Friday, December 9, 2022

Jamestown Unearthed: Archaeologists Dig Up First Named Smoking Pipe Since 2009

The William Faldo pipe is among the earliest examples of print in the English new world. (Courtesy Danny Schmidt/Jamestown Rediscovery)
The William Faldo pipe is among the earliest examples of print in the English new world. (Courtesy Danny Schmidt/Jamestown Rediscovery)

The list of names of 17th century noblemen, military heroes and social leaders that Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists have found emblazoned on discarded clay pipe fragments is now a little longer with the discovery of a pipe bearing the name “William Faldo” last month.

The Faldo pipe is the first addition to the collection of 10 named smoking pipes since 2009.

It joins a collection of nine pipes that each bear part of the name or title of an important English politician, explorer or investor at the time of the early colonization of Jamestown.

Faldo was a Swiss investor in the Virginia company and member of the Society of Mines Royal sent to the colony to venture out and find silver mines believed to be in the Piedmont region of Virginia. He died at the hands of the Appomattox Indians in 1610.

Collectively, the pipes are the earliest examples of print in the English new world.

Nine different names are represented among the pipe fragments. One title – Earl of Southampton, which refers to Henry Wriothesley, a Virginia Company official and William Shakespeare’s major patron – appears twice in the group of 10 name-bearing pipes that have been discovered.

The rest make up a who’s-who of elite Englishmen circa 1608, including Sir Charles Howard, Lord High Admiral of England and cousin to Queen Elizabeth; Sir Walter Raleigh, famed new world explorer; Lord De La Warre, a member of the queen’s privy council and future governor-for-life of Virginia; Capt. Samuel Argall, a major Virginia Company investor and future governor of Virginia now best known for kidnapping Pocahontas; and Francis Nelson, the captain of the second Virginia supply fleet.

Two of the pipe stems only bear partial markings. One sports the initials of a “Sir W.C.,” which staff archaeologists and historians believe stands for Sir Walter Cope, Virginia Company councilor and London antique collector. The other partial marking is “Rob,” which likely refers to Robert Cecil, lead investor of the Virginia Company in 1609 and later principal minister to King James.

Faldo, the newest addition, “ranks relatively low on the totem pole” in terms of his importance compared to the company he joins, said senior staff archaeologist Danny Schmidt, but it is nonetheless a thrilling discovery.

“It’s very rare in archaeology to be able to identify an artifact as the personal possession of a known individual,” said David Givens, a senior staff archaeologist with Jamestown Rediscovery.

The discovery of the Faldo pipe brings the collection of named pipes up to nine unique names or titles (Courtesy Jamestown Rediscovery)
The discovery of the Faldo pipe brings the collection of named pipes up to nine unique names or titles. (Courtesy Jamestown Rediscovery)

Archaeologists and conservators connected to the find are theorizing Faldo may have made the cut for a personalized pipe because of his close relationship with the pipe maker Robert Cotton.

Cotton was a stationer and publisher in England who traveled aboard the Phoenix to Jamestown in 1608, where he set up shop as a pipe maker. Fragments of hundreds of his pipes have been found throughout the fort, many of them bearing his signature fleur-de-lis marking.

Pipe making was a significant enterprise in a time when smoking tobacco was all the rage in London and the availability of suitable clay for pipe making was limited to one small region on England’s southern coast.

Historians at Jamestown think the Virginia Company sent Cotton to investigate the suitability of Tidewater clay for pipe making, and the material he discovered on the banks of the James River was more than suitable.

Givens thinks it is likely Cotton died during the Starving Time, the harsh winter of 1609-10 that claimed the lives of three-quarters of the English colonists at Jamestown, because he disappears from the historical record around that time.

Nonetheless, between his arrival in April 1608 and his apparent disappearance less than two years later he seems to have produced hundreds of pipes, the remains of which are particularly interesting to archaeologists today because of the marriage between English and Indian craftsmanship they represent.

“[Cotton] was making these in a very Virginia Indian fashion,” Givens said. “Archaeologists in the past have been frustrated because we couldn’t tell the difference between the English and Indian pipes we’ve found, and that’s actually a cool position to be in because it shows how much those two societies were mingling.”

Cotton and Faldo made the journey to Jamestown on the same voyage, captained by fellow named-pipe recipient Francis Nelson. This connection makes it likely the two men became friends during that time and that friendship motivated Cotton to produce a personalized pipe for Faldo.

Though Faldo’s pipe may have been a gift given to him directly by its maker, many of the other pipes were intended for men who never set foot in Jamestown.

“One explanation [for the existence of the named pipes] is that they are sending them back to the sponsors to prove they are actually doing something,” Givens said, citing the intense pressure the colonists faced to prove the financial viability of their mission to investors back in England.

The pipe was discovered in the north wall of a cellar immediately outside of the perimeter of the original fort. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)
The pipe was discovered in the north wall of a cellar immediately outside of the perimeter of the original fort. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)

The fact that pipes bearing the names of men who never visited the colony have been found at the fort indicates these particular artifacts never made it to their intended recipients.

Givens believes these pipes were probably cast-offs that were somehow broken or flawed in the production process, therefore unsuitable to be sent as gifts.

Just because they were not up to snuff for English lords and noblemen does not mean they were immediately discarded, though. The Faldo pipe, like some of the others in the collection, shows evidence of having been smoked. Schmidt believes that though these pipes were not perfect, they were still usable and probably were given to someone else in the colony to use rather than being thrown away.

At one point or another all of the pipes ended up in the trash, which is why they have been found in two different structures that would have been filled in with refuse once they were no longer useful to the colonists.

The original nine pipes came out of an open-air well inside the boundary of the original fort that was most likely filled in during the massive clean up of the fort in the spring of 1610, immediately following the Starving Time.

The Faldo pipe was recovered from the inside of a cellar that the Jamestown Rediscovery team has been excavating for much of this year. Progress on the cellar will continue for the next month or so before the area is secured and covered for the winter.

Staff archaeologists expect to begin the excavation of the well located inside the cellar when they return to the site in the spring, and are hopeful their efforts will continue to turn up artifacts that further illuminate life in the colony.


A team of archaeologists from Preservation Virginia has been at work since 1994 uncovering the buried secrets of Jamestown.

When the Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeological Project started, the hope was to find the site of the original 1607 James Fort, which had been written off for more than 200 years as lost to shoreline erosion.

Since then, the team has discovered the fort and more than a million artifacts in the ground.

Jamestown Unearthed is a monthly feature in WYDaily exploring the latest discoveries in and around James Fort. Click here to read past articles.

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