A Virginia Timeline Part II: Jamestown to Antebellum

By Elizabeth Paynter

CART recently did a blog covering the Virginia Timeline prior to Jamestown using the time periods set by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). The material culture of  Virginia changed dramatically once the Europeans settled at Jamestown and the different cultures who lived here met. While this meeting is the stuff of legends, archaeologists focus on the physical evidence that remains behind. Our focus accomplishes several goals. Archaeologists fill in history, verify or sometimes contradict the historic record, and show the physical remains of our history.

The abrupt addition of certain materials makes an archaeologist’s job of recreating details of a timeline easier. The earliest possible date in Virginia for items such as glass or iron alloys is 1607, when Jamestown was established. On top of the change in materials, the written record that still exists from the Europeans both vastly simplifies and complicates the archaeologist’s role. The written record is not always entirely accurate, but it does provide an amazing depth of information. According to that written record, the land in which Old Colchester Park & Preserve (OCPP) is now located was patented in 1666.

Now, following the guidelines for time periods set out by VDHR from 1607 to 1860, here is a brief cheat sheet of sorts.

Settlement to Society (1607-1750) England’s first permanent settlement in the New World was Jamestown, Virginia. This small frontier society explored the landscape, interacted with the local inhabitants, and lived simply in rough wooden structures. The early part of this time is often referred to as the Contact Period. By 1684, down the road from where Colchester would later be located, the first official transport across the Occoquan River was a ferry run by George Mason I. Soon, tobacco plantations were successful and spread and, as a result, so did the importation of indentured and enslaved people to work these plantations.  A few towns, including Colchester, emerged as tobacco inspection stations that provided the entire range of services required and desired by travelers to the burgeoning town.

Colony to Nation (1751-1789) The seeds of the Revolutionary War began in part due to Virginia’s experience with self-government in the House of Burgesses. George Washington, George Mason IV, and Daniel McCarty  were all members of the House of Burgesses resided only a few miles from Colchester. The tobacco port town of Colchester was established on the Occoquan River in 1753 and the 25 acres of land was surveyed into 42 lots. A large portion of what was once the town of Colchester is on current parkland. While only a small part of OCPP, it is an archaeologically and historically important part.

Wheildon Creamware 1745 - 1775

Whieldon Creamware 1745 – 1775

Early National Period (1790-1829) The colonial agrarian society gradually began to accommodate urban centers. Rural dwellings became larger as wealth increased. Nearby river port towns such as Alexandria and Dumfries flourished and numerous towns developed, but Colchester underwent a slow decline  in part because the tobacco industry was also in decline.

Blue Shell Edge Pearlware 1775 - 1840

Blue Shell Edge Pearlware 1775 – 1840

Antebellum Period (1830-1860) Public works began at this time and many towns in the area became prosperous commercial centers. Manufacturing that began in the colonial period were focused mainly on iron-making and milling. All the while the heated debate over the abolition of slavery grew. As commerce at Colchester declined the town waned and most residents moved away from the land in which OCPP is now located. Several groups of newcomers from the North as well as individuals from England, Ireland and Germany purchased cheap land in Fairfax immigrants. The few families that stayed increased their land holdings and focused the land on agriculture .


Stay tuned for more information on later time periods at Old Colchester Park and Preserve.


Sprouse, Edith Moore 1975 Colchester Colonial Port on the Potomac. Fairfax County Office of Comprehensive Planning. Fairfax County, Virginia.

Virginia Department of Historic Resources 2011 Guidelines for Conducting Historic Resources Survey In Virginia. Appendix B. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Richmond, Virginia.


About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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One Response to A Virginia Timeline Part II: Jamestown to Antebellum

  1. Pingback: A Virginia Timeline – Part III: Civil War to the New Dominion | C.A.R.T. Archaeology

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