Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The First American Fishing Tackle

The First American Fishing Tackle

As I was prepping for a course I'm teaching on the first half of American history, I recently came across a great eBook from the legendary Project Gutenberg that details a bit on the origins of American angling. New Discoveries at Jamestown: Site of the First Successful English Settlement in America by John L. Cotter and J. Paul Hudson (2005) is a very interesting archaeological look at the first major American settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, founded in 1607. As a coastal settlement, the sea and river were extremely important to Jamestown's survival. As such, they were the first Europeans to use fishing tackle. As the authors note:

When the first settlers planted their small colony at Jamestown, the tidewater rivers and bays and the Atlantic Ocean bordering the Virginia coast teemed with many kinds of fish and shellfish which were both edible and palatable. Varieties which the colonists soon learned to eat included sheepshead, shad, sturgeon, herring, sole, white salmon, bass, flounder, pike, bream, perch, rock, and drum, as well as oysters, crabs, and mussels. Seafood was an important source of food for the colonists, and at times, especially during the early years of the settlement, it was the main source.

Those in England who planned to go to Virginia were always advised to provide themselves (among other items) with nets, fishhooks, and lines. During archeological explorations, fishhooks, lead net weights, fish-gigs, and small anchors were uncovered. These are reminders of a day when fish and shellfish were abundant in every tidewater Virginia creek, river, and bay.

Fish Hooks, Fish Gigs, and Lead Net Weights unearthed at Jamestown

It is certain also that the local blacksmith produced fish hooks and spears for local use as well, making them the first pieces of American tackle ever produced in the colonies. It is possible the spear and fish hooks pictured are the earliest American colonial-made fishing tackle. Being able to see piscatorial relics from the founding of the nation over 400 years ago is a real treat.

-- Dr. Todd

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