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Artifacts Exhibited in New Galleries Illustrate Life in 17th-Century Virginia and its Cultural Origins




WILLIAMSBURG, Va.–The new Jamestown Settlement galleries provide a setting for one of the most varied collections of objects relating to the nation’s beginnings in 17th-century Virginia.  The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection has been developed to support the museum’s story line and includes objects representative of the Powhatan Indian, European and African cultures that converged in 1600s Virginia.

“We’ve acquired artifacts to illustrate the way of life of 17th-century Virginians and the three parent cultures, where they came from and how they adapted to new and rapidly changing circumstances,” said Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Senior Curator Thomas E. Davidson.  Artifacts are acquired through gifts from private donors.

The non-archaeological portion of the collection is comprised of objects made mostly in Europe and Africa, including ceremonial and decorative objects, portraits, maps, books, engravings, furniture, ceramics, glassware, cookware, navigational instruments, apparel, toys, tools, and weapons and military accouterments.

Several rare artifacts that have an especially significant role in telling the story of 17th-century Virginia and its cultural antecedents have been acquired since the 1990s.  A portrait of King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) dating to about 1595 and a bronze plaque depicting in relief an official of the royal court of Benin, West Africa, dating to about 1600 are exhibited at Jamestown Settlement for the first time.

The skill of West African craftsmen as well as African contact with Europeans is reflected in a pair of bronze bracelets from Benin whose decorations include stylized pictures of Portuguese soldiers, and an Owo carved ivory bracelet, an example of an object highly valued by European collectors.

The only known portrait of Thomas West, third Baron de la Warr, the governor credited with saving the Jamestown colony from abandonment in 1610, will be exhibited near a newly acquired portrait of his wife Cesellye, Lady de la Warr, who was among a small number of women investors in the Virginia Company of London.   A portrait of William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke, one of the largest stockholders in the company and Lord Chamberlain to King James I, also is exhibited along with portraits of other Virginia Company investors.

Two fine pieces of furniture, a cupboard dating to about 1600 and a scriptor, or writing desk, a new type of English furniture that appeared in the latter part of the 1600s, highlight an assortment of chests, chairs, stools, tables and beds.

The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation owns two important collections of Virginia Indian archaeological artifacts representing all chronological periods of occupation in eastern Virginia.  A selection of the nearly 300,000 pieces in the E. Edward Bottoms and James R. Coates collections, including projectile points, stone axes, tools, pottery and European glass beads used for trade, is exhibited in the new galleries.

Archaeological material from Virginia Indian and 17th-century English colonial sites, courtesy of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, is exhibited throughout the galleries.  Several artifacts from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection, including military items, objects for using and storing tobacco products, glassware and ceramics, are displayed next to matching archaeological pieces.  Objects made or used by enslaved people in late 17th-century Virginia are exhibited courtesy of the James River Institute for Archaeology and the Governor’s Land Foundation.

Thirty objects from the Ambundu culture of Angola are exhibited courtesy of the Mercer Museum of the Bucks County Historical Society in Doylestown, Pa., in a diorama representing the Ndongan culture of the first known Africans in Virginia.  The Ambundu were part of the Ndongo kingdom in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Collected in the early 20th century by Swedish American scholar Amandus Johnson, the Ambundu artifacts are similar to the weapons, tools and personal items used by 17th-century Ndongans.

More than 500 artifacts in all are exhibited in the new Jamestown Settlement galleries.