What’s in the Attic?

Featured Fragment – Archaeology in historic Salubria’s attic

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Historic Salubria

On August 23, 2011, 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Virginia with its epicenter in Louisa County. The earthquake caused massive damage to eighteenth-century Salubria, a Georgian home located in Culpeper County, Virginia and owned by The Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies In Virginia, Inc. (The Foundation).

The damage caused by the 2011 earthquake required extensive repairs to the original roof truss system, roof cladding, and chimneys. Prior to installation of associated new attic flooring, Dovetail Cultural Resource Group, at the request of The Foundation, was hired to remove the detritus that had accumulated on the attic “floor” over the years. Because the process involved hand removal of soil, dust, and other materials through careful, controlled digging, the project was termed an “archaeological excavation” despite its location two stories above the ground surface.

Using the building’s structural system, Dovetail laid in a “grid” to divide the attic into 12 sections. All artifacts were bagged by section to examine the deposition of the artifacts. More than 12,000 artifacts were recovered from the attic, including over 350 pieces of cloth of varying size and material, nails, personal items, and paper.

Dovetail archaeologist hard at work!

Dovetail archaeologist hard at work!

The thousands of pieces of paper found in the attic are a direct reflection of both the humans who lived at Salubria and the animals who carried the goods to the attic. One of the most remarkable intact paper fragments was a personal letter from 1862! This haunting letter speaks of the first student death at Farmville Female College (Longwood University) and speaks of the demise and death of Molly Priott (see transcription below the letter).

Front of letter from the Farmville Female College.

Front of letter from the Farmville Female College.

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Back of letter from the Farmville Female College.

 

The death of our dear Mollie is as great a shock to us as it can possibly be to you my precious friend – we did not know the poor child was sick until Sunday when we all thought she had neuralgia, at a late hour last night the Dr. pronounced her disease congestion of the brain – her mother at 10 o’clock last night, no later when I left her, did not seem to apprehend any danger – at five this morning word came to me that she was dying. I went hastily up…[unreadable]

the children, half conscious, half unconscious, of their loss. – I have just left her, little May and I being the last to look upon the loved face of mine the last kiss upon her brow. The coffin is closed and we can not see her more until we all go home where you and we will live again with our beloved.

We have service in the chapel this evening at six, and Mr. Preot goes with the corpse to Petersburg to-night. Write to Mrs. P or come to see her to-morrow. – I feel so obliged to you for your sympathy, it is the first death in our school and keenly felt by Mr. [La chonde] and myself.

I hope to see you soon. – God bless you, my dear, dear friend and be to you all He has promised. Love to you mother and the children –

Tuesday 14th Jan, 1862, Truly and fondly your friend

R…

The 12,000-plus artifacts found during the excavation shed light on the lives of the residents of Salubria. Because this type of “excavation” is rare, these fragile, perishable artifacts are typically lost. This was truly a unique and amazing, albeit filthy, experience for Dovetail!

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Dr. Kerri Barile, Dovetail’s president, after a day in the attic!

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To learn more about Salubria, or Germanna Castle, visit http://germanna.org/.