"A verie fit place to erect a great cittie": Comparative contextual analysis of archaeological Jamestown

Audrey Jane Horning, University of Pennsylvania


Despite close to a century's worth of archaeological investigations at Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World, little is known about the actual layout of the town, or the manner in which it developed. Jamestown's legendary failure has served only to emphasize the unique nature of the tobacco economy and its incompatibility with English settlement patterns, while the site's archaeological remains have served only as static relics of America's quintessential frontier town. Yet the archaeological traces of Jamestown provide evidence of a far more complex past. Virginia elites, while promoting the tobacco economy, strove also to develop Jamestown holding culturally influenced expectations of the wealth to be had from speculative development, emulating the architecture, regulations, and layout employed in English and Irish towns, and also experimenting with industries which were proving successful within England. While the century witnessed vast economic, technological, social, political, and religious changes take place in England, Virginia's leaders and settlers kept pace with these changing trends. In spite of environmental constraints, the demands of the regional tobacco economy and the emerging world system, as well as the presence of alternative Native American and African cultural models, Virginia's seventeenth-century leaders continued to model their development efforts after those employed in Britain. To understand Jamestown's archaeological expressions, and in particular the presence of abandoned industries, rowhouses, and the abundant use of brick, it is imperative to consider the broader cultural context within which the site's planners, speculators, and occupants were operating and interacting.

Subject Area

Archaeology|American history|Architecture

Recommended Citation

Horning, Audrey Jane, ""A verie fit place to erect a great cittie": Comparative contextual analysis of archaeological Jamestown" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9543087.