Living on a Prayer: What a Rosary Fragment Can Tell Us About the Urban Landscape in Alexandria, Virginia

By: Kerry S. González

In recent excavations in the City of Alexandria, Dovetail recovered a portion of a rosary, specifically the crucifix and a section of the antiphon. Rosaries are used in Catholicism as a form of meditative prayer, and each rosary contains three parts: the introduction or the antiphon, the five decades, and the conclusion. The introduction consists of the cross and the four beads following it, which represent the Apostles’ Creed, one Our Father, and three Hail Marys for the three divine virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. The next part are the five decades (10 Hail Marys said in a row), and the conclusion is the closing prayers. This artifact was found within the rubble fill of a basement, all that remains of a dwelling located at 1312 King Street.

The home itself, according to historic maps, was a two-story brick building (Figure 1). Dovetail’s recent excavations confirmed the presence of this building, which was constructed in what is known as a common bond. Additional information on the building was also obtained from the dig, such as the basement was white whitewashed, it had divided rooms, a French drain helped shed water, and a relieving arch likely held the weight of brick chimney above (Photo 1). While the architecture of the building at 1312 King Street isn’t the focus of this blog, a picture helps visualize the home and its occupants.

Figure 1: 1896 Sanborn Map Overlay (Sanborn Map Company 1891). Pink indicates brick building and yellow indicates wooden frame.

 

Photo 1: Partially Exposed Foundation Wall and Relieving Arch Associated with 1312 King Street.

The rosary pictured here has the name J.W. Comeau inscribed on the back (Photo 2). Initially it was assumed that Comeau must have resided at 1312 King Street for the rosary to have been deposited within the basement fill, but research on Mr. Comeau suggests that he actually lived across the street. A newspaper ad from 1919 infers that he lived at 1303 King Street, now part of Pacers Running, and was offering his services for painting and papering (Figure 2). He possibly worked at the Paint Shop located at 1304 King Street (see Figure 1).

 

Figure 2: 1919 Advertisement (Alexandria Gazette 1919).

While this artifact tells us little about the occupants of the site investigated by Dovetail, it nonetheless provides a link to the residents of the block as well as the City of Alexandria during the early-twentieth century. It also tells us how fill and artifacts in urban contexts often end up away from their original location. Not only is this artifact a good example of how cities have always, and continue to, change through cutting and filling episodes, it is tangible pieces such as this section of a rosary that make what we do as archaeologists and historians exciting.

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:

Alexandria Gazette
1919    “Painting and Papering” https://virginiachronicle.com/?a=d&d=AG19191202.1.5&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——–, accessed November 2020.

Sanborn Map Company
1891    Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from Alexandria, Independent Cities, Virginia. Sanborn Map Company, Aug, 1891. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn08968_003/.

Diamond-Notched Tobacco Barn a Precious Gem?

By Danae Peckler

Tobacco barns may still be something of a common sight in central and southern Virginia, but their days are increasingly numbered. Listed as one of Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Properties in 2009, many are being reclaimed by the rural landscape that they once defined. Since 2009, Preservation Virginia has documented and repaired some of these iconic buildings to preserve the history and heritage of tobacco faming in Virginia and parts of North Carolina. This work has involved recording hundreds of flue-cured tobacco barns, named for the method used to process the crop, identifying unique examples like the Fitzgerald-Hankins Tobacco Barn in Pittsylvania County, Virginia (Photo 1 and Photo 2).

Photo 1: View of Fitzgerald-Hankins Barn Looking West Taken in 2010 (Courtesy of Preservation Virginia).

 

Photo 2: Detail of Northeast Corner Showing Tie Plates at Eaves of Fitzgerald-Hankins Barn (Peckler 2020).

To better understand the history of this barn, Dovetail Cultural Resource Group (Dovetail) joined with Sonja Ingram, Tobacco Barn Project Manager, Professor Michael Spencer, Chair of University of Mary Washington’s (UMW) Historic Preservation Department, and Tessa Honeycutt, a UMW preservation graduate and Preservation Virginia intern, to research and document this resource in the summer of 2020. The building had been vacant since the 1960s, but became ruinous after a series of storms in 2019. This joint documentation occurred just prior to its demolition in September 2020.

The Fitzgerald-Hankins barn was a 20-x-20-foot, single pen, unhewn, log building—but do not mistake simple for inferior; it likely stood for more than 150 years! This form of tobacco barn, or “tobacco house” as they were called from the eighteenth to the late-nineteenth century, were built from the late 1700s into the early 1900s, yet the Fitzgerald-Hankins barn stands apart for its diamond-notched corners (Giese 2004:3) (Photo 3).

Photo 3: At Left, Image of Diamond-Notching at Southeast Corner of Fitzgerald-Hankins Barn (Peckler 2020); At Right, Sketch of Diamond Notching (Kniffen and Glassie 1966:55).

 

Figure 1: Map Depicting “Distribution and dominance of methods of horizontal log construction. Based on approximately one thousand individual examples. Differences in weight of terms are indicative of relative importance” of Corner Notching in Eastern United States (Kniffen and Glassie 1966:61).

One of a few distinctly “American” forms of corner timbering, diamond-notching is rare with relatively few survivors of this type remaining across the country. In fact, just six of 230+ historic tobacco barns surveyed by Preservation Virginia in Pittsylvania County were built using this method (Ingram 2015). Cultural geographers and architectural historians have noted the relative scarcity of this type and tied it to Swedish traditions, though current research more appropriately traces the diamond notch as an evolution of the Finnish square notch (Jordan et al. 1987; Kniffen and Glassie 1966; Personal Communication, Douglass Reed 2020). Regardless of its European roots, the diamond notch emerged in the Mid-Atlantic region of the country with the highest concentration of this type of log buildings documented in south-central Virginia (Jordan et al. 1987; Kniffen and Glassie 1966) (Figure 1). Scattered examples of diamond-notched buildings identified in central Tennessee, eastern West Virginia, and central and eastern North Carolina largely date from the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries (Cooper 1999; De Graauw 2020; Gavin 1997). However, little data has been compiled on this type of log construction in recent decades.

A handful of diamond-notched tobacco barns in surrounding counties have been identified from materials at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources archives, but six extant examples in one county is an outlier. Why do so many survive in Pittsylvania County? Did the people there maintain the diamond-notching tradition longer than in other parts of the state or even the country?

Oral history from property owner, James Hankins, states that the logs of the barn were cut by an enslaved woman—something he heard from the grandchildren of Thomas Fitzgerald (1818–1892). The son of a wealthy family with large land holdings, Thomas was gifted a 640-acre tract of land, nearly twice the size of the County’s average farm, from his father in 1846. Buying and inheriting additional land over time, Thomas came to control more than 1,700 acres that he managed through tenants, overseers, enslaved laborers, and sharecroppers. On his home farm, Fitzgerald reported owning 27 enslaved people in 1860, many of whom may have resided in one of four slave dwellings there—far less than the 300 people held in bondage by the county’s largest slaveowner—and produced substantially less tobacco than his contemporaries (U.S. Agricultural Census n.d.; U.S. Slave Schedule 1860). Keeping with a diversified farming strategy, Fitzgerald turned to milling in the decade after the Civil War, operating a grist and flour mill in 1870 (U.S. Manufacturing Census 1870).

Although a specific construction date for the Fitzgerald-Hankins barn could not be determined prior to its demolition, its diamond-notch construction suggests an early-nineteenth-century date. Given its longevity, it is no surprise that the barn has been modified on multiple occasions to suit market preferences and changes in tobacco technology. While these alterations obscure its past, they are also the reason that it survived into the twenty-first century prior to its September 2020 demolition.

And where there were once many, now there are five.

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:

Cooper, Patricia Irvin
1999    Migration and Log Building in Eastern North Carolina, Material Culture 31(2):27–54.

De Graauw, Kristen
2020    Historic Timbers Project. Electronic document, https://historictimbersdendro.wee
bly.com/?fbclid=IwAR2BEMBe5sYPz0Uv0fbhdhdeB7ruTgQqPAktKcX3Vwx7xiUNzdTDxOW45PA, accessed August 2020.

Gavin, Michael
1997    The Diamond Notch in Middle Tennessee. Material Culture 29(1):13–23.

Giese, Ronald L.
2004    Historic Virginia Tobacco Houses. Middleton, Wisconsin. Copy on file at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources Archives, Richmond.

Ingram, Sonja
2015    Pittsylvania Tobacco Barn Survey, Final Report. July 2015. Preservation Virginia. Copy on file at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources Archives, Richmond.

Jordan, Terry G., Matti Kaups, and Richard M. Lieffort
1987    Diamond Notching in America and Europe. Pennsylvania Folklife 36(2):70–78.

Kniffen, Fred, and Henry Glassie
1966    Building in Wood in the Eastern United Station: A Time-Place Perspective, Geographical Review 56(1):40–66.

U.S. Agricultural Census
n.d.      Non-Population Census Schedules, Pittsylvania County, Virginia, 1850–1880. Electronic database, www.ancestry.com, accessed July 2020.

U.S. Manufacturing Census
1870    Non-Population Census Schedules, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Electronic database, www.ancestry.com, accessed July 2020.

U.S. Slave Schedule
1860    Slave Schedule, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Electronic database, www.ance
stry.com, accessed July 2020.

A Kookpot from Casimir

Featured Fragment –A Kookpot from Casimir

By William Liebeknecht

Our story starts in 1651 with the construction of Fort Casimir, a colonial fortification built by the West India Company in what is now New Castle, Delaware. The four-sided fort was only lightly equipped with battle gear (Figure 1). In 1654, a Swedish force attacked the fort, leading the small, unprepared Dutch garrison at Fort Casimir to surrender. In September of the following year (1655), a Dutch West India Company task force of 300 men pressured the Swedish commander to surrender the fort back to the Dutch. In 1657, the City of Amsterdam took control of the community that had developed around Fort Casmir over the years and renamed it New Amstel (Bontemantel 2011:58). This new community was once again contested, as in 1664 an English force under Sir Robert Carr conquered New Amstel and the fort changed hands again. During the assault, the fort was severely damaged by a cannon barrage from two ships. By 1671, the fort was in ruins and it was leveled by 1678, with the land passing into private hands (Heite and Heite 1986:21).

Figure 1: Virtual Model of How the Fort May Have Looked Based on Archaeological and Historical Research (Image curtesy of Archae3d 2020).

The exact location of the fort had been in question since it faded from memory and the town of New Castle expanded over the past three centuries. Formal archaeological studies to locate the fort were completed in 1986 (Heite and Heite 1989) and again in 2012 (Leach et al. 2013). Seeking to find confirmation of the fort’s location and design, the New Castle Historical Society (NCHS) obtained a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program to complete additional studies. A three-firm project team—South River Heritage Consulting, Dovetail Cultural Resources Group, and Archae 3D—led the 2020 efforts to further investigate the fort site. The team also included a host of volunteers, visiting archaeologists and retired archaeologists with an interest in the project, including New Holland Foundation archaeologist Hans van Westing (Catts et al. 2020).

The fort was four sided with bastions at the corners and a moat or ditch surrounding the exterior walls for added protection. Much to the delight of the team, the eastern dry moat/ditch was firmly located and defined during the archaeological survey. Approximately 10 percent of the moat was sampled revealing several nearly complete Dutch red-bodied earthenware ceramic vessels (kookpan, kookkan, and stoofpan). Small pieces of “vetro a fili” glass, majolica and faience earthenware plate, yellow brick, red roof tiles, tobacco pipes, food remains, and a lead shot were found in the moat. Overall more than 950 artifacts were recovered—most relating to the period of the fort’s occupation

One of the more interesting finds was a red-bodied earthenware vessel known as a kookpot recovered from the fill of the moat. The kookpot (formerly referred to by archaeologists as grape or grapen; see Janowitz and Schaefer 2020), kookkan, and stoofpan forms exhibit three feet, a single handle, and a spout (Schaeffer 1994:78–79). Hurst et al. (1986:130) describe these vessels as composed of a hard, red clay with fine quartz sand temper that range in color from brown to orange and red (Photo 1). The clear lead glaze that coats the outside ranges from yellow to greenish brown. While the name implies that these vessels were used in cooking, there is no evidence of burning or sooting on the bases of these objects, so they were likely cracked or broken in transport to the fort and never used in food preparation or exposed to a heat source. The size of the broken sherds of this vessel found in the moat and the fact that they mend indicate that they were discarded right away and not thrown in later when the fort was leveled. Once an insignificant utilitarian object, that was never likely even used, has shed an incredible amount of data on this pivotal Delaware site.

Photo 1: Prayer Before the Meal. Note the red-bodied earthenware kookpot on the ground that the dog is licking (Steen 1667-1671).

Photo 2: Mended Kookpot Recovered During Excavations at Fort Casimir.

Click here to view the 3d model of the fort created by Archae3d https://sketchfab.com/3d-models/model-of-fort-casimir-97ce934cdaa34f8db0321c9a063271e1

 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:

Bontemantel, Hans
2011    New Netherland Papers, C. 1650 -1660, From the Collected Papers of Hans Bontemantel, Director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the West India Company, Held by the New York Public Library. Translated by Dingman Veersteeg, edited by Martha Dickinson Shattuck. New Netherland Research Center and the New Netherland Institute. Electronic document,  https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/research/online-publications/the-new-netherlandpapers-of-hans-bontemantel/, accessed May 2020,

Catts, Wade P., William Liebeknecht, Kevin C. Bradley,  Brian Crane, Kerry González, and P. Brad Hatch
2020    “…The soldiers never stopping until they stormed ye fort….” Report on the Archaeological Survey of the Battle for Fort Casimir (7NC-E-105E) City of New Castle, Delaware American Battlefield Protection Program Grant GA 2287-016-007 Prepared for New Castle Historical Society 30 Market Street New Castle, Delaware.

Heite, Edward, F. and Louise Heite
1986    Fort Elfsborg, 1643; A Background Study of the Fort Elsinboro Point or Fort Elfsborg, Elsinboro Township, Salem County, New Jersey and New Castle County, Delaware. Philadelphia District, Corps of Engineers. Manuscript on file at the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.

1989    Report of Phase I Archaeological and Historical Investigations at the site of Fort Casimir, New Castle, Delaware. Prepared for the Trustees at New Castle Common. Manuscript on file at the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.

Hurst, John G., David S. Neal, and H.J.E Van Beuningen
1986    Pottery Produced and Traded in North-West Europe 1350-1650. Rotterdam Papers VI. Stichting ‘Het Nederlandse Geruiksvoorwerp’, Rotterdam.

Janowitz, Meta and Richard G. Schaefer
2020    By Any Other Name: Kookpotten or Grapen? Little Pots, Big Stories. In The Archaeology of New Netherland: Uncovering a Forgotten World, edited by Craig Lukezic and John P. McCarthy. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Leach, Peter, Wade P. Catts, and Craig Lukezic
2013    “The starting Point in the Historic of New Castle”: Geophysics and the Exploratory Archaeology at the site of Fort Casimir (7NC-E-105E), City of New Castle, Delaware. John Milner associates. On file at the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Dover.

Schaefer, Richard Gerhard
1994    A typology of seventeenth-century Dutch ceramics and its implications for American historical archaeology. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Steen, Jan
1667-1671   Prayer Before the Meal. Philadelphia Museum of Art. www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/102302.html, accessed September 2020.

Every Woman Needs a Little Black Dress

By Kerry S. González and Sara Rivers Cofield

In the late winter of 2020, PQ (Pre-Quarantine), Dovetail conducted an archaeological excavation of a family cemetery associated with a branch of the Embrey family in Stafford, Virginia. The small plot contained the graves of 16 individuals. While analysis of the remains is ongoing we wanted to highlight a particularly interesting item recovered during the excavations.

The fabric fragment pictured below is from the burial dress of Jane Embrey (Photo 1). Jane lived in Stafford County, Virginia, and died at the age of 30 in 1893 from consumption (tuberculosis). Her obituary reads: “Death in Stafford. Miss Jane W. Embrey, daughter of the late Lieutenant Richard Embrey, who was a gallant Confederate soldier, died of consumption, yesterday at 12 o’clock at the residence of her uncle, Mr. Granville Embrey, in Stafford, aged about thirty years” (Fredericksburg Star 1893).

Photo 1: Remains of Jane’s Dress. Note fragment of intact copper alloy pin from broach by the collar noted by white arrow.

Jane was buried in a black dress with decorative black bead work (Photo 2) with over 3,000 tiny black beads recovered during the excavation and lab analysis. This style of dress and bead work was extremely popular in the Victorian, mourning-obsessed culture of the late-nineteenth century and was affordable and widely available through retail stores and mail order catalogs such as Montgomery Ward & Co. and Sears Roebuck (Photo 3).

Photo 2: Example of a Dress with a Style and Beaded Decoration Similar to the Garment in which Jane Embrey was Buried (Etsy.com 2020).

 

Photo 3: Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalog Showing Bead Trimmings That Could Be Applied to Garments (Montgomery Ward & Co. 1895).

 

Jane Embrey also wore the standard foundation garments for the period, including a corset equipped with an iron busk and copper alloy slot-and-stud closures (Photo 4). It might seem excessive to bury a lady in her corset, but without it her dress might not fit properly, as the corset defined and molded ladies’ bodies to create the popular small-waisted silhouette of the period. To be dressed in a nice black gown without a corset at the time would be the equivalent of having a woman today wear a closely fitting dress without a bra, control-top hose, or other shapewear that provides support or otherwise smooths out the figure in keeping with current styles. The corset ensured that Miss Embrey was spared the indignity of an ill-fitting bodice in her final rest. She was interred also wearing a number of accessories, including a paste jewelry hair pin and broach (Photo 5).

Photo 4: Full Corset Typical of the Late-Nineteenth Century (From Authors Collection).

 

Photo 5: Materials Found During Excavation of Jane’s Burial. Top row: paste jewel broach and hairpin. Bottom row: iron busk and copper alloy slot-and-stud closures.

 

While we don’t know much about Jane, the few items we recovered, coupled with the archival data gathered as part of our ongoing research effort, offer details previously unknown to her descendants. Through our work at the site, Dovetail was able to determine her approximate height, how she wore her hair, and how she died, and many other tiny details that would have been otherwise unknown to her family some 125 years after her death.

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:

Etsy
2020    1880 Bodice and Split Skirt. https://www.etsy.com/listing/521905056/1880-victorian-bodice-and-split-skirt, accessed August 2020

Fredericksburg Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia)
1893    Death in Stafford. 1 July: 1893

Montgomery Ward & Co.
1895    Montgomery & Ward Co.: Catalogue and Buyers’ Guide. 2008 Facsimile. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, New York.

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.

While They’re “At Rest,” We’re at Work: Identifying Nineteenth-Century Coffin Hardware

By Melissa Butler

In death, as in life, mass-marketed applied ornaments allow individuals to customize their belongings. This month’s artifact is one such decoration. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group (Dovetail) recently completed an archaeological excavation and associated reinterment of several unmarked, late-nineteenth-century graves in Virginia, and coffin hardware provided clues to the identity of the interred individuals. While fancy coffins embellished with silver and lined with plush fabrics were offered to wealthy families of the 1870s–1900s, customizable prefabricated coffins were a more affordable option (Taylor & Co. 1872). Plain customizable coffins built of pine or “white wood” could be individualized with different handles and removable panels (or viewing windows) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Customizable Coffins Using Prefabricated Coffin (Taylor & Co. 1872).

Custom coffin or casket options in the late-nineteenth century were abundant. Decorative ornaments down to the last details could be selected from catalogs by the undertaker or family members, including handles, studs, thumbscrews and coffin plates (also known as name plates). Common themes among these symbolic decorations and coffin plates include wishes for the occupant’s rest and peace and expressions of familial relationships. They could also include religious motifs, express brotherhood in a fraternal organization, like the International Order of Odd Fellows, or be engraved with the occupant’s name or date of death (Springate 2016:43).

In our recent excavation, one such coffin plate helped to provide a date range for the deceased’s burial (Photo 1).  The “At Rest” plate shown below is actually two separate pieces; the text sits atop a universal base (Figure 2). The same piece was available in the Columbus Casket Company’s 1882 catalog (Columbus Coffin Company 1882). While no price is listed for the plate in the Columbus Casket Company catalog, a similarly sized, white metal plate cost $1.90 in another contemporary catalog (W. S. Carr & Company 1880–1910). Though the plate is featured in an 1882 catalog, it was likely that this style was in use for several years before and after the publication of the catalog. Matching an artifact such as this plate to a catalog helps to narrow down the date of burial, and therefore give archaeologists and researchers a better chance to identify those interred in unmarked graves—giving a name to the unknown.

Photo 1: “At Rest” Coffin Plate.

Figure 2: Interchangeable Coffin Plates (Columbus Coffin Company 1882).

References
Columbus Coffin Company
1882 Illustrated Catalogue of Wood and Cloth Covered Coffins and Caskets, Undertakers’ Hardware and Sundries, Robes, Linings, and General Supplies. Columbus Coffin Company. Columbus, Ohio..

Springate, Megan E.
2016 Coffin Hardware in Nineteenth-Century America. Routledge. Electronic document, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=59VmDAAAQBAJ&pg=GBS.SA2-PA7.w.1.0.173, accessed June 2020.

Taylor & Co.
1872 Illustrated Catalogue of Coffins, Caskets, Etc. Taylor & Co., New York, New York.

W. S. Carr & Company The
1880–1910 Price List of Undertakers’ Hardware. W. S. Carr & Company, Baltimore, Maryland.

Coins, Balls, Bats, and Bases: A Few Fragments on Fredericksburg’s Ties to America’s National Game

By Kerri S. Barile

On February 22, 1936, over 3,000 people gathered on the banks of the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg and Stafford County, Virginia, to witness history. Former Major Leaguer Walter “Big Train” Johnson attempted to recreate George Washington’s monumental feat of throwing a coin across the river (Photo 1). Many believed that this small metal fragment, a silver dollar, could not sail across the water; they said that the Washington story was a fabrication. But was it? If anyone could recreate this throw, it was Johnson—an All Star pitcher and a member of the very first class inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. From Washington’s boyhood home in Stafford County, Ferry Farm, Johnson launched the coin in the air and successfully landed the object on the opposite shore near Fredericksburg’s City Dock (Barile 2020:28; Richmond Times-Dispatch 1936). This act secured the place of two American legends.

Photo 1: Walter Johnson Posing in Throwing Motion on the Banks of the Rappahannock River as He Prepares for his Toss (Baseball History Comes Alive 2019).

The story of Walter Johnson’s coin toss across the Rappahannock River is just one of many incredible historical tales uncovered during recent research on the history of baseball in Fredericksburg. Commissioned by the Fredericksburg Nationals (the FredNats, an affiliate of the Washington Nationals), Dovetail Cultural Resource Group (Dovetail) and the Fredericksburg Area Museum partnered together to complete extensive research on America’s greatest pastime in the Fredericksburg region. From local Native Americans playing a game called “chunkey” to Civil War soldiers engaging in the game of baseball when not on the battlefield, ball games have a vast history in the community. Fredericksburg’s first baseball club was founded in 1866 (The Fredericksburg Ledger 1866:3) (Figure 1), and our first professional team was established in 1908, the White Sox (The Daily Star 1908:3) (Photo 2). The data derived from the research is being used to create a History Pavilion at the new FredNats stadium to share the significant history of baseball with all patrons. The History Pavilion will open in late May 2020. A corresponding exhibit containing an amazing collection of baseball memorabilia is being created at the Fredericksburg Area Museum. Dovetail is honored to be part of this project.

Figure 1: Organization of the First Fredericksburg Baseball Club in 1866 (The Fredericksburg Ledger 1866:3).

 

Photo 2: The Fredericksburg White Sox in 1924 (The Daily Star 1924).

Whether it is a fragment of metal in the form of a coin thrown across the Rappahannock or a fragment of leather from a nineteenth-century baseball used in town, the research and artifacts related to this topic are vast and inspiring. We invite you to read more about the History Pavilion here. A brief video on the Walter Johnson coin toss can be found here. We give our profound thanks to the FredNats for their support of this project, as well as Germanna Community College—the incredibly generous donor who made this project possible.

References
Barile, Kerri S.
2020    “An Ideal Stage for the Great National Game”: A Research Compendium of Baseball in Fredericksburg (Year 1). Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and Fredericksburg Area Museum, Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Baseball History Comes Alive
2019    Special Washington’s Birthday Feature: “I Cannot Tell A Lie…But I Can Sure      Stretch the Truth!” Electronic document, https://www.baseballhistorycomesalive.com/special–washington-birthday-feature-i-cannot-tell-a-liebut-i-can-Sure-stretch-the-truth/, accessed January 2020.

Daily Star, The [Fredericksburg, Virginia]
1908    “Help the Ball Team.” July 3. Page 3.
1924    “Fredericksburg White Sox.” 18 August.

Fredericksburg Ledger, The [Fredericksburg, Virginia]
1866    “Base Ball Club.” 2 November. Page 3.

Richmond Times-Dispatch [Richmond, Virginia]
1936    “Fredericksburg, Feb 22.” 23 February. Page 17.

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.

The HumunGIS Importance of Mapping Data at Archaeological Sites

Featured Fragment – HumunGIS Importance of GIS

By D. Brad Hatch and Emily Calhoun

Since this past Wednesday (November 13, 2019) was Geographic Information System (GIS) Day, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s blog to highlighting how archaeologists use GIS as a tool to better understand and interpret archaeological sites. We use GIS (through the computer program ArcGIS) to link archaeological data to specific geographic locations. Once we can link our data geographically across an area, we can begin to tease out patterns in the data that might not have been noticed otherwise. To provide an example of the archaeological application of GIS we will be returning to the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site in Randolph County, North Carolina, which was the subject of a number of previous blog posts, including posts on eyewear, frog gigs, pottery, and more. 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).

Archaeologists have demonstrated that plow zone artifact and soil chemical distributions have the potential to reveal important aspects about the use of space on sites (e.g., Fesler 2010; King and Miller 1987; King 1988; Pogue 1988b; Wilkins 2009). Artifact data for spatial analysis at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site were collected through the excavation of 80 2 x 2-foot (0.6 x 0.6-m) test units; soil chemical data was collected using the systematic method of taking a sample every 20 feet (6.1 m) on grid across the site. Analysts plotted artifact and soil chemical distributions using ArcGIS, revealing significant patterns for several artifact types and soil chemicals. ArcGIS plots patterns by creating contour maps of distributions. Essentially the computer program takes the raw artifact or soil data and connects locations with similar values to create lines. These lines represent values or counts, which when plotted geographically can show how values change across a site. Where there is little change in value, the lines are spaced farther apart. Where the values rise or fall rapidly, the lines are closer together. The resulting map is similar to a topographic map, which plots changes in elevation.

Dovetail used ArcGIS to plot domestic artifacts across the site. In this case, the most illustrative domestic materials included ceramics and animal bone (Figures 1 and 2). The distribution of ceramics revealed two concentrations of artifacts. The first, and most distinct, occurred off of the southeast corner of the dwelling. This concentration of ceramics is indicative of increased refuse disposal and activity in this portion of the site, which likely stemmed from the traffic between the dwelling and the outbuilding located to the southeast. The second concentration, which is less intense and smaller in size, occurred near the southwest corner of the dwelling. This small peak, which was also noted in the distribution of architectural artifacts, likely represents a disposal area near a window or at the edge of the backyard where refuse was conveniently deposited. Overall, the ceramic distribution matches other historic artifact distributions, indicating that the northern yard was kept relatively free of refuse and that the southern yard functioned as a disposal and work space.

Figure 1: Distribution Map of All Ceramics.

 

Figure 2: Distribution Map of Bone.

Soil chemicals often provide archaeologists with important additional evidence about activity at sites when more traditional artifact types are not present. Different chemicals are associated with different activities. For example, phosphorus is generally interpreted as representing organic refuse, calcium tends to represent bone and shell, and potassium and magnesium are interpreted as representing ash or burning (McCoy 2016:25–26; Pogue 1988a:3; Wilkins 2009:20). At this site the distribution of phosphorus tended to concentrate near the dwelling and an outbuilding (Figure 3). Specifically, the primary area of high phosphorus concentration occurred in a heavily used area between the two buildings. This general pattern coincides with the historic artifact distributions on site, and is almost certainly related to the disposal of domestic refuse. Dovetail archaeologists concluded, based on the high phosphorous signature, that the outbuilding was likely a detached kitchen. Refuse discarded from the outbuilding was also noted down the hill, to the east, as well as between the outbuilding and the dwelling. There are also two small peaks of high phosphorus concentration located to the north of the dwelling. These peaks are associated with the locations of two tree stumps.

Figure 3: Distribution Map of Phosphorus.

As you can see, the application of GIS-based mapping of artifact and soil chemical distributions at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site was vital to our interpretation of the site. In this case the computation tools within the ArcGIS program helped to reveal activity areas. These GIS-generated maps even helped to define the location of an outbuilding, likely a kitchen. Without this analytical tool archaeologists may have overlooked the kitchen, because no foundation or obvious architectural feature marked its location. Archaeologists have many analytical tools in their toolbelts, but GIS is definitely one of the most powerful for analyzing past landscapes!

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:
Fesler, Garrett
2010     Excavation the Spaces and Interpreting the Places of Enslaved Africans and Their Descendants. In Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery, edited by Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg, pp. 27–49. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.

King, Julia A.
1988     A Comparative Midden Analysis of a Household and inn in St. Mary’s City, Maryland. Historical Archaeology 22(2):17−39.

King, Julia A., and Henry M. Miller
1987     The View from the Midden: An Analysis of Midden Distribution and Composition at the van Sweringen Site, St. Mary’s City, Maryland. Historical Archaeology 21(2):37−59.

McCoy, Curtis A.
2016     Colluvial Deposition of Anthropogenic Soils at the Ripley Site, Ripley, NY. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology/Archaeology, Mercyhurst University, Erie, Pennsylvania.

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

Pogue, Dennis J.
1988a     Anthrosols and the Analysis of Archaeological Sites in a Plowed Context: The King’s Reach Site. Northeast Historical Archaeology 17:1–15.

1988b     Spatial Analysis of the King’s Reach Plantation Homelot, Ca. 1690−1715. Historical Archaeology 22(2):40–56.

Wilkins, Andrew P.
2009     Identifying 18th Century Hidden Landscapes at Stratford Hall Plantation Using Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Phosphorus Readings on Plowzone Samples. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology/Historical Archaeology, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts.