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.
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.
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.
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.
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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