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Preservation Virginia > Jamestown Rediscovery > Exhibit > Jamestown Fort: Rediscovered > The Things > Arms and Armor I

Arms and Armor I

Arms and Armor Although many of the arms and armor artifacts discovered at the site were archaic at the time of settlement, they were useful for close-range fighting and likely used against the Powhatan.

Most of the armor the archaeologists have found are in pieces suggesting that the colonists were recycling the steel plates to make other things. But why did they get rid of their armor?

Comfort

For the armor to be effective protection for the soldier it had to be worn whenever there was a threat of danger. In the early years of the colony, that was all the time. Can you imagine trying to chop wood or hunt for food in a suit of armor? And think how uncomfortable the armor would be in the hot and humid Virginia summers!

Death

Most colonists died in the first few years of settlement at Jamestown. On May 11, 1607, 104 men and boys arrived at Jamestown. At the end of four months, fifty of these settlers had died. By the end of the winter of 1609-10, only 60 of the total 500 colonists who had arrived in Jamestown survived.

The causes of death were dysentery, starvation, and wounds inflicted during encounters with the Indians. As a result, there must have been an overwhelming surplus of armor. The colonists probably cut up these extra pieces to make and repair tools and other objects that were more useful to them.

Type of Warfare

The colonists' armor provided little protection from the type of fighting they did in the first years. The English had fully expected a Spanish attack on their fledgling colony at Jamestown. This menace was uppermost in the colonists' minds and they were fully equipped with arms and armor to defend James Fort. This confrontation never materialized. Instead the colonists faced uneven relationships with the local Algonquian or Powhatan Indians which often resulted in bloodshed. Unlike European warfare, these skirmishes with the Indians did not take place on a formal battleground. Surprise attacks were the norm. The uncertainty of this type of warfare would require that the uncomfortable armor be worn constantly. It appears that the first colonists opted for comfort and agility! After the Indian uprising in 1622, which resulted in the massacre of over 300 men, women, and children, there was a renewed effort to armor the colonists.



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