Archaeologist William Kelso is certain he’s discovered the remains of the oldest Protestant church in the United States, standing between two holes he insists once held wooden posts.
In 1614, Pocahontas was “married right here, I guarantee,” Kelso told AFP at the Jamestown, Virginia archeological site southeast of the nation’s capital.
Near the James River, on May 14, 1607, a group of about a hundred men landed on commission from England to form the first colony in the Americas.
“It’s fantastically exciting and significant because Jamestown is usually depicted — the whole early settlement depicted — as it was carried out by lazy gentlemen who wanted to get rich quick, and go right back to England.”
The area was carefully excavated to reveal several large post holes 6.5 feet (two meters) deep and the trace remnants of four graves.
Two other Protestant churches are thought to have been built before, but left no trace, and remains of a Catholic church were also found in Florida — but Kelso is sure this one is the oldest left.
“Religion played a big role” in the community, Kelso said as he stood near the river where small fluttering flags marked the building’s outline. Settlers “put a lot of work in the building of this big church, and that became very important for the colony.”
Noting the size of the wood post’s holes, Kelso said the church would have been able to support the mud and stud building’s heavy roof.
According to surviving records describing the church kept by the secretary of the colony, what was built matches what can be seen today at the site. “I’m convinced because it’s the right size,” said Kelso.
The four graves also match with the four important members of the colony who would have been buried so close to the church. Kelso said there were a knight, two captains and Reverend Robert Hunt, the first cleric to come to the site.
Pointing out where Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan’s favorite daughter, would have stood when she married an Englishman, Kelso marveled at the event’s place in colonial history, allowing further settlements in what was then foreign, hostile territory for the European settlers.
“With that wedding, the Indians backed off and there was no more fighting,” Kelso recalled.
The Indian princess, well known to American children, was popularized through an animated Walt Disney romance.
Renamed Rebecca, she was later to marry another Englishman, John Rolfe, before dying in England at the tender age of 21.
The next tasks for archeologists in the coming months will be to dig up the graves.
“We know the ages, we have baptism records,” Kelso said, excited at the tantalizing possibility of confirming their identities with the study of bones, teeth and possibly markings from injuries still traced to the bones.