive approach," using historical and archaeological evidence to "reach understandings that neither source ...could alone provide""(p. 291, citing Deetz 1988:363).

The essays by Jay Gaynor and William E. Pittman are concerned with improving our knowledge of 17th-century material culture. Gaynor provides a beginning to understanding types and uses of woodworking tools and the archaeological contexts in which they are found. Pittman calls for a common language in our analyses of ceramics to enable broad comparisons between assemblages and sites. Pittman notes several important contributions to the creation of a lingua ceramica for the Chesapeake, but calls for continued efforts at improvement. This includes development of more objective means of identification and the use of standardized terms. types, and procedures of analysis.

The purpose of the COVA-organized symposium and this subsequent volume was to offer a synthesis of the archaeology of 17th-century Virginia. As such, this volume provides a broad sample of current scholarship. The papers present different theoretical and methodological perspectives which produce a fruitful dialectic when compared. However, the volume does not include the productive dialogue generated by synthesis of these papers. It is unfortunate that the discussants’ comments were not published. They may have served to bring out this dialogue. Nonetheless this work is an important contribution to Chesapeake archaeology and serves as a model for other states to emulate. The lack of dissemination of information often hinders the advancement of archaeology in the Chesapeake. ASV and COVA, and editors Theodore R. Reinhart and Dennis J. Pogue should be commended for organizing and publishing this volume of papers.

Deal, J. Douglas
1993 Race and Class in Colonial Virginia: Indians, Englishmen, and Africans on the Eastern Shore During the Seventeenth Century. Garland Publishing Inc., New York.
Fausz, J. Frederick
1990 An "Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides:" England's First Indian War,1609-1614. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 98(I):1-55.
Hantman, Jeffrey L.
1990 Between Powhatan and Quirank: Reconstructing Monacan Culture and History in the Context of Jamestown. American Anthropologist 92:676-690.

Reprinted by permission from the Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology, 1997, (13):168-170.



Second Review

Reviewed by Julia A. King
The Archaeology of 17th-Century Virginia.

The Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA), with assistance from the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV), has recently embarked on a highly commendable venture to disseminate the results of archaeological research undertaken in Virginia. Since 1988, COVA has sponsored seven symposia on Virginia archaeology; papers from five of these symposia were subsequently published with the ASV’s help. The first four volumes concern the state’s prehistory; the fifth, most recently published volume and the subject of this review, concerns the archaeology of 17th-century Virginia.

Edited by Theodore R. Reinhart and Dennis J. Pogue, The Archaeology of I7th-Century Virginia is a valuable addition to the literature on early colonial culture in the Chesapeake. Indeed, books of this type are overdue. As Carter Hudgins notes in his essay, the archaeology of 17th-century Virginia has proceeded with an "unprecedented scale and intensity," but archaeologists have "often failed to publish the results of their research" (p.167, 176).

The essays in The Archaeology of I7th-Century Virginia constitute an important step for addressing this problem and, in so doing, they cover a wide variety of topics and represent a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to the interpretation of archaeological evidence.

The book consists of eleven papers introduced with a preface by John L. Cotter, well known for his important archaeological research at Jamestown in the 1950s. While there is no explicit organization of the essays, the first three focus on the interaction of native American and European peoples in the 17th-century. These papers are followed by an historiographic essay on 17th-century Virginia archaeology. The remaining seven focus on English colonial culture in the Chesapeake.

Mary Ellen N. Hodges begins the volume with an overview of contact-period archaeology in Virginia, while E. Randolph Turner III and Antony F. Opperman investigate the location of Powhatan and English settlements during the Virginia Company period (1607-1624). Hodges’ focus is "on native peoples and how their cultures adapted in the ‘Indian’s new world,’ created as a consequence of European invasion" (p.2). While Turner and Opperman are more narrowly focused on the seventeen years following the settlement of Jamestown, they, too, seek to understand "clashing Powhatan/English adaptations'" (p.85). Both essays are valuable for their summaries on the current status of research, and both offer thoughtful programs for future study.

L. Daniel Mouer’s essay addresses the issue of creolization in Virginia as a long-term process of "constant interaction among peoples of differing backgrounds" (pp.107-108), including native American, European, and African cultures in the New World setting. Mouer’s approach is refreshing and engaging, although some of his statements inadvertently perpetuate old biases. Mouer’s "important persons" in the creolization process, for example, are all men, while women, along with food and land, are treated as commodities exchanged between Indians and colonists (pp.112-114). Kathleen Deagan’s work in Florida has clearly shown that women are important vectors of culture change, and no evidence is presented to suggest otherwise in Virginia.

Carter Hudgins’ paper serves as a transition to the second half of the volume, and provides the historiographical context of 17th-century archaeological research in Virginia. Hudgins describes the setting in which the archaeology of 17th-century Virginia developed and what factors have influenced its development.

The remaining essays focus on English colonial culture in 17th-century Virginia archaeology, and the major topics of study include architecture, settlement patterning, artifact typologies, living standards, and Jamestown.

Very few structures survive from the 17th century in either Maryland or Virginia, so the study of architecture from that period depends on archaeological research. Using archaeological data, Charles T. Hodges investigates private fortifications in early colonial Virginia, while Fraser D. Neiman focuses on changes in house plan types at 17th-century plantations in Maryland and Virginia. Hodges seeks to establish a baseline of plantation fortifications in 17th-century Virginia for the purpose of isolating "regional adaptations to private defense" (p.184). Neiman focuses on the "differential persistence" of house plan types in the 17th-century Chesapeake, suggesting evolutionary theory as a productive avenue for investigating the changing use of architectural space.

Settlement patterning in the early colonial Chesapeake is the topic of the paper by Andrew C. Edwards and Marley R. Brown III. Edwards and Brown test a model of settlement developed for Flowerdew Hundred plantation with data collected from Martin’s Hundred. Edwards and Brown’s paper underscores the importance of broad historical patterns for interpreting settlement patterns.

Two essays concern artifacts recovered from 17th-century sites in the Chesapeake. Jay Gaynor reviews woodworking tools recovered from 17th-and early 18th-century sites in Maryland and Virginia. Amply illustrated and well documented, this paper is an excellent contribution to the field of 17th-century artifact studies. William E. Pittman broaches an admittedly formidable topic: a survey of 17th-century ceramic typologies. In his essay, Pittman laments the lack of a "common language to describe ceramic wares and forms" (p.365). Pittman's review of ceramic typologies and analytical techniques, however, is somewhat cursory, and the paper would be more useful had Pittman used it to begin to develop a "common language."

Dennis J. Pogue's paper reexamines the conclusion that 17th-century colonists experienced a standard of living often described as a '"rude sufficiency." Using artifact assemblages recovered from 20 sites in Maryland and Virginia, Pogue suggests that many items not listed in probate inventories were indeed present in many early colonial households. He argues that documentary and archaeological data should both be used to understand the past, but that the two data sets must also be treated as independent (p.392).

Finally, Kathleen Bragdon, Edward Chappell, and William Graham revisit Jamestown and the archaeological work undertaken at Virginia's first settlement since the early 20th century. The authors question the argument that Jamestown was a failure, and their reanalysis of the Jamestown data indicates that the early Virginia capital enjoyed what they term a "scant urbanity." Their essay is a powerful example of the research potential of extant collections, including those collections assembled when the nature of the 17th-century archaeological record was only dimly understood.

One of the purposes of the COVA symposium and the resulting publication was to provide a synthesis of 17th-century archaeology in Virginia. Consequently, the volume contains information generated from a number of multi-year projects, conducted under a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. As a result, the book is not only valuable for its insight into 17th-century life in Virginia, but also for the insight it gives into current scholarship in the region. Some readers may find the essays a bit discontinuous and, in some cases, contradictory. An introductory paper or even the symposium discussants’ comments would have ameliorated this situation by placing the essays into context. This is a minor shortcoming, however, far outweighed by the volume's significant contribution to the study of the 17th-century Chesapeake. The essays are interesting and filled with previously unpublished information, and the book will long serve as an important reference. Theodore R. Reinhart, Dennis J. Pogue, and the book’s contributors are to be commended for assembling a welcome addition to the Chesapeake region's literature.


The review has been reprinted from Historical Archaeology 29(2) by permission of the Society for Historical Archaeology.