19th Century Kitchen Cellar


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18th Century Cellar

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"Overview: 19th Century Kitchen Cellar"
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We had one more surprise. The brick cheeks of the fireplace, which was located on the east wall, extended only about a foot into the room, and the actual fire box was shallow and narrow. Heavily burned floor bricks protruded well beyond the chimney cheeks. We recovered a cast-iron door and foot to a stove in this vicinity. Setting this object up against the fireplace would explain the unusually small dimensions of the feature, as well as the burned brick out into the room.

The excavators did recover a cast-iron andiron to a full-size fireplace dating to ca. 1800, but, since it came from the building debris near the top and at the opposite end of the structure, it is more likely that this object was used in the main house and discarded in the 1880’s or 1890’s.

After doing a profile drawing, we quickly removed the overburden in the cellar’s northern half, then carefully excavated the 4” layer of charcoal, ash and burned artifacts. While doing this, we noticed that certain types of artifacts were coming from certain parts of the cellar and that this may help explain the different domestic activities conducted in this rather large room (15’ x 25’).

Near the chimney (east) section, we uncovered mostly utilitarian ceramics, such as ironstone and a gray-bodied saltglaze stoneware, with some meal remains, mostly chicken bones. The middle, or wooden-floored, section had a great deal of chicken and pork bones (particularly rib) with very little broken ceramics, only a red-bodied, yellowish and heavily glazed bowl that looks American-made. Also in this area, we recovered a set of bone-handled dinner knives. This latter section appears to have been the dining area.

The artifacts from the burned level of the western section were the most fascinating. Very little pottery came from this section, but military objects abounded. The floor here had the remains of at least five brass and glass kerosene table lamps, their glass bowls and hurricane glasses strewn everywhere. This type of lamp, manufactured in the North before the Civil War, was purchased by Union soldiers. Parts of these have been found on many Union camps throughout Virginia.

Excavators also found a badly burned leather Union ammunition box with its metal insert missing, but retaining its brass and lead “U.S.” plate. Careful excavation here also revealed some needles and thread, in terrible condition, along with three State of Connecticut cuff buttons and an English-made Confederate “script I” uniform button, as well as a couple of nicely-made bone tooth brushes. It appears that this soldier was using an ammo box for a “housewife.”

A few feet away and stuck in between floor bricks was a State of New York coat button, and in another part of the “room” we recovered a standard-issue eagle button. Near the north wall, excavators found pieces of a badly burned sword scabbard (but no sword) and several whole medicine bottles. Their pontil-marked bottoms and mold seams would date them to around the 1820’s or 1830’s.

In addition, the burned level gave up several brass parts to a harmonica, an iron candle snuffer, two glass “umbrella“ inkwells and one out of clay, a rubber lice comb, a broken Confederate brass spur, several ebony and ivory hand-carved dominoes (a few of these may have been in the housewife), a Large Cent (1834), and, to our great surprise, several more hand-carved bone tooth brushes, bringing the total to seventeen. The burned level also contained the remains of what may have been a wooden bed with rope stretched across the frame – this was in terrible condition and did not even merit a photograph. In a ball of burned material (probably cotton) the excavators recovered two porcelain buttons, two suspenders hooks, one garter belt buckle and a rubber button with a Goodyear’s backmark.

Above this area of the cellar in the building debris, excavators uncovered the greatest amount and variety of ceramics. The lion’s share of this was, of course, 19th century ironstone, but we recovered broken vessels of all types, notably “Flow-blue,” transfer-print (in blue, black, and red), common stonewares and earthenwares, mochawares, and even a few fragments of early 19th century “feather-edge” ware.

Excavators recovered all but two small fragments of an antebellum transfer-print meat platter, discarded along with several similar English-made vessels in the cellar’s southwest corner – almost as though the mistress of the house got new dinnerware and cleaned out the family’s china press. I was impressed with a couple of broken transfer-print vessels, both with unusual patterns and both with what appears to be six or eight sides. These may be soup tureens from Mrs. Turpin’s china closet.

Iron objects thrown into the building debris were numerous. Besides the handsome early 19th century andiron, excavators found tools such as axes, hammers, shovels, etc., and even building hardware such as hinges, nails, pintles, etc., with several early 19th century padlocks. Some stringy (and slightly annoying) iron rods turned out to be the metal parts to an umbrella.

A small nail keg contained several inches of hardened red paint that matched the hue of the paint we found on much of the interior plaster. Nearby, we discovered an ingot of lead that appeared to have been poured into the sole of a boot. Was this lead intended for use in the paint?

Mixed in with these ceramics, excavators found what appeared to be the remains of some old clothes from a closet or wardrobe, together with some iron hangers. Part of a heavy woolen drab brown shirt survived – this resembles closely the U.S. Army uniform of the Spanish-American War era. Nearby, and in the same high level, excavators recovered the steel bayonet from a late 19th century Springfield rifle – the tip had been broken off.

Approximately 15 Boy Scouts have received their Archaeology Merit Badge, using this excavation for the eight required hours of field work, and they finished up the written work in subsequent months.

ASV members received sore backs.

I wish to thank Harold Longest for his patience, physical labor and his front-end loader during the dig. By not having a full-time crew to work the site, I put him behind schedule several weeks, but he finally did move his mother in by January.

Harold was also most kind to allow me to store the boxes of artifacts in his shop and to help me set up an electrolysis bath for conservation of some of the iron artifacts. He has literally unlocked his front gate for me and encouraged me to bring in students and ASV members to use this site for educational purposes. To that end, the display of Dr. Turpin’s artifacts perpetuates this wish.

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Date posted: 12.20.04