VIII. Living Conditions
For the first twenty years or so, Jamestown dwellings were “rude shanties of such green timber and poor workmanship that they were constantly decaying.”(15) In the mid-1620s, though, the colony stabilized and people turned their attention to building satisfactory housing. Timber was abundant, and these new structures were mainly wooden frame houses.
The homes of the wealthiest planters featured a brick foundation and a brick chimney with the rest of the house constructed in wood. These homes typically included four to seven rooms. Most houses, however, were much smaller, often just one or two rooms. Several family members slept in the same room along with their servants. Areas were not divided up for specific uses, but rather were multi-functional. These crowded homes did not contain any luxurious furnishings. Some affluent households featured bedsteads and pewter or silver possessions, but the majority of homes had only mattresses and communal dishes, often made of wood or clay. For most families, “chairs, plates, silverware, clocks, even chamberpots were luxuries.”(16)
Most of Virginia’s leading families evolved from such primitive beginnings. As women bore successive generations of children, they moved up the James River to Williamsburg and then Richmond, building the vast estates and plantation mansions that characterized the area even before the American Revolution.