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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.   Cannibalism in the settlement 4.   Slavery

Identities of the graves

5.   Powhatan
3.   Medical care 6. Further site erosion

Question 1:

Has any evidence been discovered of cannibalism during the “starving time” in Jamestown?


We have found no archaeological evidence to substantiate the claims by some of the settlers that this happened.

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Question 2:

At this point have you been able to identify any of the people found?


We have not been able to identify with exact names any of the burials so far nor is there much chance to do so. No grave so far has had a tombstone or any other identifying label. One stone found in the church is that of a knighted man, which may be marking the grave of Sir George Yeardley, one of the early governors.

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Question 3:

Did the colonists have any medical skills or supplies to speak of?


Among the early settlers were surgeons, physicians, and apothecaries, each with a specialty somewhat similar to these positions today. However, the medical profession at that time had far less knowledge than today to actually heal the sick. We have found surgeons’ equipment and dozens of pharmaceutical (medicine) jars.

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Question 4:

Did any of the Native Americans purchase slaves, or did any slaves escape and join local tribes during the first few decades of James River colonization?


There were no African slaves until 1619.   I do not know of any records of slaves escaping during the following ten years.

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Question 5:

What was the initial opinion of Powhatan and his people of the colonists? Were they willing to share their land, or did they want the invaders gone from the beginning?


The neighboring Algonquians and the colonists clashed almost immediately. Within weeks of their arrival, the colonists built a wooden fort for protection. Clashes between the groups took a toll on the colony’s population, but there were also times when trade with the Algonquians revived the hungry newcomers.

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Question 6:

Is the original site of the James Fort now protected in some fashion from more erosion caused by the James River?


Yes. The site is protected by a concrete seawall built in 1901as it turned out, in the nick of time.

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