Fort Palisade Lines and Early Planting Uncovered at 1607 James Fort

More palisade lines and dark planting furrows found at the site of the historic 1607 Jamestown Fort in Virginia.

Archaeologists excavating at the site of Jamestown, the New World’s first successful English colony, have uncovered more features evidencing activity of the first English colonists who arrived on Jamestown Island, Virginia, more than 400 years ago.

Excavations in the churchyard of the 1907 Memorial Church have turned up about 70 feet of the now vanished historic James Fort palisade that defined an eastern extension of the Fort. Reports Dr. William M. Kelso, head of archaeological research at Historic Jamestowne: “The shape of this expansion also seems to be a mirror image of James Fort, where one angle of the triangle was 90 degrees and two were 45 degrees. So a bird’s eye view of the expanded fort might resemble a diamond shape.” 

The eastern extension of the Fort has been documented historically, but this is the first time actual evidence of this 70-foot portion has been encountered on the ground through excavation.

Additionally, excavators have uncovered 10 long, foot-and-a-half wide, evenly spaced features extending eastward from the original James Fort space, features they believe were planting furrows dating to the first months of the 1607 settlement. If true, this would make the finding the earliest evidence of English planting, or agriculture, in the New World.

Archaeologists were able to confirm the early date of the furrows by observing that a wall line trench dated to 1608 cut through the furrow marks, clearly suggesting that the furrows predated the 1608 palisade line. These furrows also appeared to match furrows uncovered 10 years before outside the southeast bulwark of the James Fort. 

Captain John Smith’s 1607 account mentions instructions given by the Virginia Company (the sponsoring organization for the Jamestown venture) to the first settlers about dividing up into groups, one third to build a fort and the others to prepare the soil and plant. Along with the growing of tobacco, which became the staple crop for the area for decades to come, the first colonists were recorded to have brought seeds of English grains with them to plant as an experiment to determine how well the English crops would grow in the New World. The seeds are documented to have included those of fruits and vegetables brought over from the West Indies (the Caribbean), such as orange trees, cotton, potatoes, melons, pineapple and pumpkins.

“This is the beginning of Southern agriculture. Agriculture — the growing of tobacco — saved the colony and set the economic pattern for the South for centuries,” said senior staff archaeologist David Givens.

“It’s remarkable that these furrows have survived, probably because they were in the churchyard and protected,” Givens added. 


Source: Edited and adapted from Where are We Digging Now?, September 2013, Jamestown Rediscovery,

Cover Photo, Top Left: Archaeologists excavate at Jamestown. Smithsonian Institution Photo, Wikimedia Commons


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