Archeologists digging at a 400 year old church in Jamestown, Virginia believe they may have uncovered the skeleton of Sir George Yeardley, one of the first politicians and slave owners in the history of the United States.
The excavation at the church is a joint endeavour by the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution and while those working at the site will not be entirely sure the skeleton discovered is that of Yeardley until the results of DNA testing (carried out in a parallel investigation by the University of Leicester and the FBI) are concluded, they have already been offered some clues that this may indeed be the case.
The skeleton is of a male, between the ages of 30 and 40 and described as “robust,” the positioning of the body is also suggestive that the interred individual was of important stature and had been laid out for viewing, plus in addition the actual burial site is said to be in the centre aisle front of the altar, a prime position within the church The team have also subsequently found 10 teeth that fit into a skull also found at the site last year, believed to belong to the skeleton which was found minus its head.
James Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, is confident of the find:
“I’d say about 90% confident, we want to be at 99.9%.” – James Horn
Born in Southwark, Surrey, Sir George Yeardley was a former Governor of the British Colony of Virginia following his arrival in the New World and was integral to the early history of the United States. Shipwrecked in Bermuda while on his way to the colony, his company built two small ships which eventually delivered them to Jamestown in the spring of 1610.
The conditions that faced the colony on his arrival were said to be appalling, with only around 60 survivors of the 1609 winter left, many of those who had survived attacks from Powhatan Indians and food shortages having now turned to cannibalism in their desperation. The future of the colony was in dire straits, yet his relief brought a year’s supply of food and 150 fresh colonists – it was an action that would save Jamestown. In 1618 he was appointed to a three-year term as governor of Virginia and knighted, given instruction to turn the colony from a military society to a civil one.
“There would be work for all and everyone would have a role and a place in society – even Indian people, which was quite progressive for the time. It was a Christian commonwealth that included the Powhatan Indians and it was Sir George Yeardley’s task to implement those Great Reforms.” – James Horn
It was here in Jamestown under Yeardley that the United States saw the development both of private property and both the rule of law and the government, it was also where the first slaves were transported and one might argue, it was here that the United States was truly born as a nation.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Mary Anna Hartley, a senior archaeologist with Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation says that the team on site, which includes Geneticist Turi King who worked on the Richard III recovery, is amongst the best in the world:
“We have a lot of world-renowned experts working with us on this and I wanted to make sure there was something for them to examine.” – Mary Anna Hartley
Excavations at the site began in November of 2016, with the team uncovering the foundations and original flooring of the structure. It was a year later however that they discovered what appeared to be a grave in the middle aisle, with ground penetrating radar used to identify the outline of the skeleton this June.
The find, which comes ahead of the 400th anniversary of the meeting of the first Virginia assembly and first arrival of slaves in the colonies, is being heralded as a reminder not only of America’s democratic past, but it’s twin darker legacy.
Michael East is a writer with a wide variety of eclectic tastes including politics, history, archaeology, professional wrestling and British science-fiction. A former Students' Union President and newspaper editor, he has studied at a variety of institutions and graduated in both history and politics.
He is interested in truth, justice and the unAmerican way. Named as TIME Person of the Year in 2006 and 2011, he is known variously as a rake, a libertine and as the King in the North... if to nobody else but himself.