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William Kelso
William Kelso
Locator map
1994 to present

Jamestown, VA

Number of artifacts found:
More than 350,000

Previous excavations by others:
1897, 1901, 1903, 1934-37, 1955

Original colonists:
107 males arrived in 1607

Conventional Wisdom:
The fort disappeared into the river in the 18th century.

Reason for Kelso’s success:
“It was probably more hope and luck than anything else. We said, ‘We’re going to find the fort,’ and it happened.”

Learn More

History of Jamestown
Learn more about how the Virginia Company’s explorers established the first permanent English settlement on the banks of the James River in the midst of disease, famine, and conflict.

Virtual Jamestown
This interactive map highlights the 1608 voyages of John Smith in which he explored and mapped the Chesapeake Bay.

Colonial National Historical Park
Get in-depth information on some of 17th-century Jamestown’s most important personalities and discover the role that women and African Americans played in the success of the settlement.


Barbour, Philip L. Pocahontas and Her World. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970.

Bridenbaugh, Carl. Jamestown: 1544-1699. Oxford University Press, 1980.

Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. W. W. Norton & Company, 1975.


Field Dispatch - Virginia

Tought Times at Jamestown
Photographs by Ira Block E-mail this page to a friend


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This Week’s Questions. Click on a question for a full response.

1.   How much trade occurred between the settlers and the Indians?   4.   How did the colonists decide where to build James Fort?
2.   Where is the statue of Pocahontas?   5.   Why was James Fort built in the shape of a triangle?
3.   Are there any surviving written records from settlers?   6.   Why was James Fort built in the shape of a triangle?

Question 1:

How much trade occurred between the settlers and the Indians?


There was a great deal of trade between the settlers and the Virginia Indians as plans from the beginning were to first trade tools and copper for food, then convert the Indians to Christianity, then use them as farmers to sustain the colony. Thousands of trade beads and copper residue left from Virginia Indian jewelry were found in the excavations and testify to the tremendous trade activity.

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Question 2:

Where is the statue of Pocahontas?


The statue of Pocahontas stands on a granite rock near the 17th-century tower and the church that was reconstructed in 1907. It originally was erected in 1928 near the James River shore opposite the statue of Captain John Smith but was moved to its present location as it was too high and exposed to the weather where it originally stood. There is an exact copy in the churchyard of the Church of St. George in Gravesend, England, where Pocahontas is buried. She died as she prepared to leave from her visit to England in 1617.

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Question 3:

Are there any surviving written records from settlers?


Yes.  Below is a list of early  settlers’ written accounts.

Archer, Gabriel. “Relatyon of the Discovery of Our River.” The Jamestown Voyages Under the First Charter, ed. Philip L. Barbour. 2nd series, 136:80-98. (Written in 1607.)

Argall, Samuel. “A Letter of Sameul Argall touching his voyage to Virginia, and Actions there: Written to Master Nicholas Hawes.” In Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes, ed. Samuel Purchas. Glasgow: James MacLehose and Son, 1904-1906.

Barbour, Philip, ed. The Complete Works of Captain John Smith. 3 vols. University of North Carolina Press.

Percy, George. “Observations gathered out of A Discourse of the Plantation of the Southerne Colonie in Virginia by the English, 1606.” Captain John Smith Works, ed., Edward Arber. Archibald Constable and Co., 1895.

“A Trewe Relacyon, Virginia from 1609-1612.” Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Geneaological Magazine, 3:259-282, 1910. (Written in 1612.)

Strachey, William. The Historie of Travell Into Virginia Britania. Edited by Louis B. Wright and Virginia Freund. Hakluyt Society, 1953. (Written in 1612.)

“A True Reportory of the Wreck and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates.“ A Voyage to Virginia in 1609, Two Narratives, ed. Louis B. Wright. University Press of Virginia, 1964. (Written in 1610.)

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Question 4:

How did the colonists decide where to build James Fort?


First they chose Jamestown Island because they were instructed to do so by the Virginia Company in London before they left—that is, they chose something far enough from the ocean and “some Island” naturally defensible against the anticipated attacks from the Spanish. Archaeological excavations have found that the Fort was constructed on the highest ground on the Island, certainly for defensive reasons.

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Question 5:

Why was James Fort built in the shape of a triangle?


The fort was built in a triangle for two reasons. The high ground bordered on a marsh and the river and so was naturally triangular. Also because the Virginia Indians threatened the lives of the colonists almost from the time of the landing, the colonists needed protection fast. Three walls can make an enclosure faster than four.

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Question 6:

The story in the June issue says that the “colonists were poorly chosen—with far too many gentlemen, servants, and specialized artisans and far too few farmers.” What kind of people did the Virginia Company look for when choosing the first settlers?


The “Letters Patent to Sir Thomas Gates,” 10 April 1606, provides that the Virginia Company and colony should consist of “certain Knights, gentlemen, merchants and other adventurers, of our city of London and elsewhere, which are and from time to time shall be, joined unto them, which do desire to begin their plantation and habitation in some fit and convenient place, between four and thirty and on one and forty degrees of said latitude alongst the coast of Virginia.”

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