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"Artifactual Evidence"
page 5 of 7

Household Goods

Shoe buckles, in pewter and brass, have been fairly rare finds on the site. Those recovered have been small, thick-bodied, some very fancy. When the author showed one such fancy brass buckle, stamped with maker’s mark “Cook”, to Ivor Noel Hume, he remarked that it may have come from the cap of a colonial militiaman, rather than a shoe.

Several thimbles have been recovered, mostly from topsoil layers. All are of brass, and none show any traces of a wash. One curious find was a large brass specimen that, when the topsoil was removed from inside, contained several small pieces of fabric stuffed up into the nose. A costumes and fabrics expert at Colonial Williamsburg identified them as linen and suggested that the lady probably wanted to pad the thimble or “size” it for a thumb that was too small for that thimble; this sample remains today as our largest thimble. This curator suggested that I stuff topsoil back into the thimble, keep it refrigerated, and occasionally place a few drops of water into the soil. To date, we have recovered no silver specimens and none with maker’s marks, a practice not common on thimbles of any manufacture during the colonial period.

No in-depth study of faunal remains has been undertaken at 44Hn254. Bones have been excavated from every major feature on the site and, indeed, account for a good percentage of total artifacts found in the topsoil as well. Undoubtedly, beef and pork made up the lion’s share of meat consumed in the household; bones of the former often show unmistakable signs of splitting for the removal of marrow. Cut marks and signs of gnawing are also common. We have not found any evidence of the manufacture of buttons, etc., from any bone material on the site. From the basement refuse, excavators discovered three “pistol grip” bone handles for iron forks, a larger handle for a knife, and parts of two decorated handles for unknown purposes. Most likely these are all of English manufacture. Further study of bones from the site will undoubtedly show that the occupants’ diet included wild game as well, the most common being venison, but not limited to land animals. Hundreds of oyster and mussel shells were recovered from the cellar / refuse pit and are still a common find throughout the topsoil. Several years ago, a chemistry student of the author’s wife conducted an experiment on some of these shells for her project with the Virginia Junior Academy of Science. Since a local oysterman had positively identified these specimens as ‘definitely from the Rappahannock River,’ she went to a shucking house on that river and procured some recent shells for comparison. She presented her findings at the spring meeting of that school year. Besides the obvious difference in average size of the shellfish, she reported very low amounts of typical pollutants, even silt from erosion, in the (nearly) 300-year-old examples. Her discovery, while no real revelation, undoubtedly reveals to us that colonial oyster harvesters were pulling up substantially older shellfish, some of which possess good-size freshwater pearls. Additionally, excavators uncovered about three dozen mussel shells as part of the cellar refuse; few have been found in the topsoil layers, possibly because of the delicate nature of the shell itself. The oyster species has been identified as Crassostrea virginica, the mussel (also called freshwater clam) as Anodonta spp.

Broken iron cutlery has been discovered since the first weeks of the excavation. All of these artifacts have been found either in the cellar layers or in topsoil surrounding the “kitchen wing” area of the house. They fall roughly into two categories: tableware and food preparation. By far, the most common knife found has been a short, iron, round-tip variety with a heavy, thick throat leading to a short spike that was mounted with a round, straight, bone handle. So far, all specimens dug have been broken somewhere along the blade. One early 18th century specimen has a long, rounded blade, but the pistol-grip handle is missing—Noel Hume has identified this specimen as possibly as early as turn-of-the-century. The remaining few knives have about 4” blades that come to a point, and are therefore “spearing” knives. These may have seen use in the kitchen as opposed to the table. One curious find made by students in the refuse / cellar was the antler handle to a knife or tool. The blade, not found to date, was mounted in the round hole drilled into the end of the antler. A reliable source has identified this handle (and thin blade) as possibly a “patch knife,” used by early militiamen to snip off the excess cloth, or patch, that was wrapped around the roundball before ramming it down the barrel of the musket. This knife was often worn on the hunter’s chest.

Site 44Hn254 has given up quite a few spoons—in pewter mostly, but also of a copper alloy, resembling brass. Most examples are fragmentary but even on these pieces, one can clearly see the “rat tail “ on the bowl back, round shank, and treatment on the spoon’s end. Some of the latter have a ridge that comes down to a simple rounded end, while others have the fancier “trifed” termination. Recently, excavators sifted out a 2” fragment of a rounded-end pewter spoon, with a fancy relief-molded urn(?) and grapes on the flat top. Our only intact spoons came from the top few inches (rubble from the demise of the house) of the root pit in front of the east fireplace. These were examined by John Austin, retired director of the Department of Metals at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. In his view, both spoons were American-made and neither displayed a maker’s mark, even before they were exposed to the heat of a fire. One sample was singed quite well and even has tiny fragments of charcoal imbedded in the surface on both sides; the other spoon is in ‘quite remarkable condition’ and even has an owner’s “tracking marks” on both sides of the bowl and up one side of the shank. Mr. Austin stated that, even though the styles of the shank and end (trifed) are identical, one spoon could be older than the other, i.e., one late 17th century and the other early 18th. The older of the two does have the wider, larger bowl so typical of 17th century spoons, while the other has the narrower, elongated bowl. Only one example of the so-called “fig shape” bowl has been excavated at the site—this one of a thinner, brass-like material with its thin shank broken about an inch up from the bowl. A fancy trifed end found later in the same vicinity may be a match. Excavators working in the northern half of the main cellar (near the fireplace / oven foundations) recovered pieces of at least nine pewter spoons, most of which had to be conserved immediately because of their generally poor condition. All of these were identical in all aspects—wide bowl with rat tail, round shank, and trifed termination. None has a maker’s mark of any kind, and no “tracking marks” can be retrieved from any sample.

Again using Ivor Noel Hume’s Artifacts of Colonial America and the chart on the evolution of English wine bottles, it is easy to place all eighteen of the broken bottles and the one whole bottle recovered within the first quarter of the 18th century. Our only intact bottle was recovered from the cellar’s top layer and conforms exactly with the chart’s 1714 style. We were fortunate to find on the latter specimen the thin wire wrapped around the neck and used to secure the cork in place. The small amount of stemware found at 44Hn254 matches this paucity of wine bottles. Excavators uncovered only three of the thick and bulbous clear glass “stems” from the refuse / cellar and none have been found in the more than four thousand cubic feet of topsoil we have sifted to date. Most of the very fragmentary base pieces show the method of manufacture, i.e., a neatly tucked-under foot rim over a ribbon of whitish coloration. The author has uncovered many later 18th century stemware pieces from his other Hanover County excavation (44Hn94) that exhibit the so-called “ribbon twist” pattern popular in Revolutionary War-era homes. Fragments of only two pharmaceutical vials have been found, both a light olive green and both from the cellar / refuge pit. Clear glass is fairly rare on this site, but the cellar / refuse pit gave up one(?) intriguing object of the thinnest material the author has ever seen from an excavation. No neck, lip or basal pieces were recovered, and, because of the small size of the fragments, we have concluded for now that we have the (very) broken glass face to an instrument.

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