Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Another Cleaning Day

It was a rainy day, and thus the perfect time to clean artifacts for an event we are planning. Some of the artifacts above were cleaned with soap and water, some with water only, and some were cleaned gently with a dry toothbrush. In the photo above you can see pottery, glass, bottles, eyeglass lenses, pipe stems, a comb, fancy glass, a teacup, and some decorative metal objects we think may have been part of a doorknob. The buckle is there too, but I didn't clean it; I just moved it into a new container.

Below you can see some of our fancy glass. Some of these pieces could be cleaned very easily; others had to be cleaned more carefully (or not at all) because the dirt was keeping the design in place.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Berthier's Journal

Louis-Alexandre Berthier was an assistant quartermaster-general in Count Rochambeau's army who created a series of maps depicting the areas where the army camped from 1781 to 1783. Above is Berthier's map of North Castle, showing the meetinghouse (a.k.a. St. George's Church) and "Etang" (a.k.a. Kirby Pond, drained in 1888).

Here are some excerpts from Berthier's journal of 1781 describing the army's experiences at North Castle. While we don't fully understand the symbolism used in the map, it seems apparent from Berthier's description that the rows of squares along a black line shown next to the meetinghouse and in several places behind it represent encampments.
2 July 
The Second Brigade left Newtown and marched 15 miles to Ridgebury, where it arrived at eleven o'clock. It was preceded on its march to the camp by an advance detachment of grenadiers and chasseurs. I was ordered to lead them and to choose a good position for them a mile ahead of the brigade on the road to New York, where they camped after stationing sentries at all points leading in from enemy territory. Here we received a change of itinerary. The First Brigade, which was to have marched to Salem, had marched to Bedford instead, and we had received the same order, when suddenly at midnight there arrived from the General another order to proceed by a forced march to North Castle, where the whole army would be assembled.

3 July
The Second Brigade left Ridgebury at three in the morning and at one that afternoon arrived at North Castle, 22 miles away, where it joined the First Brigade, which had just arrived from Bedford.

The Fourth Division, which had marched without a day's halt from East Hartford, 92 miles away, made this last 22-mile march in excessive heat with a courage and gaiety in keeping with the ador of the French. As we approached the enemy I was sent forward with an escort to requisition wagons at the halfway point for the sick and exhausted men. Since we were now on the edge of enemy territory, I was ordered to seize by force whatever was not yielded voluntarily. Using both methods, I obtained everything I needed.

The grenadiers and chasseurs camped on a height to the left of the New York road in front of a pond that adjoins the North Castle meetinghouse. The rest of the army was encamped on high ground in back of the pond and the little North Castle River, with their left at the meetinghouse and their right resting on a wood. The position was an excellent one, since its left was protected by marshes and closed by mountains and woodland ...

North Castle has few houses, and they are widely separated. The headquarters was very poorly housed - just how poorly you will understand when I tell you that the assistant quartermasters-general were obliged to sleep in the open on piles of straw, which was, to boot, rather too green ...

5 July
During the 4th and 5th the army made a halt at North Castle. General Washington came to visit the Comte de Rochambeau and passed down our lines. The troops were drawn up before the camp in line of battle without arms and wearing forage caps.
The soldiers of Rochambeau's army would have looked something like this (illustration from The American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army, Volume 1, translated and edited by Howard C. Rice Jr. and Anne S. K. Brown).

The following illustration was drawn by Jean-Baptise Antoine de Verger, a sublieutenant in the Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment of infantry, and shows American foot soldiers at the time of the Yorktown Campaign (1781). Left to right: black light infantryman of the First Rhode Island Regiment, musketeer of the Second Canadian Regiment, rifleman, and gunner of the Continental Army (also from The American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army).

A Few Local Views

These postcards are contemporary with the postcards of St. Mark's Church that I have featured on this blog before. I like the one above because of its color, and because of the message. It's dated 7/13/08, and was written to Mrs. M. Manning in Alton, Illinois, from Helen Ryan. It reads:
Dear Mrs. Manning,

Am having a glorious time out driving every day. [Name of the town] is a beautiful place. How is Mr. Manning and Francis? Lots of love and kisses to you all.


Helen Ryan
The postcard is a litho-chromograph manufactured in Germany and sold by a local optician/jeweler.

The postcard below shows a general view of the town, along with this message: "Did not send you any card from Danbury, so will send you a [name of the town] view. Dan Oct 17, 1908." It was sent to Mrs. Nettie Robinson in Westville, Otsego Co., NY.

Lastly, a downtown view. This postcard was also made in Germany, but it was never used. Most of these buildings were burned in a fire of the mid-20th century.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Our Naval Cuff Button

We found this little button in Feature 5, a.k.a. the dump along the south wall of the cemetery - the same place we found the teapot, the stomach bitters bottle, and the eyeglass lenses. We were all thrilled when we saw the eagle and the anchor. Based on its size, it seems to have been a cuff button.

We had initially thought it dated from the Civil War, but Angelika did some research on buttons used by the United States Navy and suggested that it may be earlier. I sent these pictures to a grad school friend who happens to be a Civil War buff, and he was nice enough to forward them to a friend who knows about military uniforms.

Perhaps someone reading this post is an expert and can tell me when the button dates from! It's difficult to see the details, but the eagle seems to have its head facing to the right, and there seems to be a rope wrapped around the anchor. There is a ring of stars around it, but due to the condition of the button I can't count how many there are.


It was pot-washing day here in my spare room at the Solomon Brewer Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. I didn't do too much - just some of the artifacts we are planning to use in an upcoming exhibit (more on that soon).

Here's the Great Universal Stomach Bitters bottle. You can tell how beautiful it would have been when it was intact.

Below, some random ceramic sherds:

This piece has a maker's mark of the East Trenton Pottery Company in Trenton, New Jersey, and would have been made in the late 1880s.

 This piece appears to have the Great Seal of the United States on it.

While this one has the British Royal Arms.

I think this may be diamond-shaped registry mark - if it is, it indicates the piece was made between 1842 and 1883. But it appears to have been hand-painted instead of stamped.

The following pieces don't have maker's marks, but they sure are pretty. We found quite a few (very small) pieces of that reddish-brown patterned pottery.

Lastly, one of my favorite artifacts, the teapot, which now consists of nine pieces. Laurie thinks it may be a Brown Betty and I'm inclined to agree. It's a very no-nonsense item, solid and undecorated, but really beautiful. The glaze has a lovely range of hues in it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Burning of Bedford

The letter above was written by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander in chief, on July 2, 1779, just before Tarleton's raid of Pound Ridge and burning of Bedford. The first few lines are the most notable to us: "I have the Honor to inform your Excellency, that I moved with the Detachment you was pleasd to trust me with, at half past eleven o clock last Night: - The Weather being remarkably bad prevented my reaching North Castle Church before four o clock next Morning."

The North Castle Church, of course, was St. George's.

1867 Map

Here's one more map, from the 1867 Beers atlas. That little building next to the church is still there, and identified as the parsonage of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Methodist Church itself, built in the 1840s, is beside it.

From this and the other two maps we know that that little building stood from at least 1867 to 1881, making it the likely source of much of the domestic refuse we found in the back of the cemetery.


Have you ever wanted to see a map that has both the Episcopal Church and the Spencer Optical Works on it? Well, now you have. Spencer is in the upper left corner, and the church is toward the bottom of the map, slightly right of center. "P. E. CH." stands for Protestant Episcopal Church.

Given our finds in the "privy"/dump, I decided to take a second look at some of these old atlases to get an idea as to who might have contributed to the material we found. The map above shows the church in 1881. There's a small building to the left of the church, on the property of George Van Kleek. Did the domestic material we found come from this house?

The map below comes from 1879 and is extremely confusing to me. It's oriented the opposite way as the 1881 map, but that's not the confusing part. You can see the same small building on the property of George Van Kleek. But what are all those buildings associated with the Episcopal Church?

Here's a close-up ----->

Did all of those buildings disappear between 1879 and 1881? Was one of them, perhaps, a stable for horses? (I know that we have some record of outbuildings associated with the church, but I can't remember what they were and when they stood off the top of my head.)

In any case it seems that in 1879 and 1881, the only building close enough to contribute to the dump was that small building on George Van Kleek's property. Perhaps this building is the source of the Great Universal Stomach Bitters bottle, which dates from 1870-1880. And perhaps the people living in this building were drinking Rudolph Boehmer's sodas and beers, manufactured from 1871 to 1900.

The teapot could date to earlier than these items, or it could be contemporary. Laurie suggested that it was a Brown Betty, which seems likely, but given the fact that Brown Bettys have been manufactured continuously since 1695, we need something else to narrow down the date! We do know that earlier Brown Bettys were less round than later ones. Given the size of the spout, our teapot may have been very tall and relatively angular in shape.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spencer Optical Factory

While at the historical society today, Laurie and I came across these amazing documents from Spencer Optical Company. Above and below are parts of an ad for "The 'Electro-Magnetic Eyeglasses and Spectacles," featuring such gems as "When ever vitality becomes impaired, the physician has recourse to ELECTRICITY."

Below is a photograph of the village marching band in front of the factory in the 1880s.

And lastly, here's a letter from Jonathan Spencer, treasurer, to S. H. Searles, enclosed with the village taxes. Of course he's not happy about the amount they have to pay.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Last Field Day

Today was our last day on the site for the season. Laurie and I trimmed the walls of the privy, trying to define its limits. As it turns out, it doesn't have any! We're thinking - as Bruce suggested - that what we've found is a dump, which may extend all along the southern wall of the cemetery.

As she was trimming the walls, Laurie discovered this:

After some more digging, tugging, and wriggling, this came loose. Isn't it gorgeous? The company that created it was established in 1871 by German immigrant Rudolph Boehmer and continued by his son. It was a wholesale company (hence the "This bottle is not sold") that made bottled beer and soda.

Along with the bottle, we found another piece of the teapot!

Here it is reunited with the other pieces.

And here are all the pieces of the Great Universal Stomach Bitters bottle - another gorgeous find.

Right now the artifacts are all packed up, ready to move on to their next destination. I'll tell you more about it when it happens, and hopefully I'll have some pictures of some of the artifacts I haven't shown you yet. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the artifacts spread out in one place - it will be quite a sight.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Story Behind Solomon

"Solomon" is my name for the cherub face I've used informally as a logo for the dig. The name comes from Solomon Brewer, the gravestone carver who created the design the logo is based on. Seen on the grave of Robert Craft, who died in 1793, it features a winged cherub face with a crown.

Laurie used this design in the sign for the cemetery restoration and archaeological excavation:

This is another Solomon Brewer stone from the cemetery, with a slightly different crown.

We have seen this same design featured on stones in many different cemeteries, and I think it's fair to guess that all or most were created by Solomon Brewer (or at least his workshop). The University of Chicago has an online gallery of Solomon Brewer's work in New York. It turns out that many of the cherubs that Laurie and I admired in the Old Dutch Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow are Brewer's, including:

The triple stone of Cornelius, Jacob, and Winey Couenhoven, 1794. For a much clearer image (taken before the stone sunk into the ground), see the University of Chicago Gallery.

The double stone of Joseph and Susannah Youngs, 1780s.

The stone of Ann Couenhoven, 1797.

Perhaps the most impressive Solomon Brewer stone is the Hezekiah and Mary Day stone in West Springfield, Massachusetts. It's not only unlike any other Solomon Brewer stone - it's unlike any other stone I've ever seen, with elaborate portraits of the husband and wife facing one another.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Announcing St. George's Excavation Merchandise

Have you always wanted your own tote bag with a design based on the work of eighteenth-century gravestone carver Solomon Brewer? Of course you have!

For weeks now I've wanted to create a sort of souvenir for the dig for all the people who worked on it. I thought about getting everyone a tote bag, but it turns out I don't have the money for that. The next best thing I could do was design at tote bag and offer it to anyone who would like to have one at the cheapest price. Through CafePress, I was able to create a variety of products that are now available for sale.

By using CafePress, I can offer these items at no cost to myself. I also don't make any money from it. The price of the item is the exact amount charged by CafePress to produce it.

In the future (and if there is enough interest), I could increase the price of the items and use the proceeds to fund future excavation work. For now, though, I wanted to make sure that everyone who has participated in the dig or followed its progress online has a chance to get something at the lowest possible price.

I also have some ideas in mind for an "Adopt a Gravestone" or "Adopt a Feature"-type fundraiser. Other cemeteries in this area have used this approach and had some success.

Lastly, over the winter I will also be looking into grants offered by various institutions for our continuing excavation and artifact processing ... but since there are no t-shirts involved in that I probably won't be posting about it.

Along with the tote bag above, these items are available for sale:

Men's and women's organic t-shirts

Sigg water bottle and stainless steel travel mug.

You can click on any of the links above (or the images) to go to the store. If there's any other item you'd be interested in, let me know and I may be able to create it. CafePress has pretty much everything.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Field Day 23

This is how we spent the morning - backfilling trenches lined with plastic wrap. Why? Because when we got to the site, the tarps over the trenches looked like this ----->

Ice! The cold season has officially arrived. But why plastic wrap? We wrapped Features 1 and STP 3/Feature 4 in order to return to them next season. Feature 4, when filled in, looked creepily like a grave. I hope no one calls the police on us again.

This is what STP 3/Feature 4 looked like before we filled it in. We think this may be the corner of a foundation wall. Where we had thought it might continue, it turns abruptly and disappears outside of the unit - how sneaky! But it works out just fine for us, because a corner gives us more information on the location of the church than a random section of wall.

And here's Bruce, Bill, and I convened in Feature 1 before we filled it in. We were discussing the artifacts found beneath those big boulders I'm sitting on and how they might have got there. Did the artifacts slip under the boulders, or did the boulders fall on them (perhaps when a church wall collapsed)? Bill and Bruce think that the boulders are part of a foundation wall.

While all of this was going on, Bruce and Angelika were busy metal detectoring along the southern wall of the cemetery. They made some great finds, including pieces of what seem to be a lead box, a sleigh bell, and an Indian head penny from 1887. But perhaps the most exciting find was this, found by Bruce:

We knew that it was a King George coin, but which George? After doing some research, my dad and I have come to the conclusion that it was George II (shown below). This was the only coin with both a left-facing bust on the obverse and a left-facing Britannia on the reverse (Georges I and III face right). As for the date, I looked at it very closely when I got home and thought I saw the year 1727, but my dad couldn't see it. (The details on the obverse of the coin are actually much clearer in the photograph above, which I didn't see until later, than they are in real life. Looking at it now, I can see the number "II" and the word "REX" on it).

While he was digging at a different spot, Bruce came across this gorgeous spout from an earthenware teapot. Impressed by this find, Laurie decided to dig a little more to see if she could find the rest of the teapot. What she found were several more pieces ... and a privy.

Yes, a PRIVY. One generation's toilet is another generation's archaeological treasure trove. Why? Because in addition to what you'd expect people to find in a toilet, you can find bottles, jars, pots, nails, metal objects, combs, eyeglasses, buttons, teacups, pipes, animal bones, shoes, and whatever else people felt like dumping in there because in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there was no trash collection service.

And so, for the next million hours that came after we backfilled Features 1 and 4, we dug the privy. We didn't have to dig very far - about twelve inches - before we had uncovered so many artifacts that I had to stop and just organize them for an hour. We were in awe of what we found. Just look at Tricia and Gretchen in the photo below - can't you see the awe?

The photo below shows a mere SAMPLE of what we found. Ultimately, the finds from Level 1 filled five medium-sized boxes. The most significant categories were ceramic, glass, metal, and bone/shell. The volume of ceramic sherds was most surprising to me considering that we have found so little ceramic in the other parts of the site we dug this season. Well, I guess I found where it was hiding.

Left: Another piece of the teapot (we found about four pieces of it so far). Right: The rim of a ceramic basin.

Left: An eyeglass lens (from the optical factory?). Right: What we think is the base of a lamp.

Left: A maker's mark on an earthenware sherd. I'm not a ceramics expert, but this thing is OLD AS DIRT. Right: Pieces of a glass bottle that Laurie identified as "The Great Universal Stomach Bitters," c. 1870s-1880s. You can see a photo of an intact bottle here.

Here are some more ceramic pieces with printed designs. The largest piece was manufactured by the East Trenton Pottery Co. in Trenton, New Jersey, in the late 1880s.

There's more that we didn't even get a chance to take pictures of, but I think you get the general idea. As for how we were able to tell we found a privy - the large amount of artifacts was a clue, particularly the number of oyster and clam shells (which were used to kill the smell in privies). As we dug deeper, we realized that the hole we had found was lined with stones. I also realized that I will be processing artifacts ALL winter ... which actually sounds pretty wonderful.