National Geographic : 2002 Jun
By Karen E. Lange NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC WRITER Photographs by Ira Block n April 1994 archaeologist William Kelso stood on a small island in the lower James River, a shovel in his hand and the future of his career at his feet. He had left a secure job at Thomas Jeffer son's historic home of Monti cello, taken a pay cut, and moved halfway across Virginia with his wife in order to prove a theory: that James Fort, the first successful English attempt to colonize the New World, could be found. For decades most archaeologists had assumed that the fort, which existed from 1607 into the 1620s, lay at the bottom of the James River, which had eroded hundreds of yards of shoreline since the early 17th century. Kelso was among a handful of scholars who disagreed, believing the fort's remains still rested on land, specifically on property owned by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA). The APVA invited Kelso to attempt to uncover the fort, but at first could fund little but his salary. So he bought his own shovel and Wheelbarrow and launched a one-man exca vation, praying that he would soon discover something worthy of further financial support. He set up a video camera to film his first shovels of dirt, then stepped back and began to dig, not far from wer APVA in 1922 had erected a monume~to Pocahontas. Kel so remeiBers how strange he must hal appeared: "A woman N~ C~N- ~ N? I'~a~a "We ... finished our Fort which was triangle wise, having three Bulwarkes at every corner like a halfe Moone," wrote colonist George Percy of the original fort from which Jamestown grew. Erected in 1607, the fort is drawn here as it looked about 1608, after it had burned and been rebuilt and expanded. The long house and palisade on the outside may have been a trading post where the English exchanged copper and glass beads for Indian corn. Structures shown in a haze are suggested by historical records but have not yet been found. Across a field lies an unmarked burial place, perhps for colonists struck down by disease. y ,:*' .