Thursday, November 30, 2023

Jamestown Unearthed: Fully conserved Knight’s Tombstone returns to Memorial Church

Left to right: Michael Lavin, David Givens and Jonathan Appell look over the Knight's Tombstone after it was wheeled into the Memorial Church Tuesday afternoon. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Left to right: Michael Lavin, David Givens and Jonathan Appell look over the Knight’s Tombstone after it was wheeled into the Memorial Church Tuesday afternoon. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Two years ago, archaeologists lifted the Knight’s Tombstone — broken in multiple pieces after nearly four centuries — from the floor of the Memorial Church at Historic Jamestowne.

On Tuesday, the 1,200-pound stone — now in one piece — was lifted into a permanent home in the floor of the church, feet away from where it previously rested.

“There’s a little more to go, but it worked,” said Michael Lavin, director of collections and conservation for Jamestown Rediscovery.

The process took the entirety of Tuesday afternoon and unique tactics to slowly settle the stone into the almost 11-inch-deep frame, including a 10-foot-tall tripod hoist and 30, 20-pound bags of ice.

Tuesday’s events were the culmination of years of work conserving the tomb and investigating whose grave it marked. Archaeologists with Jamestown Rediscovery believe the stone likely belonged to Gov. Sir George Yeardley, who died in 1627, 20 years after the colonists first arrived in the New World.

Recently, the Knight’s Tomb rested at the National Park Service Visitor Center on Jamestown Island, where Dan Gamble worked to conserve the stone in time for the April 15 opening of Preservation Virginia’s 1619 Commemoration exhibit inside the Memorial Church.

Jonathan Appell from Connecticut-based Atlas Preservation led Tuesday’s crew moving the stone from the visitor center to the church. Appell specializes in preserving historic gravestones and monuments and has worked on the stone since it was hoisted from the floor in 2017.

RELATED STORY: Jamestown Unearthed: Archaeologists begin conservation of knight’s tombstone

The goal of Tuesday’s move: Do not break the newly-mended stone.

“I have a lot of confidence in Jonathan,” Lavin said. “We make a pretty good team — and Dan [Gamble].”

Crews took careful, incremental steps with the stone, moving it less than an inch at a time to ensure it stayed in one piece.

The stone was first raised from the cart used for transport onto wooden blocks, then Appell built a wooden frame under the stone to support it as it was lifted from the cart. Appell then set up the tripod hoist and used thick yellow straps to create a cradle for the stone under its newly-built frame.

Around 3 p.m., Appell used a chain to lift the 1,200-pound stone in the cradle, allowing other crew members to remove the rolling cart, letting the stone hang freely.

By 4:30 p.m., ice was poured into the 24-square-foot tub and mounded in the middle so the stone could rest on the ice and the stone’s wooden support frame could be cut away. The stone was supported by 600 pounds of ice, Lavin said.

Appell applies an epoxy before joining two pieces of stone together. (WYDaily/File photo)
Appell applies an epoxy before joining two pieces of stone together in May 2017. (WYDaily/File photo)

As the ice melted, the stone slowly settled into place. Appell used a wet-dry vacuum to suck water from the space.

Appell stayed with the stone until 1:40 a.m. Wednesday.

So, why ice?

The ice allowed a slow, supported transition into the hole, and prevented any pieces of wooden frame from being stuck under the stone permanently, Lavin said.

From there, Appell will use wood shims to level the stone in its setting.

Electrical technicians will also run LED tape lights around the box to illuminate the stone. A brick boundary one brick wide will also surround the stone.

The glass to cover the stone’s portal is still about 10 weeks from being delivered, Lavin said, but the portal will be temporarily covered in plexiglas.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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