The Size Does Matter!

Featured Fragment – Clipped Coins in Colonial America

By Kerry S. González and Mara Katkins 

Real_merge_whole coin.

Photo 1: Complete Spanish Real Similar to the One Found at 44SP0642.

For this month’s blog post, we have decided to join forces with Mara Katkins with George Washington’s Ferry Farm to showcase some of the clipped coins found in the Fredericksburg region.

In the summer of 2015 Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted Phase III excavations for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fall Hill Avenue Expansion Project in Fredericksburg, Virginia. During the excavation of site 44SP0642 a silver clipped Spanish Real (pronounced re-AL) was recovered from a borrow pit dating to 1775–1795 (Photo 1 and 2). This date range was obtained from an analysis of diagnostic artifacts, primarily ceramics, collected from the different filling episodes within the pit. The partial Real was marked with a date of 1721, years prior to the interpreted filling of the borrow pit—an indication of the value of a precious metal like silver.

A number of coins cut into segments have also been excavated at Ferry Farm, the boyhood home of George Washington (site 44ST0174) as well as from Historic Kenmore, the home of Betty Washington, sister of George Washington and wife of Fielding Lewis (site 44SP0073). The half coin pictured below (Photo 3, center) was recovered from the yard area of the first European dwelling on the Ferry Farm property, dubbed the Maurice Clark house. Clark was an indentured servant whose term was up in 1710. It appears that he had just enough time to build a 20 x 30-foot post-in-ground building on the Ferry Farm property and enjoy about six months of freedom before he died. The land was eventually purchased by the Strother’s, who built a dwelling there in 1728. The Washington family bought the parcel and moved into the house in 1738. They remained there until 1772, when George’s mother, Mary, was the last one to leave. The quarter and eighth coins pictured in Photo 3 (left and right) were recovered from the backyard area of the Washington home. A very similar coin, cut into a quarter, was excavated at Kenmore, built in the mid-1770’s.

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Photo 2: Clipped Real Recovered During Dovetail’s Excavation at Site 44SP0642. On left: obverse of clipped coin. On right: reverse of clipped coin.

The presence of Spanish coins on colonial sites is due to the pervasively contentious relationship between the colonists and the British government.  Parliament believed that the colonists should be providing Britain with precious metals instead of taking them across the ocean (Jordan 1997). In response to the dearth of available British currency, the colonists began to use foreign coins when bartering was not an option. While bartering of tobacco and wampum were generally acceptable for most exchanges, certain British exporters would only deal in silver, thus the need for other forms of currency (Jordan 1997).

Most clipped coins found on archaeological sites are quartered or halved, however even smaller divisions of coins were not uncommon (see Photo 3). Clipping silver and gold coins was a common way of making change in the colonial period as coins were made to be worth their weight in precious metals, in this case silver. It was also an easy way to make small purchases. Not only were coins clipped into sections, they were also ‘trimmed’ by removing the edges of the coin, essentially retaining some of the precious metal for future purchases. Recovering artifacts such as these clipped coins offers insight into the sometimes tumultuous economic setting of colonial and early American life in the states.

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Photo 3: Clipped Coins Recovered From George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore. The center coin came from the Clark House, while the left and right coins were found in the Washington yard.

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“I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More, Down by the Riverside….”

Featured Fragment – Archaeology in Downtown Fredericksburg

By Joe Blondino and Dr. Kerri Barile

In January 2017, the City of Fredericksburg sponsored an archaeological dig at the site of the new Riverfront Park on Sophia Street in the downtown historic district. The site (44SP0069-1) was first explored in August 2013 during preliminary studies as part of the City’s park planning initiative. The archaeological survey, conducted by Dovetail, uncovered the foundations of 14 buildings, including several 18th and 19th century homes, a pre-Civil War ice house, privies, and a possible slave quarter. A portion of the site was accidentally disturbed during area construction in the fall 2015, exposing archaeological features and human remains. The City and Dovetail conducted additional work on the site in October 2015 to conduct salvage excavations on the disturbed features. The remains of a probable antebellum slave quarter and the backyard of the circa 1750 Rowe-Goolrick House (the foundation of which is now under a nearby parking lot) were uncovered, as well as Civil War trenches and a stone boundary wall.  The Rowe-Goolrick House, like many dwellings in town, was used as a hospital during the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, and the human remains found during the dig may have belonged to Union soldiers who died while under treatment at the hospital. DNA analysis and other scientific techniques are currently being employed to possibly identify the lineage of the remains.

Riverfront Park site (44SP0069-1) overview

As plans for the new Riverfront Park are developed, additional archaeological work is being conducted on the site as part of the City’s commitment to historic preservation and archaeological study. Dovetail returned to the site in January 2017 to complete the excavations of the disturbance area begun in 2015. The goal was to further explore the building foundations, back yard area, and Civil War trenches that were found during the earlier work. The team also wants to assure that all human remains possibly buried in the area are removed and properly treated. As of the authoring of this blog, Dovetail has identified a section of a Civil War-era entrenchment as well as archaeological features related to the 18th century occupation of the area, such as post holes and refuse pits.

Artifacts recovered during the excavations also highlight the 18th and 19th century activities of the lot. Fragments of ceramics, nails, bottle glass, and personal items such as smoking pipe fragments and shoe buckles have been recovered. Particular artifacts of note include three Burnside carbine cartridges and a lid to a cast iron Dutch oven (pictured below). The Burnside cartridges almost certainly relate to Civil War activity on the site. The .54 caliber Burnside carbine was designed in the mid-1850s by Ambrose Burnside, who would later lead the Federal Army during the Battle of Fredericksburg. The breech-loading Burnside carbine, being relatively small and quick to load, was used primarily by Union Cavalry. However, with tens of thousands of them issued to Federal troops, they were not an uncommon weapon and captured Burnsides could have been used by Confederates as well. Although it is not definitively a military object, the Dutch oven lid is consistent with cookware that would have been used by groups of soldiers preparing and consuming communal meals.

Recovered Burnside carbine cartridges

Recovered Burnside carbine cartridges

Information gleaned from the work will be presented in a report, at public talks, and in interpretive panels to be mounted at the site as part of the park design. The success of the archaeological project relies on the teamwork of many groups—the City of Fredericksburg, Rhodeside & Harwell (park designers), Downey & Scott (construction managers), Dovetail, and others. Partnership, coordination, and communication have assured that this notable site is explored and the history of this area is shared with future generations.

Dovetail archaeologists, Stephen Mohs, uncovering a dutch oven lid

 

intact dutch oven

Example of an intact dutch oven

 

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.