18th Century Cellar



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19th Century Kitchen Cellar

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Native American Camp Site

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18th Century Cellar (44Hn121) Overview

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Site Hn121 was a single-component (Anglo-American mid-18th century) kitchen (?) cellar, brick lined in English bond and located on the Old River Road within Hanover County. This road followed the south bank of the Pamunkey River from the town of Newcastle to Hanover Courthouse.

After removal of a thick brick rubble fill, the three intact brick walls uncovered showed signs of white wash. Artifacts, mainly ceramics deposited in the feature’s lower level, dated to the 1750’s, hinting of a slightly earlier building date. The structure above was probably of brick, judging from the sheer quantity of brick bat and mortar rubble and some rubbed and gauged bricks (from “jack arches” above the windows) in the top four feet of the excavation. Also, the substantial amount of plaster showed no marks from lathing strips, but from flat bricks instead.

Several features found during excavations from 1984 until 1986 are worth noting. Excavators uncovered two parallel indentations into the clay floor, each measuring 12” long and 8.5” wide, and sinking 6” into the substrate; these we felt were the unmistakable imprints for a ladder-type set of steps. The soil within these features was laden with charcoal and ash, indicating to us that the steps burned. Indeed, elongated patches of black charcoal found just below the rubble layer hinted to us that the floor boards had burned and fallen below. Further evidence for ladder steps (as if we needed another) came when we uncovered a 3”high, 30” in diameter, pad of clay just in the area where someone would have dismounted the steps (or turned to go up). Removal of this pad revealed a 15” deep pit, filled with a thin layer of flood sand and a layer of mid-century artifacts.

The basement, however, had another means for entry—a set of cut clay steps (with brick lining) breaching the south wall. Excavators found this feature to be in poor shape, probably from exposure to the elements in the late 18th century. The steps were entirely covered (up to the plowzone) by a thick midden of trash datable to the 1760—1790 period. Some of this refuse was undoubtedly discarded accidentally (e.g., the pewter child’s spoon and “moat spoon”).

Two additional strange features greeted excavators: the basement’s measurements were 17.5 ft. X 13.5 ft., with three walls done 1.5 bricks thick (difficult to do in English bond), and the fourth wall (east) only one brick thick. Oddly, the top course (just under the plowzone) of this east wall was laid entirely in tiles measuring 7.5” square. We could only surmise that a course like this would add additional strength for a line of pugholes for wooden joists to be inserted above. This theory was fine except that the opposite wall (west) had collapsed to a point below the tile layer, so we could not say irrefutably that any sort of wooden racks or joists stretched across the cellar at this height. Besides, these racks would have been less than four feet above the clay floor of the cellar. So we are still at a loss to explain this layer of brick tiles, normally used in cellar floors. Perhaps the brick mason felt that a wall as thin as this would need square tiles in some of the stretcher courses for additional strength.

This small, concentrated excavation turned out to be ideal for the two archeologists, Tom Hobbs and Joe Blankenship, and for our young archeology students from the Mathematics and Science Center near Richmond.

Date posted: 2.01.04