Ruins of Oldest Protestant Church in America Found at Jamestown
Researchers at Jamestown, Va., may have found the site where the first Protestant church in North America was built.
Dr. William Kelso, head of the research team at Jamestown, which was founded as a settlement established by the Virginia Company of London in the 17th century, explained in an interview with The Christian Post that the group began excavating at the site where they may have found the church in the summer of 2010.
Kelso, an American archaeologist specializing in Virginia’s colonial period, believes the ruins found are the church because of a “Record of construction in Spring of 1608, burials in the east or chancel end” and that it “matches dimensions recorded in 1610.”
He discovered the site along with three field supervisors: archeologists Danny Schmidt, Dave Givens and Jamie May.
In addition to being the site of the oldest known Protestant church in the United States, the building would have also likely been the location for the wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, a marriage that temporarily brought peace between settlers and Native Americans.
The church, which was 64 feet by 24 feet, also runs contrary to the common narrative on religion linked to Jamestown colony.
“[The] standard story is that Jamestown was all about secular pursuits and making money with the spread of religion far down the priority list,” said Kelso.
“The sheer size and early construction makes a dramatic statement that the establishment of the Church of England in the ‘new world’ was far more in the forefront of the colonists thinking than has previously been recognized by many historians.”
Historians at Virginia universities echo the sentiment of Kelso regarding the accuracy of the popular narrative of Jamestown.
Crandall Shifflet, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, told CP that he believed the church ruins “could be an opportunity to re-examine the role of religion at Jamestown in particular and in seventeenth-century Virginia in general.”
“British colonists considered the spread of Christianity a central part of their mission,” said Shifflet, who oversees an online learning project called “Virtual Jamestown.”
“Popular culture tends to stereotype Jamestown as a group of adventure capitalists motivated by greed and materialistic gain without regard to the souls of colonists or Indians.”
Early American historian Dr. Jane Merritt of Old Dominion University said that the find was valuable for understanding life in the English colonies.
“The church will certainly help historians better map out the community spaces of the early settlement,” said Merritt.
“Archaeological work at Jamestown has been underway for decades and has uncovered wonderful evidence of the material life and culture of early colonists.”
Merritt explained that many misconceptions about life in Jamestown exist in modern society, noting that although often considered “a seedbed for democracy” Jamestown was a strictly structured and hierarchical society.
“Religion was an important part of this equation,” said Merritt, who added that “colonists were required to go to church (at times daily services) by threat of punishment.”
Merritt also noted the strong misconception commonly found with English settlers arriving to North America is that they were there for “religious freedom.”
“While religion was central to many of the settlements … the religious freedom they sought rarely included religious tolerance,” said Merritt.