This very simple ring is not much to look at, but it has an illustrious history. It belonged to a man named William Strachey, who was born in Essex, England in 1572, a writer and poet who was active in the dramatic scene of London in the first years of the 17th century. Strachey palled around with most of the literary lights of the time, including Richard Burbage, the star of a theater company who performed a large number of plays by a fellow named William Shakespeare. Strachey, however, could not make his living in the London theater, nor in diplomacy which he tried unsuccessfully; he was banished from Constantinople in 1607. With little to lose and nothing else to do, Stachey set out for the New World–specifically, the new English colony at Jamestown–where he wore and evidently lost this ring, which was discovered there in an archaeological dig in 1996 and was identified by the family signet (which unfortunately you can’t see in this photograph).
Strachey was one of Jamestown’s most famous residents. He sailed there in the summer of 1609, after purchasing shares in the company’s stock, and stayed probably about a year. Later Strachey wrote about his experiences in Virginia in a famous book called The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia, published in 1612 after Strachey returned to England. He died in 1621, shortly after the second group of English colonists set up the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts.
William Strachey, and this ring, represent an interesting confluence of history. He was part of the Elizabethan culture of letters that produced Shakespeare–the English Renaissance, in a manner of speaking–but also bridged the gap between England and the world that would eventually become Colonial America and, after 1776, the United States. Various English colonies had been attempted unsuccessfully in North America prior to 1607, the year Jamestown was founded, but after many epic hardships Jamestown managed to survive. The arrival of Europeans like Strachey also opened a new and grim chapter for Native American communities whose response to white settlement has shaped much of American history in the 400 years since.
This ring is on display at Jamestown and is owned by the Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeological Project.