Early colonial leaders found at Jamestown church, where Pocahontas was married

They were discovered buried beneath Jamestown's historic 1608 church – the site of Pocahontas and John Rolf's wedding.

Susan Walsh/AP
Bill Kelso, director of archaeology at Jamestown Discover, poses with bone fragments four high-status leaders who helped shape the future of America during the initial phase of the Jamestown colony on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of four prominent leaders in Jamestown – the first permanent English settlement in America, scientists announced Tuesday.

According to a news release by the Smithsonian, all four men were found buried within Jamestown’s historic 1608 church. Pocahontas and English settler John Rolf are thought to have been married at the church, which may have been the first Protestant church in the New World.

What do we know so far about these men and this startling discovery?

History.com says that three of the men were honored with prominent burials – a symbol of their status in the settlement. They include Rev. Robert Hunt, who is believed to be the first Anglican minister in the Americas; Sir Fernando Wainman, an English knight and cousin of the first governor of Virginia; and Capt. William West, a young uncle of the governor. The fourth man was Gabriel Archer, a prominent early leader in Jamestown and an outspoken critic of Capt. John Smith.

Scientists used archaeology, skeletal analyses, chemical testing, 3-D technology, and genealogical research to single out the four men from dozens of English colonists who died at Jamestown from 1608 through 1617, when the church fell into disrepair.

“This is an extraordinary discovery,” Dr. James Horn, president of Jamestown Rediscoverytold the Smithsonian. “Two of the men, Archer and Hunt, were with the first expedition, which established Jamestown in May 1607. And the other two, Wainman and West, arrived with Lord De La Warr and helped save the colony three years later. These men were among the first founders of English America.” 

But one of the most surprising discoveries was made in the grave of Gabriel Archer. Archaeologists found a small silver box containing seven bone fragments and flask used to contain holy water – Catholic artifacts.

History.com asked: “What would a Catholic artifact, which predated the Protestant Reformation, be doing in Post-Reformation Jamestown, buried along with the community’s leaders?”

It’s difficult to know. In the mid-16th century King Henry VIII of England broke with the Church of Rome and established the Church of England in what some consider a personal move. The pope would not allow him to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn (who he would later have beheaded). Many who “converted” to Protestantism maintained their Catholic beliefs, but did so in secret to avoid persecution.

According to the Washington Post, Mr. Archer was not known to be Catholic. But his parents in England had been “recusants,” Catholics who refused to attend the Protestant Anglican Church, as required by law after the Reformation.

Some researchers have wondered if Archer was a secret Catholic, but others say that the items may have been artifacts used in the early days of the Anglican Church’s founding in the New World. Either way, the discovery gives insight into the complexity of religious life in early Jamestown.

As Douglas Owsley, Smithsonian forensic anthropologist, told the Smithsonian, “The skeletons of these men will help fill in the stories of their lives and contribute to the existing knowledge about the early years at Jamestown.” 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Early colonial leaders found at Jamestown church, where Pocahontas was married
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today