Archaeological evidence implies that this area was used as a burial ground before 1617 when the first church was built on this site. If the man buried in the "Knight's Tomb" just inside
the church was Governor George Yeardley, then regular burials commenced here by 1627. The oldest positively identified burial is that of Benjamin Harrison, the first, who died between 1642 and 1649. The earliest known tombstone, now lost, dates from 1682.
By 1692 the graveyard covered about one and one-half acres. Its northern boundry (to your left on the other side of the church) was a wooden rail fence about 260 feet long. The graveyard extended westward (behind you) under the Confederate Fort and southward (to your right) to the river bank. The eastern boundry (in front of you) is unknown. Probably it was beyond the iron fence, possibly a considerable distance beyond. After the 1750s there were fewer burials here since the church was abandoned then. One of the last known burials here was on May 14, 1807 when visitors to the Jamestown Jubilee buried an unknown young man who had "fallen victim to heat and too free use of ice in cider." Possibly some of the 15 Union soldiers who were reported buried on Jamestown Island in 1862 were buried in this graveyard.
All totaled, there were probably several hundred burials in the original graveyard. Only about 30 of these were in the church under the floor. Another 50 or more were in the area enclosed by the brick wall in front of you. This wall was built by John Ambler and William Lee in the early 1790s to enclose a small part of the graveyard -- about one-seventh of an acre -- where their families were buried. They used the bricks from the old, ruined church. Even this did not stop the gradual deterioration of the graveyard. Visitors to the Jamestown Jubliee in 1807 commented on the ruined condition of the graveyard, comments which were re-echoed by visitors throughout the nineteenth century. In the early 1900s the A.P.V.A. repaired and restored the 1790s wall. It was repaired again in 1971.
There are two other burial grounds on Jamestown Island. One, about 250 yards west (behind you), is near the large wooden Memorial Cross. Perhaps 300 graves are there, probably dating from the earliest times. There are no tombstones there. A second burial ground is the Travis Graveyard, about 1 1/2 miles east and located about 3.2 miles from the start of the Island Loop Drive. Three tombstones mark seven known and several unknown graves there. (The Travis Graveyard is on the Jamestown Island Loop Drive page on this website)
Since there is little natural stone in tidewater Virginia, tombstones were rare in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Almost all had to be imported, usually from England. Many of the people buried here after the 1680s were wealthy and their families could have afforded tombstones. Nineteenth-century reports indicate that many did and the graveyard contained many tombstones. Sadly most of these have been lost, stolen or destroyed by the ravages of time. Only twenty-five remain. Some of these are not really tombstones, but merely grave markers erected in 1901 when the A.P.V.A. conducted excavations here and found the graves.
The remaining tombstones and grave markers are indicated below. The epitaphs are reconstructed either from the original or from nineteenth-century reports. They are keyed to the small map.
1. John Ambler (1735-1766)
"John Ambler, Esquire, Barrister at Law, Representative in the Assembly for Jamestown and Collector of the District of York River in this Province. He was born the 31st of December, 1735 and died at Barbadoes 27th of May, 1766.
In the relative and social duties -- as a son, and a brother and a friend -- few equalled him, and none excelled him. He was early distinguished by his love of letters which he improved at Cambridge and in the Temple, and well knew how to adorn a manly sense with all the elegance of language. To an extensive knowledge of man and things he joined the noblest sentiments of liberty, and in his own example held up to the world the most striking picture of the amiableness of religon."
2. Unknown Person
3. William Sherwood (?-1697)
"Here lyeth William Sherwood that was born in the parish of White Chapel near London. A great sinner waiting for a joyful Resurrection."
4. Mrs. Mary Knight (1674-1733
"Here lyeth the body of Mary the wife of John Knight who departed this life Febr[uary] 11th, 1732-3 in the 59th Year of her age. Waiting for a joyful resurrection."
5. Unknown Person
6. Unknown Person
The Jamestown Churches
The First and Second Churches -- Captain John Smith reported that the first church services were held outdoors "under and awning (which was an old saile)" fastened to three or four trees. Shortly thereafter the settlers built the first church inside the fort. Smith said it was "a homely thing like a ???? set on ??????, covered with rafts, sedge and earth. " This church burned in January, 1608 and was replaced by a second church , similar to the first. Made of wood it needed constant repair, Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married in the second church.
The Third Church -- In 1617-1619 when Samuel Argall was Governor, he had the inhabitants of Jamestown build a new church "50 foot long and twenty foot broad." It was a wooden church built on a foundation of cobblestone's one foot wide capped by a wall one brick thick. You can see these foundations under the glass on the floor of the present building. The First Assembly was held in the third church.
The Fourth Church -- In January, 1639 Governor John Harvey reported that he, the Council, the ablest planters and some sea captains "had contributed to the building of a brick church" at Jamestown. This church was slightly larger than the third church and was built around it. It was still unfinished in November, 1647 when efforts were made to complete it. After it was finished the church tower was added. The ruins of this church tower are the ones you see to your right. The tower is the only seventeenth-century building still standing at Jamestown. It is one of the oldest English-built structures in the United States.
The tower is slightly over 18 feet square and the walls are three feet thick at the base. Originally the tower was about 46 feet high (ten feet higher than the ruins) and was crowned with a wooden roof and belfry. It had two upper floors as you can see from the large beam notches on the inside. Six small openings at the top permitted light to enter and the sound of the bell or bells to carry across river and town.
The Fifth Church -- The fourth church burned during Bacon's Rebellion on September 19, 1676. Ten years later a fifth church was functioning, probably using the walls and foundations of the fourth church. The tower was undamaged and intact. This church was used until the 1750's when it was abandoned. Although the tower remained intact, the building fell into ruins by the 1790s when the bricks were salvaged and used to build the present graveyard wall. Throughout the nineteenth century the tower remained a silent symbol to Americans of their early heritage. It was strengthened and preserved shortly after the A.P.V.A. acquired it in the 1890s.
The Present Church -- The present Memorial Church building was constructed in 1906 by the National Society, Colonial Dames of America just outside the foundations of the earlier churches. It was dedicated May 13, 1907.
7. The Reverend James Blair (1656-1743)
"H.S.E. [Hic sepultus est] vir Reverendus et honorabilis JACOBUS BLAIR, A.M. In Scotia natus, in academia Edinburgensi nutritus, Primo Angliam deinde Viginiam venit; in qua parte terrarum annos LVIII Evangelii Preconis, LIV Commissarii, Gulielmi et Mariae Praesidis, e Britanni[a] Principum Conciliarii, Concilii Presidis, Coloniae Prefecti munera sustinuit. Ornavit eum oris venusti decus; [Accepit orn]ate, hilari, sine luxu, hospitali modo; Munificent issimo egenis [dedit] largo omnibus; Comi [animo] superavit. Collegio bene disversam bibliothecam fundaverat; Moriens bibliothecam suam ad alendum theologiae studiosum [et] juventutem pauperiorem instituendam testamento legavit. Ante Cal. Maii in die [XIV decessit], MDCCXLIII aetate LXXXVIII. Eximiam desideratissimi senis laudem eius nepotibus commendabunt opera marmore perenniora."
Translation:"Here lies buried the reverend and honorable James Blair. A.M. Born in Scotland, educated in the University of Edinburgh, he came first to England then to Virginia in which part of the world he filled the offices for 58 years of preacher of the gospel, for 54 years of Commisary, of president of William and Mary, of a Councillor to the British governors, of President of the Council and of Governor of the colony. The comliness of a handsome face adorned him. He entertained elegantly in a cheerful, hospitable manner, without luxury. Most munificently he bestowed charity upon all needy persons. In affability he excelled. He had a well varied library founded for the College. Dying, he bequeathed his own library by will for the purpose of informing students in Theology and instructing the poorer youth. He departed this life the 14th day before the calends of May [April 18th], 1743 at the age of 88. Works more lasting than marble will commend to his nephews the surpassing praise of a well beloved old man."
8. Mrs. Sarah Blair (1670-1713)
"Memoria Sacrum [In Sacred Memory] Here lies in the hope of a blessed resurrection the body of Mrs. Sarah Blair, wife of Mr. James Blair, Commissary of Virginia, sometime minister of this parish. She was daughter of Benjamin and Mrs. Hannah Harrison of Surry. Born August the 14th, 1670, married June the 2nd, 1687, Died May the 5th, 1713; exceedingly beloved and lamented," Here follows a long Latin inscription [now lost] attesting to her virtues.
9. Unknown Person
10. ___________ Edwards (Found in 1901)
11.___________ Edwards (Found in 1901)
12. Unknown Person (Found in 1901)
13. Benjamin Harrison I (?-1645-1649)
There are three bodies in this grave.
14. Unknown Person
15. Mrs. Hannah Ludwell (1678-1731)
"Under this stone lies interred the body of Mrs. Hannah Ludwell, Relict of the Honorable Phillip Ludwell, Esq., by whom she has left one son and two daughters. After the most exemplary life spent in cheerful innocence and the continual exercise of piety, charty and hospitality, she patiently submitted to death on the 4th day of April, 1731in the 52nd year of her age."
16. William Lee (1739-1795) and William Ludwell Lee (1775-1803)
"In memory of Honorable William Lee son of Col. Thomas Lee and Hannah Ludwell his wife. He was born at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia, August 31st, 1739 and died at Greenspring, James City County, Virginia, June 27th 1795.
He was the only American ever elected an Alderman of London where he also served as sheriff. He sacrificed these honors and a large mercantile business to follow the fortunes of his native country in the struggle for independence.
William Ludwell Lee son of William Lee and Hannah Philippa Ludwell his wife. He was born at London, January 23rd, 1775 and died at Greenspring, January 24th, 1803.
17. Phillip Ludwell (1672-1726)
"Here lies interred the body of Phillip Ludwell who died the 11th of January 1726 in the 54th year of his age sometime auditor of his Majesties revenue and twenty five years a member of the Council."
18. Mrs. Ursula Beverly (1681-1698)
"Here lieth interred the body of Ursula Beverly, late wife of Robert Beverly, and daughter of the very honorable William Byrd, who departed this life the 11th day of October, 1698, being much lamented by all that knew her, aged 16 years 11 months and 2 days."
19. Unknown Person
20. Unknown Person
21. Unknown Person
22. "In memory of Elizabeth Harrison Edwards wife of William Edwards and Ann Mansfield Edwards wife of William Edwards. The original inscriptions on their tombs in this churchyard have been obliterated by the ravages of time."
23. Knight's tomb. Possibly Sir George Yeardley (1587-1627)
24. John Clough (?-1684)
"Here lyeth interred the body of the Rev. John Clough, late minister of this place, who departed this life January 15, 1683-4 and waits in hopes of a joyful resurrection."
25. Elizabeth Drummond (?-1699)
"Here lyeth the body of Eliz. Drummond who departed this life the 2nd day of June Anno Domini 1699 Aetatis (Suae) 28." Two lines, now undecipherable, follow. This tombstone was moved here from Greenspring in 1905. While her age is given as 58 on the tombstone, that part of the engraving is from a date later than the original. An 1891 transcription gave her age as 28.
26. Lady Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley Ludwell (1634-1690)
Fragment of the tombstone of Lady Frances Berkeley, wife of Governor Sir William Berkeley. The tombstone has been moved several times.
In addition to these people, several others are known to have been buried here. Both their grave location and their tombstones have been lost.
1. Edward Ambler (1732-1767)
2. Mary Cary Ambler (?-1781), wife of Edward Ambler
3. Jacquelin Ambler (1742-1797)
4. Edward Jacquelin (?-1730)
5. Phillip Ludwell of Greenspring
6. Sarah Grymes Ludwell, wife of Phillip Ludwell
To the Glory of God and in grateful memory of those early settlers, the founders of this nation who died at Jamestown during the first perilous years of the colony.
Their bodies lie along the ridge beyond this cross, in the earliest known burial ground of the English in America.
"These are they which came out of great tribulation"
Original Site Cemetery
James City County