Broaddus Flats
Assassquin Plantation


Artifact of the Month

• Artifacts
• Fort
• History
• House
• Site

• Artifacts
• Drawings
• Site
• Site Diagram

Recent Activities

Dover Steam Mill

18th Century Cellar

19th Century Kitchen Cellar

Rock Springs
Native American Camp Site

Summer Hill
Mehixton Plantation



Site Description and Survey Techniques for Broaddus Flats

by Tom Hobbs

Note: Click on images to view them larger and to read a description.

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Soon bears us all away;
We fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.”
—“Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”
stanza 4
Isaac Watts, 1719

Site 44Hn254, commonly called the Broaddus Flats site, lies on the western edge of a 300-acre cultivated field approximately 60 feet from the Pamunkey River and on the northwestern side of State Route 360 in Hanover County, Virginia. Since the mid-twentieth century, members of the Broaddus family and some locals have been referring to this low area as “the river field” because of the alluvial plain and large swamp created by the bow in the river at this point. The dig site itself is only 25 feet above sea level. Flooding has, in fact, occurred many times over the centuries—in recent memory when hurricanes Camille (1969) and Agnes (1972) raced through Virginia. The plowed topsoil overlying the site is, therefore, 12”–14” thick and is laden with river-worn quartz and quartzite pebbles. Modern cultivation has undoubtedly increased the depth of the topsoil and helped develop it into a rich, dark brown loam. “Plowscars” as deep as 4” are commonly found throughout the surface of the subsoil, and yet the present farmer states that because the site is on the edge of the field (where he lifts up his machinery to change rows) the chisel plow ‘has been kind’ to the colonial features below the topsoil.

In addition, ‘several large stones’ were removed from the topsoil and ‘tossed into the river’ by the farmer in the early 1960s. These were recently found in the shallow river during the drought of summer and fall 2002. They are identical to the large siltstone excavated from the cellar in 1994 and several even exhibit tool marks on some surfaces. I would very much like for a geologist to examine these stones and enlighten me on the exact type of stone and their possible point of origin.

The subsoil is uniform in color (yellow-orange, Munsell Soil Chart 2.5 Y 8/4) and is occasionally mottled by plant root stains or plow disturbances. Within a few inches, this layer changes quickly from a sandy texture to more clay-like and to a more orange color. Less than a foot into this subsoil, one finds a layer of small river gravel stretching down about another 16 inches. The larger percent of this gravel is white quartz. Below this layer is orange clay (Munsell Soil Chart 10YR 7/8).

From the first day of excavation in the fall of 1992, it became quickly evident that most of the real work on this site would be in removing and sifting the thick topsoil overlying any colonial features below and out of harm’s way from the modern cultivation equipment. On practically every colonial site the author has done work in the past thirty years, no special care has been taken in this process—a bulldozer has sufficed in most cases. However, not knowing how many, if any, artifact-bearing features might turn up in the future, and also taking into account the great amount of tantalizing artifacts already spied on the surface, I decided to use my young and willing student labor force to sift out and identify all artifacts. We therefore picked the general area where the linear scatter of artifacts appeared to be the heaviest and laid out a baseline at the tractor road adjacent to the river, with two fifty square-foot grid areas on the edge of the field. This arrangement met with approval from the farmer and ended up being all we have needed for the past ten years; the foundations to the main house and the “kitchen wing,” with its subterranean basement, neatly (and pleasantly) fit within this grid.

I feel fortunate to have had a very good working relationship with the owners, Tilghman and Margaret Broaddus, over the years. They have allowed me to bring students down to the site at all times of the year. The Old Church Hunt Club, which rents several thousand acres of the property, has been very helpful as well. A few of my students have gone on to pursue degrees in anthropology / archaeology at Longwood College and others. One has earned his Master’s Degree in archeology at London University.

From the very first day of the dig in 1992, several large colonial features have been discovered, unearthed and recorded—first, the bottom three courses of a brick gable end foundation (later discovered to be the west foundation), then the east gable foundation exactly 42’ to the east; next, a large (approx. 30’ x 15’) dark fill containing artifacts, charcoal and compacted gray ash (later found to be the 20’ x 9’ basement / refuse pit); next, another subterranean brick foundation to go with the cellar “wing” to the house (this one measures 17’ across with openings for a 7’ fireplace and a 6’ oven); then, a long, wide (approximately 3’) ditch just to the south of the main house. This latter feature has been excavated for a distance of over 50’, and test trenches have shown it to stretch entirely around the house to form a compound enclosing about a half acre. The distinctive stains for 4” x 6” posts appear at regular intervals (8’) at the bottom of this 1.5’ deep feature—posts that obviously supported a heavy fence or wall. Our next feature has been an oval “root pit” in front of the east gable foundation. This feature had identical fill to the cellar / refuse pit but went less than 2’ into the subsoil. The last colonial feature, other than several post holes around the perimeter of the house, is a narrow (14”) and shallow (5”) ditch running parallel to the west chimney foundation. The jury is still out on this feature, but at present (2003) it appears to be the foundation to a wall for a lean-to on the side of the house.

Colonial features below the topsoil often appear as clearly as a photographic negative because of the very yellow subsoil. Strangely, however, I was puzzled in the first few years by the paucity of postholes, the most common disturbances on house sites of this period. Now (2003) that we have finished all excavations within the confines of the house itself, postholes have been appearing in the “yard” area. In fact, a rather important cluster of them was found in 1999 adjacent to the 42’ X 21’ portion of the house—undoubtedly the supports for a covered porch entranceway. A rather confusing array of them has popped up adjacent to the “kitchen wing”—that is, the northwest corner—and leading up to the main structure. Distinguishing these features from the tree and shrub root stains has been a real challenge. We have been aided in this task by the presence of charcoal (and even chunks of charred wood) in the postmolds themselves and by the shape and depth of the shallow roots. Still, the colonial posts seem to have been seated in shallow holes and often do not follow any logical pattern (at least none that the author can discern now). In the area mentioned above there are two substantial posts measuring 6” x 8” which could easily have served as anchors for a set of steps coming out of the “kitchen.” The others may have been a crude attempt to surround a larger, yet unfinished, feature with a fence. This clay and gravel filled hole measures 7’ x 2.5’ and, to date, has very few artifacts and one large, flat quartz stone in it. This feature may turn out to be a privy or a trash pit.

Date posted: 5.18.03