AP History Notes

Posts Tagged ‘archeology’

The Rise and Fall of Boston’s Tide Mills

The small West End Museum in Boston just opened a small exhibit about “Tide Power in Colonial Boston.” On Tuesday, 21 July, at 6:00 P.M. the museum will host a reception for that show. Both exhibit and reception are free and open to the public.

The event announcement says:

Tide Power in Colonial Boston explores the mechanisms of the mills and trades they supported. Historical maps illustrate the role of Boston’s topography in the construction of the mills and the demand for land-making which contributed to their downfall.

The rise and fall of tides have been harnessed for energy since Roman times. The earliest known tide mills date back to sixth-century Ireland. As the tides come in, sea water enters into a reservoir called a mill pond. When the tides recede, the stored water is released to turn a water wheel which powers the mill.

Around 1630, a settler named Crabtree attempted to extend an island in Boston’s North Cove—approximately where Causeway Street is today—to build a dam and form a tidal mill pond. The task proved to be too much for one person, so he soon abandoned the project. Thirteen years later, Henry Symons and five associates were granted the rights to the Cove on the condition that they construct a mill pond and erect one or more mills. They succeeded and, for the next 150 years, no fewer than five tide mills operated there.

The Mill Pond appears just below the compass on the map above, a major feature of colonial Boston. The mill creek that connected that pond to the inner harbor also served to define the North End, or at least the North End Gang’s territory. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography about playing beside the Mill Pond. The Baptist Meetinghouses were built along its edge to make adult baptism easier.

But with population and economic growth after independence, Boston needed land more than it needed tidal power. In 1797 a consortium proposed filling in the Mill Pond to make new land. It took ten years before the government approved that change, and more than twenty before the project was done. The West End Museum exhibit tells that whole story, concluding with a next-generation, never-realized plan to dam the Back Bay and create more tide mills—another project overwhelmed by the demand for real estate.

“Tide Power in Colonial Boston” will be up until 19 September. Visitors can view it during the museum’s regular hours, which are noon to 5:00 P.M. Tuesday through Friday and 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. on Saturdays. The West End Museum is at 150 Standiford Street.

In addition, the Massachusetts Historical Commission has an online exhibit about archeological finds at the site of the old Mill Pond.

Serving Parker’s Revenge Warm

Yesterday I attended an event at Minute Man National Historical Park announcing major support for the Parker’s Revenge project from Campaign 1776.

The term “Parker’s Revenge,” which Brandeis professor David Hackett Fischer pointed out was probably coined by John Galvin in his 1967 book The Minute Men, refers to one point in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, when Capt. John Parker and his Lexington militiamen attacked the British army column as it withdrew east from Concord. By tradition, those provincials were on or behind a particular granite outcrop—probably a good choice, as that’s said to be the highest point between Boston and Concord.

Parker’s Revenge is thus an event, and an area, and an idea—the idea of the Lexington company that had been hurt that dawn picking themselves up and fighting back.

A couple of years ago, the park and the non-profit Friends of Minute Man Park convened a group to study Parker’s Revenge in more depth. As Bob Morris of the Friends explained, the project has four phases:

  • research into maps, tax and real estate records, and historic accounts to determine what land to focus on and what to look for there.
  • archeology. Project Archeologist Meg Watters didn’t dig; rather, she oversaw a careful survey of the land with lasers, ground-probing radar, metal detectors, and other technology. In addition, military experts will walk through the area to give their opinions about how the opposing armies would have reacted to the site. Watters’s report is due this summer.
  • interpretation and education with the findings and artifacts discovered during the investigation. Plans include traditional displays and signage, and also the possibility of an app depicting the 1775 terrain (as we understand it) that people could use while walking the area today.
  • land rehabilitation under the guidance of the National Park Service’s Olmsted Center. It’s unclear whether there will be a recommendation or resources to return the whole tract to a semblance of its 1775 appearance, but right now it’s wooded and unwelcomingly overgrown.

The Parker’s Revenge project caught the attention of folks at the Civil War Trust. That foundation has been around for over fifteen years, having grown out of smaller groups. Its leaders now have lots of experience in preserving battlefield land, and they’re expanding their scope to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 with an initiative called Campaign 1776. That push uses the minute man as part of its symbol, and of course its organizers are interested in the iconic Lexington and Concord battle.

Campaign 1776 has now contributed to the Parker’s Revenge project in two ways. It agreed to buy an acre of adjacent land with the plan of eventually donating that to the park. People think that British flankers moved across that area as they circled north to drive Parker’s men off their high ground. The property was owned by the town of Lincoln but not necessarily set aside for preservation.

In addition, Campaign 1776 and the Society of the Cincinnati’s American Revolution Institute helped to fund the archeology with a $25,000 grant, the Civil War Trust’s first archeology project. That donation was represented at the event by one of those symbolic oversized checks proudly held up by several people in suits.

Meanwhile, no fewer than four school groups passed by on field trips, peering with more or less curiosity at what the grownups were doing. That shows how big an attraction Minute Man Park already is. With more depth and detail in its Parker’s Revenge interpretation, just a short distance from the visitor center in Lexington, the park may soon have more solid stories to tell.

What’s Up with Minute Man Park This Month

Today the North Bridge Visitor Center of Minute Man National Historical Park is scheduled to reopen for the season.

It will be open through the end of the month on Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. In April, with the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord coming up, the park’s facilities will surely open for longer hours.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Minute Man Park is sponsoring two lectures this month.

Sunday, 15 March
“Parker’s Revenge Project: Notes from the Field”
Principal investigator Margaret Watters, Ph.D., will give an update on the Friends initiative to study and interpret the site traditionally associated with the afternoon assault on the withdrawing British army column by Capt. John Parker and his Lexington militiamen.

Sunday, 29 March
“War and Slavery in Revolutionary Massachusetts, 1775-1783”
John Hannigan, Rose and Irving Crown Fellow in the History Department at Brandeis, will share his research on how men of color participated in the opening of the American Revolution, and the effects of their activity on the institution of slavery in Massachusetts.

Both talks will take place in Bemis Hall, 15 Bedford Road in Lincoln. They will start at 3:00 P.M., and are free and open to the public.

CFP: Return to Sender: American Evangelical Missions in Europe, 1830-2010

Below is a call for papers received by RiAH. Details about submitting proposals can be found after the jump. Proposals are due March 16, 2015.
 


Return to Sender:
American Evangelical Missions in Europe, 1830-2010

Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg, July 15-16, 2015

In 1830 American agencies sent out the first missionaries to continental Europe to establish new churches. This act signaled the beginning of a reverse movement of missionary activities. After two centuries of European efforts to take care of the souls of North America peoples, missionaries in North Americans began to return out of concern for Europe. These trips inaugurated the first stage of reverse mission in the modern era. Studies such as Ian Tyrrell’s Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire (2010), Mark Hutchinson and John Wolffe’s A Short History of Global Evangelicalism (2012), Brian Stanley’s, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott (2013), revealed the growing global network of Anglo-American evangelicalism. These books are more interested in the impressive list of engagements in the “global south” than in Europe. However, despite the modest investment in Europe, this return movement signaled and previewed the eventual global and multidirectional missionary movement of evangelicals. The central question of this conference is how the experiences of American evangelical missionaries in Europe helped or failed to bridge the contrasts between the two continents.

This conference seeks to enrich existing scholarship by bringing together experts who examine the patterns of American evangelicals’ interaction with European audiences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In particular, the organizers seek to examine the intentions, implementation, and implications of American evangelical missions in the Old World. The organizers invite interdisciplinary, long-term and comparative contributions rather than strictly organizational histories of individual mission posts or agencies, The goal is to reveal the similarities and variety in evangelical missionary patterns in Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or mixed countries in Europe. Ranging from Ireland to Russia, Iceland to Sicily, these studies should help to identify the impact of levels of economic development, ethnic make-up, political order, social conventions, gender relations, etc. in the structure of transatlantic religious exchange.

Individual papers might address the following questions:

Intentions
Why and when did evangelical churches and organizations identify Europe as a mission field? How did they perceive subdivisions in Europe? What did they hope to achieve? How stable and enduring (or adaptive) were their programs in the context of a changing international environment? What was the impact of military campaigns and peace operations and other political realities on the missionary enterprise? What and when did they consider the best windows of opportunities? Which competition and which support did the missionaries expect from “colleagues” or in the receiving nations? Did American church and free mission agencies differ in their approach to Europe? How did the missionary intention change over time?

Implementations
How important were transnational contacts, such as immigrant connections, official denominational structures for the missionaries in Europe? How did the missionaries involve, circumvent, or challenge civic and ecclesiastical authorities at home and abroad? Which instruments did the missionaries favor: proclamation, humanitarian assistance, education? How did political, technological, and communicational developments shape and change the patterns of outreach? How did the confrontation with European Christendom and ideologies such as fascism, communism, existentialism, color the American missionary approach? Has the European scene attracted pre-selected groups, with less racial and ethnic diversity than in other receiving areas? How did mission projects in European countries intersect with similar projects in the European colonies? Did the transfer of leadership of the mission to the receiving cultures (indigenization) resemble similar processes in other parts of the world?

Implications
What did the presence of American evangelical missionaries change in the religious relations and proportions in the target areas? How did Americans understand conversion and how did European subcultures respond to that call? Did they increase pluralism or weaken the traditional religious institutions? How did they benefit or suffer from political pressures? Why did some missions succeed and others fail? How close did the recipients identify evangelicals with the broader expansion of American power in the world? Was this a positive or a negative force? Did the incorporation of Europe in the international evangelical network lead to a transfer of American concerns in Europe, such as gender relations, biblical inerrancy, charismatic religion, abortion, intelligent design, prophecy? How did returning American missionaries shape their home churches, communities, programs, and policies in their perception of Europe? Did the European experiences affect evangelical discussions and enterprises at home? Did European evangelicals as a result of these activities gain a hearing in North America?

Proposals (300 words) outlining topic, methodology, argument and significance, plus short CV, should be submitted to Dr. Hans Krabbendam at jl.krabbendam@zeeland.nl and prof. dr. Stefan Paas at spaas@tukampen.nl by March 16, 2015. Three-person panel proposals (1000 words) are also welcome.

The conference is organized by the Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg, and the Theological University in Kampen, the Netherlands in cooperation with the Centre for Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies, University of Southampton, the David Bruce Centre for American Studies, Keele University, the Institute of North American Studies, King’s College London. The steering committee comprises Dr. Kendrick Oliver (Southampton), Professor Axel Schäfer (Keele), Dr. Hans Krabbendam (RSC) and Dr. Uta Balbier (KCL). The conference organizers are Hans Krabbendam and Stefan Paas.

A Punch Bowl in Pennsylvania

Last month the Museum of the American Revolution being built in Philadelphia shared news about archeology on its site, including the shards of a ceramic punchbowl shown here.

The museum’s blog reported:

In all, we excavated a well and twelve brick-lined privies, most of them brimming with artifacts. One of the largest assemblages of artifacts came from an 18th-century privy in the southeast corner of the site, located behind a house that would have faced Carter’s Alley. Among them was one of our most treasured findings: the pieces of an English delftware punch bowl.

When these sherds were pieced together in the lab, we were delighted to see a resplendent ship flying British flags with the words “Success to the Triphena” below. (“Triphena” is the name of the ship depicted.) We were the first people to lay eyes on this object since it was broken and discarded around the time of the American Revolution.

American colonists drank enormous quantities of alcoholic beverages, including beer, cider, wine, brandy, rum, gin, and whiskey. One particularly popular beverage during the era of the American Revolution was punch, which combined various ingredients like sugar, citrus juice, spices and liquor, and was commonly served in ceramic “punch bowls” like the “Success to the Triphena” bowl found on our site. . . .

During the 18th century, many of the punch bowls that were exported to the American colonies were produced by potters in Liverpool, England. The collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England includes an example that is a very close match to the Triphena bowl. Such bowls were likely produced to commemorate the launch of a new ship or to mark a voyage.

Thanks to the digitization of 18th-century American and British newspapers, we have been able to piece together some fascinating details about the original Triphena. (“Triphena” is Greek for delicate or dainty). The December 1, 1763 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette carried an advertisement for merchants Robert Lewis and Son, located on Front Street in Philadelphia, where they offered an assortment of goods just imported on the “Triphena, Captain Smith, from Liverpool.” It is certainly no coincidence that Captain Smith’s travels on the Triphena over the next few years regularly carried him to Liverpool, the place where the punch bowl was made, as well as Philadelphia, Charleston, and the West Indies.

The museum notes that in 1765 the Triphena carried the Philadelphia merchants’ protest against the Stamp Act. In that same season it carried a copy of one letter and possibly two to Benjamin Franklin. The 31 Oct 1765 Pennsylvania Gazette reported that “Capt. J. Smith” had cleared the Tryphena (the more common spelling) for Liverpool.

That was a significant date since the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect the next day. In The Stamp Act Crisis Edmund Morgan wrote: “In Philadelphia, apparently alone among colonial ports, many ships’ captains secured their clearance papers before November 1, even though they were still only partially loaded, so that when they finally sailed later in November [without Customs documents on stamped paper] they could persuade the commanders of naval vessels that they were operating perfectly legally.”

Battlefield Archeology Lecture in Lexington, 11 Nov.

Minute Man National Historical Park and the Friends of Minute Man are proceeding with a big project to clear and interpret the portion of the park that became known as “Parker’s Revenge.”

Based on testimony from veterans of the Battle of Lexington and Concord and local traditions, that area is thought to be where the Lexington militia under Capt. John Parker rejoined the fighting in the afternoon of 19 Apr 1775.

As part of that project, battlefield archeologist Douglas D. Scott is coming to town to advise. On Tuesday, 11 November, he’ll speak on “Shot and Shell Tell the Tale: What Archaeology Can Contribute to the Study of Conflict.”

I found a description of this talk that says:

The archaeology of conflict has captured the imagination of the public and media. Site specific studies of forts and battlefields and detailed artifact analyses are the epitome of military archaeology, but we are now beginning to see broader patterns in data. I will discuss how archeological evidence can be used with historical documentation to identify command and control organization on a battlefield as well as see the loss of tactical cohesion. Examples will be presented to support how the physical evidence of battles can refine battlefield interpretation, build a more complete understanding of past events, and demonstrate the evolution of military tactics and strategy.

This event is scheduled to start at 7:30 P.M. in the Lexington Depot.

One Woman’s Work for “Gentility and Consumerism” in Newport, 16 Oct.

On Thursday, 16 October, the Newport Historical Society will host a lecture on “Gentility and Consumerism in Eighteenth-century Newport: A Widow’s Story” by Christina J. Hodge. Hodge’s new book Consumerism and the Emergence of the Middle Class in Colonial America focuses on Rhode Island widow and shopkeeper Elizabeth Pratt.

The event announcement says:

Between 1733 and 1734 Elizabeth Pratt finds herself battling a series of lawsuits in the courts of Newport surrounding years of consumer purchases of everything from silk riding hoods to silver spoons. Pratt, once a shopkeeper and tastemaker in Newport society, eventually finds herself losing her business, her home on Spring Street, and her freedom. Worse yet, Pratt loses her status in the “middling sorts:” the class of property-owning entrepreneurs who begin to expand colonial America’s class system, eventually leading to the rise of the middle class.

Through the study of court records, as well as significant archeological evidence from Pratt’s own home, the effect of changes in material culture on class and gender relationships takes shape. Hodge will explore this emergence and the “Genteel Revolution” led by middling sorts, like Pratt, through their consumer and commercial practices.

Hodge is Collections Manager and Academic Curator for the Stanford Archaeology Center Collections. She holds degrees from Boston University.

This talk is scheduled to begin at 5:30 P.M. at the 1739 Colony House in Newport. Admission costs $5 per person, $1 for Newport Historical Society members; to reserve a seat, call 401-841-8770. A book-signing will follow, though the book is priced as a scholarly monograph and therefore may not be in everybody’s price range. But spending simply to show that one can is what eighteenth-century consumerism was all about, wasn’t it?

A Sedimental Education

Heather Hoppe-Bruce wrote an op-ed essay in the Sunday Boston Globe about what might be unearthed in a new Boston harbor dredging project. Among the possibilities:

HMS Diana

On May 28, 1775, during the Battle of Chelsea Creek, this schooner was abandoned, captured by provincial forces, then set ablaze and run aground. As this battle was the first naval engagement of the American Revolution, the HMS Diana site would be a major find. Could ship remnants still exist by the creek’s entrance? The state’s Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources thinks so and has requested additional survey work on the site. . . .

The Magnifique

Pilot error may have stranded this 74-gun French war ship on a Lovells Island shoal in 1782. The crew then completely stripped the ship and abandoned it, which was the end of the Magnifique but the start of more than 200 years of rumors and political intrigue regarding how exactly she ran aground. The ship’s remains were allegedly last seen in the mid-1800s.

In other French naval news, a replica eighteenth-century warship is undergoing her first test on the water:

A life-size replica of the Hermione, the French navy frigate made famous when it carried General Lafayette to Boston to help fight in the American War of Independence, embarks on its maiden voyage Sunday, more than 200 years after the original one.

Thousands of spectators lined the port of Rochefort on France’s west coast, where both the original and the replica were built, to watch the reproduced vessel set off on several weeks of sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean.

The moment has been a long time coming – a group of restoration enthusiasts first embarked on the arduous task of recreating the three-masted vessel, using only eighteenth-century shipbuilding techniques, back in 1997.

They were forced to wait a little longer for the new Hermione to take to the seas after the launch, originally planned for Saturday, was delayed due to a build-up of sediment at the port.

If all goes well, the Hermione is scheduled to visit the U.S. of A. in 2015.

Digging for Shays

The Burlington Free Press just ran an Associated Press story (also picked up by the Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal) about a high-school teacher’s archeological dig in Sandgate, Vermont, with roots in post-Revolutionary America:

On the south side of a mountain in Sandgate, Steve Butz and his students from Cambridge High School are unearthing what he and townspeople believe was the hideout of Daniel Shays, a former Continental Army captain who fled Massachusetts in 1787 after leading a fight against harsh economic policies.

“Everybody around here would be quick to tell you that’s Shays’ village,” said Jean Eisenhart, who has lived in Sandgate for almost 30 years. “It’s local lore.”

Historical documents, including a land transaction, prove Shays lived in Sandgate, but the exact location has never been verified. Butz hopes the dig will be able to pinpoint where Shays and his men made their home. . . .

Shays stayed in the state for about two years, then left, eventually settling in New York after he and the other rebels received pardons. Some of his followers remained in Vermont.

Butz said the settlement was later abandoned and the buildings burned in around 1810. That’s consistent with what other historical records say was an epidemic — there’s no indication of what disease — that swept the area, killing many.

Town records indicate the area was never settled again. It was owned by a succession of timber companies that would occasionally log the area in the intervening two centuries.

Here’s the Shays Settlement Project Facebook page. The image above shows a “Bronze, 18th century ornamental crotal bell” recovered at the site.

Tree Rings Under the Trade Center

I first mentioned dendrochronology—the new science of matching up the thicknesses of tree rings to identify the age and source of a piece of wood—back in 2007. It’s usually applied to buildings, and especially to determining whether they’re as old as tradition says.

This week there was a remarkable example of “dendro” in action, applied to a remarkable bit of wood: a small ship’s hull found in 2010 during the excavation for the new World Trade Center in Manhattan.

As Live Science reported, a paper in Tree-Ring Research says a dendrochronology team led by Dario Martin-Benito was able to identify the ship’s wood as white oak. They further matched up the ring pattern in one timber to white oak timbers found in Independence Hall, suggesting that the wood had been hewn in eastern Pennsylvania in 1773.

In addition to the rings, the timbers showed holes bored by worms from the Caribbean, indicating the ship spent considerable time in those waters. The research team estimates that this ship was in use for two or three decades, meaning that it sailed through the Revolutionary War and into the early American republic before coming to rest on what was then the Manhattan shore.

Above is one of the photos from the Live Science report showing a cross-section of the keel with a common modern profile portrait of George Washington for scale. I suspect the holes at the top are from the worms. Here’s the abstract for the paper, “Dendrochronological Dating of the World Trade Center Ship, Lower Manhattan, New York City.”

James Madison in Virginia

In February the Colonial Williamsburg podcast featured an interview with the actor now portraying James Madison, Bryan Austin. He portrays the future fourth President as a young lawyer.

In other news, this Charlottesville article cheekily titled “The Full Montpelier,” about the ongoing work to restore that Virginia estate, including “filling out the inside of the Madisons’ former mansion and erecting replica structures of the former slave quarters,” as well as establishing events.

And surprises are still lurking under the ground:

[Matt] Reeves is ecstatic because his team of 11 full-time archaeologists and 17 students from James Madison University has been excavating the foundation of an 18th century brick building a stone’s throw away from the palatial columned mansion that most of us think of when we imagine Montpelier.

No doubt, the wall in the front yard is a striking find in its own right, but something even more unexpected occurred around 2:30pm the previous day as the archaeologists dug out a layer of Virginia dirt to reveal the structure. Instead of taking a 90-degree turn as they had predicted—and which would have been typical of a structural foundation—the wall turned at a 45-degree angle.

“It’s totally different than anything else. It’s not square, and we have no idea what it is,” said Reeves. “It’s going to be cool, that’s all we know.” And so, they keep digging.

The article quotes Montpelier director Kat Imhoff as saying, “There’s this feeling that Madison is the Robin to Jefferson’s Batman, but it’s so not true.” To which I can only reply, what would be wrong with that?

The Challenge of Carter’s Grove

I first visited Colonial Williamsburg a little over twenty years ago. [It appears that folks in Virginia think they had something to do with the Revolution as well. Who knew?]

One of the things I most enjoyed about that trip was visiting Carter’s Grove, a plantation mansion some distance from the restored village. And a big part of that site’s appeal was figuring out the story behind it.

It seemed clear that Colonial Williamsburg acquired that property in 1969 only because one of the Rockefellers on its board insisted. Other folks in the institution felt saddled with this white elephant of an estate, its main building so altered from its original in the early 1900s that it was impossible to interpret it accurately as a colonial structure.

But then it turned out that the grounds included one of the most significant archeological sites of the British settlement of North America: Martin’s Hundred, or Wolstenholme Town. Colonial Williamsburg archeologists ended up doing many years of work there, and its curators created a museum for the artifacts and preserved the site.

As for the house itself, it was still an interpretive headache. The main outbuildings had been connected to the mansion and the whole house expanded, so it no longer had the size or profile of a genuine Georgian home. When I went, Colonial Williamsburg had come up with three solutions. An outdoor tour highlighted those architectural changes. The grounds had been equipped with barns, enclosures, and livestock to show the lives and work of enslaved farmworkers.

Finally there was the interior of the house, interpreted to display the Colonial Revival and how Americans thought about and celebrated the Revolutionary period in the early 1900s. But that proved a challenge for visitors. Most tourists came wanting to see how Revolutionary America looked. Being shown how our recent ancestors thought Revolutionary America looked, or should have looked, or would have looked if those people had had the benefit of iceboxes and sewing machines, was just confusing. In 2003 Colonial Williamsburg shut the site to figure out what it was doing.

Four years and one hurricane later, the organization sold the mansion to a dot-com millionaire for over $15 million, most in a loan to the new owner. However, as the Washington Post reported, he never moved in. Within a few more years he announced that he couldn’t keep making payments on the loan. There was a lot of concern about whether the house was falling apart.

Government agencies intervened, and a trustee was appointed to handle the property. This spring the Carter’s Grove mansion went back on the market. And when the auction ended last week, the winning bid was from…Colonial Williamsburg.

According to the modern Virginia Gazette, “Colonial Williamsburg bid $7.4 million, which is equivalent to the balance it is owed on the property.” Thus, the institution received about $7 million and ended up with the same property as before, but probably has to spend a lot to restore it. And it’s still unclear how to interpret the property for the public.

Exploring the Tunnel at Ninety Six

This spring archeologists, local firefighters, and National Park Service staff started to explore a tunnel dug during a siege in South Carolina in 1781. This is apparently the only tunnel created during a Revolutionary War siege to survive, and in fact it survived in good shape.

The History Blog reported this story, based on local television coverage:

The 125-foot tunnel was designed by Polish humanist, engineer and Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko during the 1781 siege of the earthen Star Fort in the town of Ninety Six, South Carolina. The plan was for the tunnel to extend underneath the Star Fort so that it could be mined from below and blown up. British reinforcements arrived before the tunnel was finished, which is why it, unlike its more successful brethren, managed to survive the war.

The earthworks of Star Fort are still in existence and the entire site is now a National Park. The Park service and experts from the University of South Florida sent Greenwood firefighter Russel Cline down into the tunnel with breathing equipment since they had no idea what kind of air quality he would encounter. He found that it was remarkably good, considering the three-and-a-half foot high tunnel is more than 230 years old. The video records that the vaulted tunnel is lined with brick and mortar which at first glance, at least, still impressively sound, a testament to Kosciuszko’s skill and attention to detail.

That detail would have been obliterated if Kosciuszko had been able to complete his plan and set off explosives under the fort. But the Loyalists at Ninety Six held out long enough for reinforcements to approach, driving the Continentals away.

[Image above courtesy of FOX Carolina.]

Evacuation Day Exercises in Dorchester and Roxbury, 17 Mar.

Monday, 17 March, is the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the British military left Boston and the first Continental troops moved in. That event will be commemorated with historical exercises in Dorchester and Roxbury starting at 10:00 A.M.

The ceremony at the Dorchester Heights monument will feature the Lexington Minutemen, the Allied War Veterans of South Boston, a children’s choir from the South Boston Catholic Academy, and the Major General Henry Knox Lodge of Freemasons.

Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Bunker Hill and other award-winning historical books, will speak, along with elected officials and Boston National Historical Park Deputy Superintendent Rose Fennell.

Park Service rangers and volunteers will be on hand to recount the important moments in the siege of Boston. They’ll lead a hands-on archeology program from 11:00 A.M. to noon, inviting visitors to simulate the 1990s dig that uncovered a 200-foot-wide star-shaped earthwork on that hill. There will also be information about a replica British 18-pounder cannon that eventually will be displayed at Dorchester Heights.

At 11:00 A.M., State Representative Gloria Fox will host historical exercises at Fort Hill in Highland Park, Roxbury (shown above). The fortification at this site, designed by volunteer Henry Knox, blocked the only land route out of Boston during the siege. Gen. George Washington was so impressed with Knox’s work in laying out and constructing this fort in the summer of 1775 that he supported the young bookseller’s appointment as colonel in charge of American artillery that fall.

Immediately after the ceremony at Fort Hill, Fox will host a free luncheon at the Shirley-Eustis House at 33 Shirley Street in Roxbury. Nat Philbrick will speak again about Bunker Hill, the Lexington Minutemen will fire another salute, and Maj. Gen. Knox himself will make an appearance.

Looking for New Chemung

This month Binghamton University reported on some interesting work by its archeology faculty:

Experts from the Public Archaeology Facility recently took their shovels to a cornfield about 45 miles west of Binghamton, searching for evidence that could earn that site — the scene of a small but significant Revolutionary War battle — a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Four days of digging beneath the corn stubble yielded project director Michael Jacobson and his Binghamton University colleagues just a few modest items, including a charcoal smudge and the possible remains of a wooden post. But if test results show that those artifacts date from the late 18th century, that could be enough to convince National Register staff that the location of the Battle of Chemung should be preserved for further study.

Reading between the lines suggests that there might be as much interest in preserving that landscape from development as in its historical significance. As for that history:

Once home to the Village of New Chemung, the site is a few miles east of the better-known Newtown Battlefield. Historians often treat the Newtown and Chemung encounters as one event, although they occurred two weeks apart. . . .

The Continentals [under Gen. John Sullivan] stormed New Chemung on Aug. 13 [1779], only to find that all the occupants had fled. Heading west in pursuit, a detachment of soldiers encountered a group of Delaware warriors waiting in ambush about a mile away. The Continentals fought off the Delaware and then returned to New Chemung, where they burned the village to the ground.

To locate New Chemung in the landscape, the Binghamton archaeologists used a geographic information system (GIS) to lay an image of the Sullivan expedition’s official map over a present-day topographical map. They also used written accounts from the time of the battle, taken from Continental soldiers, loyalists and the Delaware, to pinpoint landmarks.

Finally, the archaeologists, guided by specialists from Ithaca College, walked the field with a magnetometer, a sensing device mounted on a cart. That exercise produced a printout that resembles a moonscape. The many dark splotches set against the gray background indicate disturbances in the soil that might — or might not — point to artifacts buried below.

At each of several spots that seemed most promising, the archaeologists dug a rectangular trench about 30 centimeters deep. In November, one of those test trenches produced the charcoal smudge, and another the traces of what perhaps was a post.

Newtown Battlefield is already a New York State park, as well as a federally recognized National Historic Landmark. There’s a push to add it to the National Park Service.

Toys for the Custis Children

As I described yesterday, a number of recent publications have included a list of toys that George Washington supposedly ordered for his new stepchildren, Jacky and Patsy, on his first Christmas with them in 1759. But no such list appears in The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, which can be searched at Founders Online.

However, I found that John C. Fitzpatrick used some of the phrases on that list in his 1933 biography, George Washington Himself. Fitzpatrick was then overseeing the edition of Washington’s papers put out by the federal government in the early twentieth century.

That encouraged me to revisit the Library of Congress’s American Memory digital database of Washington’s papers, which includes transcriptions of the notes that Fitzpatrick included in that edition. Those notes quote some documents not included in the current edition of the papers (which is in other ways more complete).

And indeed, Fitzpatrick noted a March 1760 invoice to Washington from Robert Cary & Co. that included:

from Unwin & Wrigglesworth—
A Tunbridge Tea Sett … ¼
3 Neat Tunbridge Toys … 1/
A Neat Book lash Tea Chest … 4/6
A Bird on Bellows … 5d.
A Cuckoo … 10d.
A turnabout Parrot … 1/3
A Grocers Shop … 5/

and from Mount & Page—
6 Small Books for Children … 3/.
A Box best Household Stuff … 4/6
A Straw patch box wt. a Glass … 2/
A Neat dressd Wax Baby … 3/6
An Aviary … 1/3
A Prussian Dragoon … 1/3
A Man Smoakg. … 1/

For his biography Fitzpatrick plucked out items from that list which were most likely children’s toys. The Mount Vernon Midden blog shows images from those invoices. The 1760 Universal Pocket Companion for Londoners listed Unwin & Wrigglesworth as “hardwaremen” doing business on Cheapside; they probably sold more than toys.

Olive Bailey included a similar list in Christmas with the Washingtons (1948). She also transcribed a list of toys that Unwin & Wrigglesworth had shipped earlier, billing Daniel Parke Custis, Martha’s first husband, who died in 1757:

A child’s fiddle
A coach and six in a box
A stable with six horses
A corner cupboard
A neat walnut bureau
A filigree watch
A neat enameled watch box
A toy whip
A child’s huzzif

So we’re on solid ground to say that Washington bought that list of items I quoted yesterday, and that most of those things were toys. But we can’t say that Washington ordered those toys specifically. The Mount Vernon Midden blog quotes him as vaguely ordering “‘10 [shillings] worth of Toys’ for Jacky and ‘A Fash[ionably] Dres[sed] Baby…& other Toys’” for Patsy in September 1759. The London merchants picked out what they thought those children would like.

We also can’t say those goods had anything to do with Washington’s first Christmas as a stepfather. They were apparently ordered in September 1759 but not shipped until March 1760. In fact, Washington’s papers say almost nothing about Christmas celebrations at Mount Vernon. (In 1769 he won some money on cards that evening while visiting Fielding Lewis.)

Instead, it appears that twentieth-century authors chose to view these goods through the lens of our own traditions. Most Americans give children lots of toys on Christmas, and our culture encourages us to give even more. Therefore, these toys appeared in Christmas with the Washingtons and Reader’s Digest Book of Christmas even though they had no link to the Washington-Custis family’s holiday. Jacky and Patsy were probably glad to get them whenever they arrived.

(The image above shows the remains of two small clay figurines found in an archeological dig at Mount Vernon. Were those some of Jacky and Patsy Custis’s toys? Or the toys of Jacky’s children?)

Mystery and Myth in Millis

A regional section of the Boston Globe recently reported on a talk by Paul LaCroix, president of the Millis Historical Society, about archeological explorations of a site called the Fairbanks Stone House. The property extends over the border to Sherborn.

The newspaper states:

Town records indicated that the Stone House, built in the 1640s as a garrison during a Native American uprising, was torn down in the late 1800s but its exact location was undocumented. . . .

LaCroix found large amounts of slag in addition to the 3-by-3-foot stone foundation of a “bloomery,” the type of furnace used in the 17th century for smelting iron. British policy at that time did not allow the independent manufacturing of products, requiring that all raw resources be exported from the Colonies.

Yet the sheer amount of iron found and the absence of any other iron works in the area indicate that the Stone House bloomery was open from as early as 1643 to as late as 1760, when the property became uninhabited. The first official integrated iron-production operation in North America, the Saugus Iron Works in Saugus, was in operation from 1646 to 1688. The existence of this bloomery in Millis is significant in understanding Colonial industrial activity.

The end of the article quotes LaCroix this way: “I’m not an archaeologist, I’m a history buff,” LaCroix said. “But I learned the hard way, and now I’m a fair hand at it.”

LaCroix did the digging with “family members, community volunteers and the expertise of local archaeologists and surveyors.” However, the article doesn’t include comments from any full-time archeologists or historians. I’d be interested in knowing what they think of those conclusions.

Millis also claims a tavern where George Washington stopped on his way to Cambridge in 1775, shown above. This is apparently based on an unsourced statement by the Rev. E. O. Jameson in The History of Medway, Mass., 1713-1885, published in 1886. (Millis had been East Medway until that year.) Jameson wrote that Moses Richardson (1740-1826) had “kept a public house on the old Mendon Road, where George Washington dined on his way to Cambridge, Mass., in 1775.”

Gen. Washington’s visit seems unlikely since he traveled from Springfield through Worcester to Watertown, and that road didn’t go through Medway/Millis. Washington’s journey away from Cambridge in 1776 took him through Providence, so he probably didn’t see Richardson’s tavern then, either. (See maps here.)

Invincible Looking Pretty Vincible

The Portsmouth News just reported:

The remains of HMS Invincible are among many national treasures that English Heritage says need better protection.

HMS Invincible was originally a 74-gun French warship, launched in 1744 and captured by the British Navy at the Battle of Finisterre in 1747.

She lies at the sandbanks running along the coast of Portsmouth, after running aground and sinking in 1798.

HMS Invincible is a protected wreck site, but it has now been deemed at risk because monitoring has revealed significant parts of the wreck are becoming exposed due to lowering seabed levels.

Wikipedia says the Invincible wasn’t looking too good when it was captured, as shown above. It was also a more advanced design than any ship in the Royal Navy of the time, so it was very helpful to British ship designers over the next couple of decades.

I didn’t understand how the seabed could be lowering, so I looked for more information on the ship’s present whereabouts. English Heritage says it was discovered relatively recently:

Horse Tail Sand comprises a relatively flat featureless sand bank composed of fine to medium sand with a limited silt component. The wreck was discovered there on the 5 May 1979 by Arthur Mack, a local fisherman, when his fishing nets became caught on an obstruction. Returning to the site with two divers, the site was investigated throughout the summer and various artefacts were raised.

(That last sentence has what we might call a bobbing modifier.)

A wide range of objects have been recovered and only a sample is held by Chatham Historic Dockyard. The remainder were sold at auctions held by Sotheby’s and included sandglasses, leather and wooden buckets, powder barrels and magazine tools, utensils, shovels, brushes, small arms, hand grenades, buttons, rigging and rope.

So it looks like the seabed at that site has been eroding, or lowering, for some time. Thirty-five years ago enough silt had washed away to expose the wreck. And now more of the ship’s remains are being exposed, and possibly damaged. At least that’s my amateur reading. Any commentary from experts in eighteenth-century marine archeology is welcome.

New Terms and New Reading on the “Battle of Chelsea Creek”

Last week I attended Victor Mastone’s lecture at the Boston Public Library about his team’s investigation into the “Battle of Chelsea Creek,” a latter-day name for the amphibious fight over Hog Island, Noddle’s Island, and the Chelsea shore on 27-28 May 1775.

Mastone started by saying that his position as Director of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources was more impressive if you assumed he had any staff to direct. But for this National Park Service project he oversaw a team of people from different disciplines to explore how the north of Boston harbor looked in May 1775, and how the Royal Navy managed to lose a ship to a military force that didn’t even have a navy. The presentation was very visual, so I can’t do justice to it here, but I came away with three new verbal gems.

K.O.C.O.A. analysis. The N.P.S. has taken this term for examining battlefields from the U.S. military. As the Gettysburg park website explains, K.O.C.O.A. stands for:

  • Key terrain
  • Observation and fields of fire
  • Cover and concealment
  • Obstacles (both natural and man-made)
  • Avenues of Approach

Note how adding the adjective “key” to the first term allows for a pronounceable acronym.

Viewshed. Wikipedia says: “A viewshed is an area of land, water, or other environmental element that is visible to the human eye from a fixed vantage point.”

Bathygraphic. Describing or charting the depth of a body of water at different points, just as topography studies the height of features above sea level.

The team’s Technical Report on the Chelsea Creek fight, hundreds of pages long and no doubt containing lots of maps, is downloadable through this state webpage. Team member Craig J. Brown wrote his master’s thesis on applying K.O.C.O.A. analysis to that landscape, and it’s available here. Finally, Brown, Mastone, and Christopher V. Maio published an article about the event in the latest New England Quarterly.

New Terms and New Reading on the “Battle of Chelsea Creek”

Last week I attended Victor Mastone’s lecture at the Boston Public Library about his team’s investigation into the “Battle of Chelsea Creek,” a latter-day name for the amphibious fight over Hog Island, Noddle’s Island, and the Chelsea shore on 27-28 May 1775.

Mastone started by saying that his position as Director of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources was more impressive if you assumed he had any staff to direct. But for this National Park Service project he oversaw a team of people from different disciplines to explore how the north of Boston harbor looked in May 1775, and how the Royal Navy managed to lose a ship to a military force that didn’t even have a navy. The presentation was very visual, so I can’t do justice to it here, but I came away with three new verbal gems.

K.O.C.O.A. analysis. The N.P.S. has taken this term for examining battlefields from the U.S. military. As the Gettysburg park website explains, K.O.C.O.A. stands for:

  • Key terrain
  • Observation and fields of fire
  • Cover and concealment
  • Obstacles (both natural and man-made)
  • Avenues of Approach

Note how adding the adjective “key” to the first term allows for a pronounceable acronym.

Viewshed. Wikipedia says: “A viewshed is an area of land, water, or other environmental element that is visible to the human eye from a fixed vantage point.”

Bathygraphic. Describing or charting the depth of a body of water at different points, just as topography studies the height of features above sea level.

The team’s Technical Report on the Chelsea Creek fight, hundreds of pages long and no doubt containing lots of maps, is downloadable through this state webpage. Team member Craig J. Brown wrote his master’s thesis on applying K.O.C.O.A. analysis to that landscape, and it’s available here. Finally, Brown, Mastone, and Christopher V. Maio published an article about the event in the latest New England Quarterly.

A Surfeit of Historical Talks in Boston This Week

Liz Covart has taken to starting each week at her Uncommonplace Book blog with a list of historical events coming up in Boston. This week several caught my eye.

Wednesday, 11 September, 12:00 noon, at the Massachusetts Historical Society
A brown bag lunch seminar with Jill Bouchillon of the University of Sterling speaking about her research on “Friendship in Colonial New England, 1750-1775.” She argues that colonial New Englanders understood friendship differently from us, and hopes to support that argument by examining how people wrote about friendship in pre-Revolutionary newspapers, books, and magazines.

Wednesday, 11 September, 6:00 P.M., at the Boston Public Library
Victor T. Mastone, Director and Archaeologist of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources, discusses the “Battle of Chelsea Creek,” the latter-day name for the skirmish on Noddle’s Island and the Chelsea shore on 27-28 May 1775. The shoreline and topography of the area have changed greatly, but archeologists are using geographic information system (G.I.S.) analysis to better understand the fight.

Thursday, 12 September, 5:30 P.M., at the Boston Public Library
Stephen Hornsby discusses his new book Surveyors of Empire: Samuel Holland, J.F.W. Des Barres, and the Making of the Atlantic Neptune. This talk is no doubt in conjunction with the Norman B. Leventhal Center’s exhibit of maps and engraved plates from that monumental British atlas; the library recently shifted to the second half of that exhibit, with new items on display.

Thursday, September 12, 5:30 P.M., at the Massachusetts Historical Society
Prof. Bernard Bailyn, whose books have won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes, speaks on the theme “History Matters: Reflections on Efforts to Make It Come out Right.” All the preceding events are free; this one costs $10 for people who aren’t members of the M.H.S. and reservations even for people who are. Call 617-646-0560 or register online.

The Transformation of the Royall House

Last week the Boston Globe reported a story long in the making: the transformation of Isaac Royall’s mansion in Medford, one of many surviving Loyalist-owned Georgian houses built in the towns outside Boston, into the Royall House and Slave Quarters, a unique site exploring the history of slavery in New England.

The article said:

Working with a board member named Julia Royall — an eighth generation descendant of Isaac Royall — he [co-president Peter Gittleman] began the cumbersome process of refashioning the 105-year-old museum from “just another rich person’s house,” as Julia Royall puts it, to a historical house that tells the intertwined stories of wealth and bondage in New England, and enables the voices of the enslaved to be heard.

Slowly, the board of directors was reshaped and the museum’s mission statement rewritten, shifting from one that was focused on the lives and wealth of the Royall family to one that explored the meaning of freedom “in the context of a household of wealthy Loyalists and enslaved Africans.”

An archeological dig was commissioned in 1999 in collaboration with Boston University. It discovered a wealth of household items used by the Royalls and their slaves, some of which are now exhibited in the museum. Museum staff — almost all volunteers — began to approach foundations and granting agencies for money to help bring the story of slavery to life.

This summer has been a turning point. In June, the Royall House and Slave Quarters received the prestigious 2013 Massachusetts History Commendation from Mass Humanities. The museum also received a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation to develop programs for elementary schoolchildren focused on Northern colonial slavery.

“This has been a story that was forgotten,” said Pleun Bouricius, assistant director of Mass Humanities. “How many 18th-century house museums are there? Many. There was a huge interest about two-thirds of the way into the 20th century in preserving these houses. But the study of history has changed. The way we think about society has changed. And it’s become really important to tell the stories of many more people, to show what the economy floated on, who did the work.”

This weekend the Globe editorialized:

With good reason, tourists from New England roll their eyes when they visit Southern plantations, only to hear tour guides rhapsodize about hoop skirts and parasols but say little about the slaves who also lived there. It’s only right to apply the same critical eye to landmarks closer to home.

Which means visiting the Royall House and Slave Quarters and making field trips there.

At Home with Mary Washington

At Boston 1775 headquarters we’ve been reading Where the Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home, about the history and archeology of the farm where George Washington grew up and his mother, Mary, continued to live until 1772.

Along the way author Philip Levy explores the many legends that have grown up around Washington’s youth and how a lot of us still want them to be true. To interest reporters in the site during the excavations, he told them, “If the story of the cherry tree were true, it would have happened here.” What really happened there, he argues, is interesting in its own right.

The story includes buildings like Washington’s “Surveying Office” that went up well after his lifetime, a house found through archeology with great excitement but then dated to before the Washingtons, and a landscape that changed greatly along with the nearby Rappahannock River.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Mary Washington’s death in 1789. One of the Mount Vernon Twitter feeds linked to this article by Laura J. Galke from the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star about how she’s remembered:

“[C]rude and illiterate,” “self-centered,” “slovenly” and a “veteran complainer” were just a few of the adjectives that Ron Chernow used to describe Mary in his 2010 book, “Washington: A Life.”

He went on to suggest that she suffered from “some mild form of dementia.”

This, despite a 1789 letter penned by George Washington himself after the death of his mother that stated that she possessed “the full enjoyment of her mental faculties and as much bodily strength as usually falls to the lot of four score.” . . .

Mary Washington remained a widow, a decision that some have criticized. Yet there were real consequences for Mary and her children had she married a second time. Her children and their land would have come under the control of their stepfather: He could construct buildings on their plantations, put up fences, take down fences and keep the plantations’ proceeds.

It was not uncommon for children to be split up between family members upon the death of the father, but Mary kept the family together. Financially, this was challenging since the money generated by their two largest plantations and by the mine was no longer part of the family’s revenue after her husband’s death.

We have rather little information about Mary Washington, despite her son being so important in American history. Authors have therefore used her as a vessel for their times’ conception of motherhood. She was nearly sainted in the nineteenth century: Benson Lossing even titled the book he wrote about her and her daughter-in-law Mary and Martha.

Then in the twentieth century, around the same time psychiatrists were saddling mothers with the blame for autism and schizophrenia, Mary Washington became a burden and a shrew. Now Galke is making a case for her as a sort of career woman managing her family’s economic resources.

What Lies Beneath Our Feet

Yet another archeology story, this one from DNAinfo.com’s New York news site:

Workers digging in the Financial District last week unearthed a trove of liquor bottles more than 200 years old — some still intact and corked — underneath a 15-foot stretch of Fulton Street at the corner of Titanic Park and Water Street.

Over two days, they uncovered more than one hundred 18th-century bottles of booze buried seven feet under ground, said Alyssa Loorya, an archaeologist whose firm Chrysalis Archaeology has been overseeing the Department of Design and Construction’s excavation of the area to install new water mains.

“We were pretty amazed,” Loorya said. “We’ve found thousands of artifacts during the project, including liquor bottles, but never this many bottles all at once.”

Loorya said the bottles, which still need to be washed and examined, were likely from the late 18th century, and part of the landfill used to extend Fulton Street towards the East River.

No alcohol remained in any of the bottles, even those still corked.

Two years ago DNAinfo.com reported on the discovery of a well in the same area. And the latest story includes the image of another find, a button from the 45th Regiment.

That story’s mention of landfills reminded me of this graphic from the Boston Globe earlier in the week, showing how a 7.5′ flood at high tide would affect the city.

Central Boston would pretty much revert to its shoreline of 250 years ago, before we started filling in the shallow parts of the harbor. The Back Bay would once again be a bay, and Faneuil Hall would be on the waterfront.