What’s THAT Doing HERE? Unexpected Discoveries at the Strawberry Run Site in Alexandria, Virginia

By Joe Blondino

In June 2019, Dovetail conducted an archaeological survey of a project area located along Strawberry Run in Alexandria, Virginia. At first, the project area seemed like it might not have much to offer. Most of the project area was located along the banks of a stream, a narrow and frequently inundated floodplain, and steep slopes to the uplands—none of which make particularly good places to live. However, the ravine in which it was located lies between two Civil War forts: Fort Worth to the northwest and Fort Williams to the east. Largely because of the potential for the project area to contain Civil War artifacts, a Phase I archaeological survey was conducted and included use of metal detectors, which is a proven way to locate Civil War artifacts.

Initially, the metal detector survey located only modern trash. The shovel test pits, on the other hand, produced prehistoric artifacts, including a projectile point dating to the Middle Archaic period (circa 8,000–5,500 years ago). The biggest surprise came as the crew was crossing the stream to access the western part of the project area; they looked down into the streambed and saw a large edged cobble! This was a piece of quartzite that someone in the prehistoric period had chipped into a “preform”—a roughly shaped “blank” that could later be modified into a finished stone tool (Photo 1). We spent much of the remainder of the day scouring the banks of the stream and finding a considerable number of artifacts that represented prehistoric populations taking advantage of the cobbles eroding out of the banks of the stream and using them to produce preforms. These preforms would then be carried off to be made into finished tools elsewhere. We thought we might find Civil War artifacts, but had stumbled across an entirely different type of site! Because no other sites like this were known to be located nearby, we saw this as an opportunity to learn more about prehistoric quartzite “quarrying” and recommended additional archaeological work.

Photo 1: Quartzite Biface Recovered from Site 44AX0240.

The results of the Phase II study, which involved digging additional test pits, as well as a few larger test units, revealed that prehistoric activity at the site was mostly restricted to the streambed itself, with relatively little on the adjacent floodplain. But we also got another surprise. Several of the test pits produced fired Civil War bullets. Now we have Civil War stuff on our prehistoric site! So, we got the metal detector back out. In all, we recovered eight lead projectiles including a Civil War-era Minié ball, five round balls, and two pieces of buckshot, all of which had been fired and impacted (Photo 2). This was a bit of a mystery too, as no battles were fought in the vicinity of the site, and the projectiles were all recovered from the valley floor rather than the steep valley walls, as might be expected if the site was used as a firing range with the valley walls as a backstop. We believe that the projectiles may represent unloading of firearms, as they were all of types that would have been fired from muzzle-loading weapons. Once such a firearm is loaded, it can be unloaded only through extraction using a “worm,” a corkscrew-like tool that taps into the projectile so it can be pulled out of the muzzle (Photo 3), or through discharge of the weapon. It may be the case that soldiers from one or both of the nearby forts used the Strawberry Run valley as a convenient and safe place to unload weapons by discharging them into the valley floor, perhaps during changing of guardpost personnel or when loaded weapons required maintenance.

Photo 2: Minié Ball and Round Musket Balls Recovered from Site 44AX0240.

Photo 3: Example of a ‘Pulled’ Bullet Showing Hole Where it was ‘Wormed’.

Dovetail’s work at the Strawberry Run Site is an excellent example of the kinds of unexpected discoveries that are often made in archaeology and goes to show the importance of thorough examination of all parts of the landscape. You never know what you’re going to find!

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

Let’s Shed a Little Light on this Blog: A Civil War-Era Sticking Tommy Candle Holder

By D. Brad Hatch

This month’s post highlights an object recovered from a Civil War battlefield and campsite in Virginia. Rather than being associated with fighting, however, this object speaks to the daily lives of soldiers during the war. The object is a cast iron candle holder with a short spike extending from its base (Photo 1). Known as a “sticking tommy” this candle holder could be used in a variety of settings by pounding the spike into any soft material, creating a makeshift candlestick wherever extra light might be needed. While the “sticking” part of the name is fairly obvious based on the object’s function, the “tommy” part is less clear. The word “tommy” may be related in some way to “tommyknockers” who were mythical Welsh creatures similar to leprechauns who wore miner’s outfits and were known as mischief makers among miners (Figure 1). A variation of the “sticking tommy” related to mining was particularly popular in the middle of the nineteenth century, perhaps leading to the colloquial name of this device. Unlike the Civil War example, miner’s candle holders had long, horizontal spikes that allowed the candle to sit out further from the wall in addition to sometimes having hooks that would allow the candle to be suspended (Figure 2).

Photo 1: Sticking Tommy Recovered by Dovetail.

Figure 1: Depiction of a Tommyknocker (Outta The Way! 2020).

Published material discussing the history of this type of candle holder is generally scarce, likely due to their plain and utilitarian nature. However, similar wrought iron examples pre-dating the nineteenth century extend far back in history for as long as iron working and a need for portable lighting were aligned (see Figure 2). Clearly, we can only speculate what the soldier who owned this “sticking tommy” used its light for. However, some of the common evening activities requiring candlelight would have included reading, writing letters, sewing, routine equipment maintenance, and other leisure activities, such as whittling. Rather than gathering around a larger campfire, the “sticking tommy” would have allowed soldiers a more private and individual space in which to work, perhaps underscoring the personal nature of the activities that may have been associated with its use. Additionally, it could have provided needed light in smaller quantities, making it more difficult for enemy troops to ascertain positions and troop strength through campfires. Ultimately, this small object helps to illuminate the more mundane and routine aspects of life for soldiers during the Civil War that occupied the majority of their time.

Figure 2: On Left : Wrought Iron “Sticking Tommy” Likely Dating to the Eighteenth Century. On right: “Sticking Tommy” of the Type Typically Used in Mining (Barnes 1988:126).

References
Barnes, Frank T.
1988    Hooks, Rings & Other Things: An Illustrated Index of New England Iron, 1660-1860. The Christopher Publishing House, Hanover, Massachusetts.

Outta The Way!
2020    The Tommyknockers. Electronic document, http://outtaway.blogspot.com/2011/10/tommyknockers.html, accessed January 2020.

An Artifact as Stubborn as a Donkey: We Need Your Help?

By Kerry S. González

For our last blog of 2019 we are once again revisiting artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site, a mid- to late-nineteenth-century domestic site in Randolph County, North Carolina. On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dovetail conducted data recovery excavations at the site, guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

This blog, unlike most others, is putting the role of identification on our readers in the hopes of discovering the purpose of the small copper alloy object pictured below.  Artifacts such as these are often classified as ‘small finds’ as they are, well, small and imply a personal connection.

Photo 1: Small Metal Donkey Recovered From the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

 

A total of three of these tiny metal objects were found at the site. They are composed of a thin sheet metal with two very short prongs on the back. Initially we thought they were some type of charm affixed to a piece of leather associated with horse tack, but the composition of the artifact would not allow for the puncture of a hard material like leather.

They were found in conjunction with mid- to late-nineteenth-century artifacts such as prosser buttons, locally made ceramics (turningandburning), a frog gig (wrought-iron-frog-gig), and milk glass mason jar lid liners. Given the context in which these little items were found they are thought to date to a similar time period.

Now you know as much as we do on these interesting small finds. If you have some thoughts on identification please email our Lab Manager at kgonzalez@dovetailcrg.com.

Overton, Brian
2014    Archaeological Data Recovery Plan: Site 31Rd1426, Randolph County, North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Transportation Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

One Shell of an Artifact: Monetaria annulus as Evidence of Fredericksburg’s Global Economic Connections

Featured Fragment – Cowrie Shell

By D. Brad Hatch

This month’s artifact began its life somewhere in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, likely made its way to the west coast of Africa, crossed the Atlantic, then traveled up the Rappahannock River before ending up in Fredericksburg. The object, a small cowrie shell, was recovered during Dovetail Cultural Resource Group’s 2019 excavations at the intersection of Hanover and Sophia Streets (Photo 1). Discovered in the cellar fill of the first print shop in Fredericksburg, established in the early 1840s in a 1790s-built dwelling, this shell likely dates to the eighteenth century, when this area of the town was a center of trans-Atlantic trade.

Photo 1: Cowrie Shell Recovered From Dovetail Excavations.

 

Cowries are a type of marine gastropod, similar to snails, that live primarily in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans (Photo 2). They are generally small, measuring less than about 2 inches in length and comprise several species. The cowrie recovered by Dovetail is a Monetaria annulus, commonly known as the “ring cowrie” due to orange ring on its exterior surface.

Photo 2: Living Monetaria annulus Specimen (Wikipedia 2019).

Often found in association with archaeological contexts associated with enslaved individuals, many archaeologists have viewed these shells as indicators of African identity or spiritual practices on sites, referred to as “Africanisms,” because of the significant use of cowries as money in Africa during the historic period. However, recent research on the distribution of these shells by Barbara Heath suggests that they may be less of a sign of African identity and more of a byproduct of the economy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (Heath 2016).

Rather than shells being brought to North America on the bodies of enslaved Africans as adornment such as necklaces, Heath argues that the vast majority of cowries recovered from archaeological contexts in Virginia were shells that could not be used for trade in Africa (Heath 2016:36). This is supported by the fact that the vast majority of cowries recovered archaeologically are Monetaria annulus, which were seen as inferior by African traders compared to Monetaria moneta (Heath 2016:36). These “seconds” would have been offloaded in the colonies, particularly during the height of the slave trade in the eighteenth century, explaining their high concentrations in port towns and the areas immediately surrounding them.

The cowrie recovered from the intersection of Sophia and Hanover Streets supports this line of reasoning and illustrates the trans-Atlantic connections in this part of Fredericksburg during the eighteenth century. This portion of the town would have been heavily focused on maritime trade in the eighteenth century, with warehouses just across Sophia Street along the waterfront and the original ferry landing and wharf only about one block away. With this in mind, it is easy to imagine this discarded shell finding its way into a refuse pile and eventually becoming incorporated into the fill for the print shop cellar when it was abandoned. Though still perhaps occasionally used by enslaved people as currency (Heath 2016:37), cowries in the context of port towns and their surroundings serve as better indicators of trans-Atlantic trade and economic strategies than they do of African identity or spiritual practices. The story of this small object therefore serves to underscore the importance of understanding the archaeological and historical context of the artifacts that we excavate.

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

References: 

Heath, Barbara J.
2016     Cowrie Shells, Global Trade, and Local Exchange: Piecing Together the Evidence for Colonial Virginia. Historical Archaeology 50(2):17–46.

Wikipedia
2019     Monetaria annulus. Electronic document, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monetaria_annulus, accessed October 2019.

 

Hindsite is 20/20: A Look at Historic Eyewear

Featured Fragment – Historic Eyewear

By Kerry S. González

We’ve decided to continue our series highlighting the artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site in Randolph County, North Carolina for the month of September. On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at the site, guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

The artifacts pictured below are eye glass lens fragments dating to the early-twentieth century (Photo 1). Both lenses are round as opposed to earlier styles that were more ovoid. The lens on the right is made of crown glass with a diamond-beveled edge and was concavo-convex in design, placing it in the 1900–1930-time period (John Tull, personal communication 2017). Furthermore, the lens was tested with a Topcon Lensmeter, a machine that determines the strength of a prescription. This particular lens gave a reading of +4 indicating that the owner of the glasses was moderately farsighted. The second lens was too scratched to provide a prescription reading but given its shape it likely dates from 1900–1930 as well.

 

Photo 1: Eye Glass Lenses Recovered From Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.


 

According to several sources, the Romans are credited with using a form of magnified glass to see small items at a larger scale (allabouteyes.com 2019). However, it wasn’t until the 1200s that we see the first evidence of wearable glasses (allabouteyes.com 2019). The first written reference to eyeglasses is in a book titled De iride (“On the Rainbow”) by Robert Grosseteste (circa 1235) (OpticianU 2018). The book mentions using a lens to “read the smallest letters at incredible distances” (OpticianU 2018). Reportedly, these “primitive glass-blown lenses were set into wooden or leather frames (or occasionally, frames made from animal horn) and then held before the face or perched on the nose” and were primarily used by monks for reading, as cited in Archives of Ophthalmology (2002) (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1: La Mer des Histoires (Letocha and Dreyfus 2002).


 

It wasn’t until the 1700s that eyewear began to improve and from this point on eyeglasses evolved at a rapid pace (allabouteyes.com 2019). While Benjamin Franklin is often credited for inventing bifocals in 1784 when he glued his distance glasses and reading glasses on top of each other, some historians believe he is unduly credited with this invention due to his historic importance (OpticianU 2018). By the late-nineteenth century glasses were being mass produced and advertised in places like the Sears & Roebuck catalog where one could even give themselves an eye exam to determine the strength of glasses needed (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: Sears & Roebuck Eyeglass Advertisement (Sears, Roebuck and Catalogue Company 1897).


 

It is artifacts like these eyeglass fragments that really speak to the occupants of a site. They are tangible and relatable to the young and old, especially when you hold up a lens and see through the eyes of its owner 100 years ago.

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

References: 

Allabouteyes.com
2019 See Into The Past: The Fascinating History of Eyeglasses. Electronic document, https://allabouteyes.com/see-past-fascinating-history-eyeglasses, accessed September 2019.

Letocha, J., and M. Dreyfus
2002 Archives of ophthalmology 2002. Early Prints Depicting Eyeglasses (Figure 4). Electronic document, https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Early-prints-depicting-eyeglasses.-Letocha-Dreyfus/f952e6a9a6509a4da61e6e48b1e61a6d91331818, accessed September 2019.

OpticianU
2018 Eyeglass History – Seeing Through the Ages. Electronic document, https://www.op
ticiantraining.com/eyeglass-history-vision-through-the-ages/, accessed, September 2019.

Overton, Brian
2014 Archaeological Data Recovery Plan: Site 31Rd1426, Randolph County, North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Transportation Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalogue
1897 The Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. Sears, Roebuck and Company. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., New York, New York.

50th Blog!

This month celebrates our 50th blog post and in honor of this anniversary we will be revisiting our top three most-popular blogs. To see which blogs made the cut, please follow the links below.

To date, our most popular blog, reaching almost 7,000 people on Facebook with over 30 post shares, was our March 2019 post: Music to Our Ears Mouths: A Jaw Harp Found in Fredericksburg. This blog focused on an artifact that was recovered from the Riverfront Park project focusing on the utility of x-radiography as a tool for identifying highly corroded artifacts. The jaw harp was found within the interior of the brick duplex once located at the corner of Hanover and Sophia streets.

Coming in second was our January 2019 post: Coming Unglued: The Importance of Reversibility in Artifact Conservation. This blog highlighted a poorly mended, mid-nineteenth century whiteware basin with a flow blue Scinde pattern. The object was brought to the Dovetail lab by a Stafford County resident. The vessel was repaired by a family member using an unknown adhesive which was then painted black. At the request of the owner, the archaeology lab at Dovetail not only removed the non-archival adhesive used to mend the basin but also repaired the object using archivally-stable materials.

Lastly, our third most popular entry was our February 2019 blog: When Building Fragments Come Together: Foundations at the Fredericksburg Riverfront Park. This blog was the first of several that focused on the results of our January/February 2019 data recovery at the Riverfront Park. We thought we would set the scene for upcoming installments by discussing the buildings that once dotted the landscape and noting the importance of architectural studies on historic sites.

It’s easy to see that local history wins when it comes to popularity as top three blogs are quite similar! If you have a favorite blog that did not make the top three, send us your feedback!

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

A “Classical” Case—Creamware at the Fredericksburg Riverfront

By Kerry S. González

For our devoted followers, you may remember seeing a blog post back in 2015 on the creamware fragment below, found in 2013 during our Phase I survey of the Riverfront Park in Fredericksburg, Virginia (Photo 1). We are revisiting this piece because a match to the vessel was found during our 2019 Riverfront Park data recovery and an opportunity to showcase this rare circumstance was too good to pass up (Photo 2).

Photo 1: Creamware Fragment with Corinthian Column Capital and Shaft Recovered in 2013.

Photo 2: Creamware Fragment with Corinthian Column Shaft and Base (on right) Recovered in 2019.

These small fragments are a variety of ceramic called overglazed, printed creamware.  Vessels of this type were popular beginning in the 1760s. The use of the decorative Corinthian column indicates it is a ‘classical ruins’ motif typical on bowls as well as trenchers/plates and was a direct reflection of the wholesale American adoption of the Classical Revival style beginning in the mid-eighteenth century (Kaktins 2015). According to the San Francisco Ceramics Circle Newsletter (2014), Italian painters were fond of incorporating ruins into scenes with then-contemporary architecture, a style known as “capricciohas” (San Francisco Ceramics Circle 2014). While the fragments recovered from Dovetail’s 2013 and 2019 excavations do not appear to incorporate contemporaneous architecture they nonetheless highlight the popularity of including ruins in decorative motifs.

The complete plate below illustrates the ‘classical ruins’ pattern and shows the Corinthian columns observed on the sherds recovered by Dovetail. While both of these fragments were recovered from within the interior of the identified 1780 brick duplex at 717–719 Sophia Street, they were recovered roughly 10 feet apart. This distribution highlights how artifacts move around after they are thrown away, particularly on urban sites where filling and earthmoving are fairly common.

Photo 3: Example of Full Vessel with ‘Corinthian Ruins’ Motif (The Fitzwilliam Museum 2019).

 

References:

The Fitzwilliam Museum

2019    Collection Explorer-Corinthian Ruins. Electronic document, https://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=tin%20glazed&oid=11867, accesed July 2019.

San Francisco Ceramics Circle

2014    San Francisco Ceramic Circle: An Affiliate of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Electronic document, http://sfceramic.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2014.3-newsletter-March-2014.pdf,k accessed July 2019.

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

 

The Nose Knows: A Perfume Bottle from Fredericksburg

By: Kerry S. González

Often times local residents interested in the history of the area, or more specifically the history of their property, bring us artifacts to identify. Most recently a long-time resident of Fredericksburg brought us some materials found during recent modifications to their home. Most of their items dated to the mid-eighteenth century through the Civil War-era, but one particular artifact really piqued our interest here at Dovetail.

The artifact pictured below is perfume bottle manufactured by Richard Hudnut (Photo 1). This clear, embossed bottle was machine made, as is evidenced by the tell tale Owens machine mark, and post-dates 1919. According to Lockhart and Hoenig (2015), the Owens Bottle Company began using a logo comprising an embossed “O” in a square or box in 1919. This logo fell out of use after the company merged and was renamed the Owens-Illinois Glass Company in 1929. However, the manufacture of bottles like this likely continued to use the former logo until around 1931 (Lockhart and Hoenig 2015).

Photo 1: Richard Hudnut Perfume Bottle.

So why did we find this artifact so interesting if it is a basic perfume bottle from the early-twentieth century? During examination of the bottle we realized the scent of the perfume it once held was still present when the stopper was removed and can best be described as “powdery.”

While Richard Hudnut manufactured cosmetics early in his career, he moved to perfumes by the early-twentieth century (Figure 1). Some of his fragrances include Violet Sec (1896), Aimee (1902), Vanity (1910), and Three Flowers (1915). Based on the manufacture date of the bottle it is believed that the scent Three Flowers was once contained in the Fredericksburg bottle.

The selection of an adornment scent is very personal. The ability to not only identify this bottle type but the exact scent it once contained is a direct testament to one of archaeology’s most important missions—discovering the people in our past.

Figure 1: Richard Hudnut Advertisement From 1916 (www.Cosmeticsandskin 2019)

 

References:

 

Cosmeticsandskin.com

2019    Cosmetics and Skin-Richard Hudnut. Electronic document, https://cosmet
icsandskin.com/companies/richard-hudnut.php, accessed June 2019.

Lockart, Bill, and Russ Hoenig

2015    The Bewildering Array of Owen-Illinois Glass Co. Logos and Codes. Electronic document, https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/OwensIll_BLockhart.pdf, accessed June 2019.

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

It Was Colonel Weedon With a Candlestick on Sophia Street: Another “Clue” to Fredericksburg’s Past

By Kerry S. González and D. Brad Hatch

This month we are once again highlighting an artifact recovered from our Riverfront Park excavations in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The candlestick fragment pictured below is made of brass and is typical of the late Georgian/early Federal style, popular in the late-eighteenth century. This particular candlestick has been dated to circa 1795.

It is no surprise to read that candlesticks have been used for millenia with the sole purpose of holding a candle. According to Geoffrey Wills (1974) in his book Candlesticks: “a prudent eighteenth-century lady, Mrs. Whatman, noted that the first thing a housekeeper should teach her new servant is to carry her candle upright.” While the Romans are credited with creating the wicked candle, other civilizations were using similar styles of lighting for daily use or ceremonial purposes years before (candles.org 2019). These early forms of the candlestick eventually evolved into very elaborate items often made of precious metals such as gold or silver. These expensive pieces were a sign a wealth for the upper class and were used as status symbols as much as they were for lighting.

However, candles and candlesticks were not only used for lighting. During the seventeenth century the sport of ‘candle jumping’ was quite popular and often practiced at festivals (nurseryrhymesforbabies.com 2019). It reportedly involved a young girl jumping over a lit candle with the intention of trying not to extinguish the flame (nurseryrhymesforbabies.com 2019). Candles have also played a significant role in popular culture through the ages due to their ubiquity in society, particulary before the advent of electricity. The popular nursery rhyme “Jack Be Nimble” features candle jumping and may have originated as early as the seventeenth century, in relation to the sport. The continued popularity of this rhyme helps to underscore the importance of this object in society. Indeed many people still decorate their homes with candlesticks, though their function as lighting devices has declined over the past century. Nevertheless, these familiar objects are able to provide us with important information on the lifeways of people in the past, including those that lived on and near the Riverfront site in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Fredericksburg. Recovering such an embellished object from a Fredericksburg home speaks to the possible affluence of the owner and consumer practices in our early port town.

Photo 1: Brass Candlestick Fragment Recovered From Riverfront Excavations.

Photo 2: Candle Recovered from Dovetail Excavations Beside a Complete Candlestick of the Same Style and Form (Antiques.com 2019).

References:

Antiques.com

2019    Pair of Georgian Brass Candlesticks, c. 1785. Electronic document, http://www.antiques.com/classified/Decorative-Interior/Antique-Candlesticks—Holders/Antique-Pair-of-Georgian-brass-candlesticks–C–1785?fbclid=IwAR1VbZoWa9fLSH2FjT0e7uwnAH0h3ZRfXE0NfrlKn-bLz82Rsri8QaLZeGI, accessed May 2019.

Nurseryrhymesforbabies.com

2019    The History of Jack Be Nimble. Electronic document, nurseryrhymesforbabies.com, accessed May 2019.

Wills, Geoffrey

1974    Candlesticks. Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./Publisher. New York, New York.

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

Dovetail Needs Your Help!

By Kerry Gonzalez

Continuing our blog series on artifacts recovered from our Riverfront Park excavations in Fredericksburg, we would like to highlight the wine bottle seal pictured below. Marking wine bottles with personalized seals were done near the end of the bottle making process. While the fully formed wine bottle was still warm the glassblower would affix a ‘glob’ of glass to the bottle and emboss it with a seal. We are asking for your help in dating this particular artifact. We know the seal recovered at the Riverfront Park site is from a bottle of Chateau Lafite that dates between 1810 and 1850. We also believe the “B&G” in relief in the center of the seal represents Barton and Guestier, a wine house in Bordeaux, France that at one time unsuccessfully attempted to acquire Lafite.   

Wine seals marked with Chateau Lafite have been found at several estates in the United States, including Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s desires to aquire Chateau Lafite wines were so enthusiastic that he wrote a letter to the president of bordeaux parlement, M. Pichard, on February 22, 1788, requesting 250 bottles (Hailman 2006:148).

“While passing through Bordeaux of May last year, I have the honor of appearing at your house to pay my respects and to thank you for all the kindness you showed to Mr. Barclay, our Consul (in Paris) in the unpleasant affair that happened to him in Bordeaux. In hastening to renew my thanks, I take the liberty of adding therto the request of a favor. The excellent wines named de la Fite are of your vineyard. If you have any of the 1784 vintage, and would accomadte me with 250 bottles, I would be infinitely obliged to you. If it would be possible to have them bottled and packed at your estate, it would doubtless be a guarantee that the wine was genuine, and the drawing off and so forth well done”

Now you know as much as we do about this artifact, and we hope some of you wine lovers out there have thoughts as to a specific time period for this interesting piece.  Please contact us through Facebook with any comments or suggestions!

References:

Hailman, John

2006    Thomas Jefferson on Wine. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson.

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.