Jamestown Excavation IDs Four Colonists, Including A Catholic Spy And America’s First Knight

America has a grisly, depressing origin story. At Jamestown, 300 English colonists settled, starved, and died, all but 60 perishing in a year. Over 400 years later, an excavation of the site is revealing some amazing stories about the men who first called this country home.

The skeletons of four men buried in a long-vanished Anglican church in Jamestown have been analyzed and identified by the Smithsonian, their names and a bit of their histories revealed to the public for the first time, LiveSicence reported.

“It’s the most remarkable archaeology discovery of recent years,” said James Horn, president of Jamestown Rediscovery, which is in charge of the excavation. “It’s a huge deal.”

They were all important figures in the Jamestown colony, hence their burial in a church. The excavation found their graves near the altar of the timber and mud church, nestled in its earthen floor, the Washington Post reported. Their bodies were first discovered in 2013. Jamestown itself, long believed submerged in the James River, was found in 1994.

The men’s resting place was also the location of the wedding between Captain John Smith and Pocahontas.

To figure out who these highly-esteemed men were, archaeologists compared genealogical and historical documents from England and its colonies, with both artifacts and some chemical analysis of the skeletons. During this excavation of America’s fascinating past, they gave the bones their rightful names.

First is Sir Ferdinando Weyman, who is probably the first knight ever buried in America, the New York Daily News reported. He died in 1610 at only 34, and was the uncle of Virginia’s governor. Friends called him an “honest and valiant gentleman.”

Then there’s Captain William West. He also died in 1610, apparently during or after a fight with Powhatan Indians near present-day Richmond. West was the youngest, at only 24. His military sash, fringed with silver thread and metal baubles, was found with his remains.

West and Weyman came to rest in Jamestown in human-shaped, or “anthropoid,” coffins that resemble those found in Ancient Egypt. To find such coffins in English America is very rare, scientists said.

Next is Rev. Robert Hunt, who may have left England because his wife was having an affair. Whatever his reasons, he brought his library (it burned in a 1608 fire) to Jamestown, though he wasn’t as wealthy as the other men. He showed it with his grave — a simple shroud, his body facing toward his congregation. The man, known as the colony’s peacemaker, died in 1608 at 39.

And finally, the man whose excavation from the Jamestown church is creating a lot of mystery for archaeologists: Captain Gabriel Archer. He died during 1609’s famous “starving time,” at 34. Archer arrived in 1607 as one of Jamestown’s leaders. He evidently didn’t get along with John Smith. He was a lawyer and scribe, and had been wounded during a fight with Indians. He was also tiny, at only 5 foot 5, and had a wretched set of teeth — 14 cavities and two abscesses.

But it’s his little silver box that has the archaeologists who led the excavation puzzled. The box is actually a reliquary, which in the Catholic faith is meant to hold the bones of a saint. Scientists found what they believe to be human remains inside, via x-ray. They don’t plan to open the box.

Trouble is, Archer wasn’t Catholic. Back in England, his Catholic parents wouldn’t attend the Protestant Anglican Church — being Catholic was illegal at that time. The implications are tantalizing. The Jamestown colonist could’ve been the leader of a secret Catholic cell in what was supposed to be a Protestant colony. The Church of England was trying to fight the New World’s southern Catholic and Spanish colonies.

More interesting yet — Archer could’ve been a Catholic spy in Protestant Jamestown. Archaeologists leading the excavation are leaning toward that theory.

[Photo Courtesy Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock]