The Birds and the Bees by Patricia Samford

Everybody does it – don’t deny it!   Each one of us has a bit of the old collector urge in them.  I collect nineteenth- and twentieth-century yellow ware and, if pressed to admit it, those colorful advertising magnets that businesses give away.  I polled some of the staff here at JPPM about their collections–answers I got included purses, Japanese ceramics, dragons (not live ones!), Lenox princess figurines, stamps, and Harry Potter Legos.


So, I was not overly surprised when poking through the Baltimore collections here at the lab to find evidence of another collector—this one from the mid-nineteenth century.  Included among the typical edged ware platters and printed romantic scenes on plates from this privy pit was evidence of a bird lover.  

london shape bird cupamerican lark saucer

The assemblage contained at least eight vessels—cups, plates and saucers—in four different printed patterns depicting songbirds in their natural habitat. There were also several vessels that showed a brace of game birds, probably bound for the dinner table.   Only one vessel was marked mother baby bird saucerwith the name of the printed pattern “The American Lark”, but there was nothing to provide a clue about which factory produced it. The negative color printing on the game bird plate and the pastoral theme of the beehive saucer suggest a date range of the 1820s to the 1830s for the manufacture of these pieces.

bird cupdead bird detail

I threw in the beehive printed saucer just because it seemed beehive detail
to go with a birds and bees theme!

Complete Vessels Emerge from Fragments at Huntingtown High School by Patricia Samford

This week’s blog is an update on our project with Huntingtown High School’s Introduction to Historical Investigations class. If you read the earlier blog entry (December 10, 2012), you might remember that the students are analyzing the household garbage discarded in a Baltimore privy (aka outhouse) during the mid-19th century. The students have completed cataloging the artifacts (2,200+) and have now moved on to mending ceramics from the privy. Before any gluing of the broken vessels could begin, the students had to sort ceramic fragments from all the different soil layers in the privy into similar groupings by ceramic type and decoration. This sorting made it easier to gather all the fragments of each vessel together, so that piecing could begin.


MAC Lab Collections Technician ErinWingfield helps Sabrina and Marissa plan a strategy for mending a stoneware spittoon.

One of the frustrating things about mending ceramics is that often large portions of the vessels are missing (in some cases because archaeologists usually only dig 50% of a privy pit and thus recover only half of the fragments in the first place). But with this privy feature, it appears that almost all of the fragments are present for at least five vessels. In the photos, you can see that the vessels are being held together with electrical tape before being glued. Using the tape makes it easier to plan the order in which to glue the pieces, as well as making it easier to see where pieces are missing.

Check back in a few weeks to see photos of the mended vessels! Most of them will be highlighted in the exhibit the students will create for this project.


Rebekah and Kody are having great luck mending this stoneware bottle, which once held Dr. Sand’s Sasparilla – an early soft drink!


Teacher Jeff Cunningham wants to help Emily mend this chamberpot, but she has the situation well under control!

1748 - A Bad Year for the Smith Family by Alex Glass

The late summer and early fall of 1748 was apparently a difficult period for the Smith family, who lived at the Smith’s St. Leonard archaeological site. Between August 28th and October 22nd of that year 3, possibly 4, members of the family died from unknown causes. At least, causes unknown to us.

Walter Smith Jr., son of Walter who owned Smith’s St. Leonard, died first in 1748. It is possible to assume that whatever afflicted him was sudden and severe. His short will was written on the 28th of August, and while it wasn’t proven until October 22 information in his father’s will suggests he had died by the time Walter Sr.’s was written, only 3 days later. Interestingly Walter Jr.’s will makes provisions for his “dear wife” who was “now Big with Child” to inherit all of his personal estate and pass it on to his child, or children if her baby survived.

Apparently not feeling well himself, Walter Sr. writes his will on September 1, 1748. “Being in great weakness of body but of sound and disposing mind and memory”, he divides up his belongings and lands between his remaining children, and grandson Walter. Whatever was afflicting him must also have been relatively sudden since he was present during the Maryland General Assembly meetings only a few months before. By the 21st of September Walter Sr. had passed away leaving the use of his dwelling house and plantation in the hands of his widow Alethea Dare Smith (soon to be Cooke-a very interesting story for another day).

Walter Sr.’s third eldest son, Richard inherits lands that fall within the bounds of his father’s plantation and writes up his own will on the 21st of September. Having no family of his own Richard unsurprisingly leaves his lands and belongings to his other siblings. What is interesting is that he states the care of his deceased brother’s children should be left to his eldest brother John Smith. This is interesting because it suggests that Walter Jr.’s widow apparently did give birth to her baby, but appears not to have survived herself. Presumably Walter Jr.’s widow was no longer around to care for her own children, since in Walter Jr.’s will she was obviously able to provide for her son. Whether or not she is alive during this time and unable to care for her children is unknown. If she died in childbirth, then Walter Jr.’s widow also did not survive that season, and died sometime between the writing of Walter Sr.’s and Richard’s wills.

Sadly, Richard did not live much longer after writing his own will. Both his and his brother’s wills were proved in court on the 22nd of October leaving much of the plantation lands in the care of eldest brother John Smith for the young Walter and his baby sister once they reached a certain age.

So what caused the rapid demise of the Smith family? Illness? Natural causes? Coincidence? A combination of those three? According to the Maryland Health Department records the Maryland General Assembly suspended meetings in 1747, and the Virginia General Assembly did likewise in 1748 due to Smallpox outbreaks. Aside from the possible smallpox outbreaks we know very little of what happened in 1748. Unfortunately, it is possible we may never know what exactly happened during 1748, but it is interesting to speculate what might have caused 3, possibly 4, seemingly healthy family members to die within a 2 month period.

The wills for Walter Sr., Walter Jr. and Richard Smith are available online at the Maryland State Archives website. Wills Liber 25, folios 464, 477, 491.

Practical Magic at Smith’s St. Leonard? By Annette Cook

Excavation of the storehouse cellar unit at Smith’s St. Leonard is almost complete. This week’s surprise find was a broken French Louis XIV 5 sol coin. The silver coin was found in a posthole which extends another 3 feet beneath the floor of the cellar. Though broken in half and worn, enough markings are present to identify the coin, which had a very brief manufacture period of 1702-1704.

coinlouis sol coin

On the left is the coin discovered at the site this week and the example to the right from a private collection shows the obverse and reverse of a Louis XIV 5 sol coin like the one found in the cellar at Smith's St. Leonard.

There is precedent for silver coins being placed in the corners of buildings, such as dairies, to ward off the magical powers of witches. These coins often show signs of being purposefully bent, and the coin found in the cellar does have crease marks. While we cannot be sure that this coin was placed for such a reason, it is an interesting find in a feature containing few diagnostic artifacts.

Hands-On History by Patricia Samford

JPPM enjoys a productive relationship with Huntingtown High School and Social Studies teacher Jeff Cunningham. In previous years, Jeff’s archaeology classes, under the supervision of Education Director Kim Popetz, produced three cell phone tours for the park. The students worked on the audio tour projects at every level, including conducting oral history interviews, developing tour themes and scripts, recording the tours and writing press releases about the projects.

This year, we decided to take on a different type of project, with Jeff’s new “Historical Investigations” class. The students are analyzing the contents of a mid-19th century privy from Baltimore’s Federal Reserve site (18BC27). Archaeologists excavated the site in 1980, but since the artifacts were never studied or a report prepared, the students are working with an assemblage that has never before received any attention.


Before indoor plumbing became common, small outdoor structures set over brick-lined pits served as toilet facilities for many urban households. Such pits became convenient dumping places for household garbage in the days before city-wide trash pick-up. This particular privy is filled with broken plates, spittoons, chamber pots, medicine bottles, and a torpedo bottle once used to hold carbonated beverages. One spectacular find from the privy was a large brown and yellow pitcher depicting a boar and stag hunt, made around 1855 by a Baltimore pottery firm.

This Rockingham pitcher, molded in a detailed hunting scene depicting
hounds attacking a stag and a boar, was manufactured around 1855 by E.
and W. Bennett of Baltimore

So far, the students have cataloged ceramics and glass – over 600 artifacts and counting! In coming weeks, they will tackle food bone, seeds, and personal artifacts like buttons and tobacco pipes. They seem to be most looking forward to gluing the broken dishes and bottles back together. Once they finish the mending, students will choose objects to research in depth. The results of their research will culminate in an exhibit of their findings.

It’s exciting to work with students on a project that provides them with real world experience in a supportive setting, conducting the type of analysis normally done by professional archaeologists. Even better, is watching the students get a thrill from each new artifact and the information it holds.

Update from Smith St. Leonard Site – Patricia Samford

cellar floor
Alex Glass contemplates mapping the cellar floor brick.

The field crew has been taking advantage of this unseasonably nice weather to continue exploring the presumed storehouse cellar at the Smith St. Leonard site. The test unit now reaches almost six feet below the ground surface and the hoped-for brick floor (see blog entry from November 19th) has finally emerged. The projecting area of brick at the lower right of the photograph is either part of a bulkhead entrance into the cellar or part of a brick hearth. Diagnostic artifacts remain elusive, so we are still unsure when the cellar was filled.

Experimental Archaeology at the Park by Patricia Samford & Tim Thoman

If you visit the Indian Village over the next few days, you just might catch Village Manager Tim Thoman and park volunteers Marco de Pompa and Simon Gannon working hard to solve an archaeological mystery uncovered in the 1970s.

Over four decades ago, excavations were conducted at the Biggs Ford Site (18FR14), a large and well-preserved Native American village site on the Monocacy River in Frederick County, Maryland. This settlement was occupied between around 1000 and 1500 AD. A number of human burials were discovered during the excavation. In one of the pits that contained a burial, remnants of charred wood that appeared to have been a bow were also recovered. A number of arrow points placed near the possible bow may have represented a quiver of arrows.

While some study of this very unusual find has occurred over the ensuing years, no detailed analysis of the charred wood had taken place—that is, until charcoal and wood specialist Simon Gannon arrived in late October for an extended stay at the park. Simon, who hails from Ireland, wanted a project he could really sink his teeth into and MHT archaeologists Maureen Kavanagh and Charlie Hall provided it for him.

Charlie and Maureen were curious about what species was represented by the wood. Earlier analysis done by Harry Alden indicated the wood was a species of yellow pine; not a type of wood that would have made an effective bow. Simon found no reason to disagree with Alden’s assessment. The distinctive shape of the charred wood, however, left no doubt in his mind that this wood was once a bow and in discussing this matter with Tim and Marco, an interesting project was born.

The three men decided to recreate the bow, using replica Native American tools and techniques on Virginia pine. Making a measured drawing of the wood confirmed that this was a very small bow--only about 650 mm (25.5”) long. Tim, Marco and Simon easily found a stand of Virginia pine on the park and felled a small tree using a stone ax.

bowmaking tree
Simon Gannon and Tim Thoman look for the perfect pine.

Cutting down a tree with a stone axe looks difficult!

Cutting down the tree was a simple matter compared with deciding the best way to begin shaping the wood into a bow. The first piece of wood they cut was split using a stone celt struck by a wooden billet (think “mallet”) and then shaped with a greenstone adze. But this method removed too much wood to create a bow of the proportions and dimensions required, so Marco, Tim and Simon decided to go directly to shaping the piece of wood with the stone adze. After using the adze on the first piece they were all very impressed with how well it worked, the sharp stone quickly cut the piece down to size, but also works well to remove very small shavings. They tried other methods to shave the reconstructed bow down to size, but the adze proved to work the best. Once they had completed the complicated shape of the bow they sanded away the tool marks on a slab of stone covered with sand, then rubbed it on a large block of argillite (a type of stone commonly used for making stone tools) and a piece of shale to smooth it out. The bow was finished by burnishing it with a piece of smooth bone to polish the surface and then coating it with fat. The sanding, smoothing and burnishing took a lot of time, but Simon, Tim and Marco are satisfied that they have made as faithful a reconstruction of the original artifact as is possible.

The size and shape of the bow would make it impossible for it to be used to shoot arrows, so we can only surmise that it would have had a ceremonial purpose, but what that purpose was we can only speculate. This has been a very interesting project, but of course it only opens the door to more questions, as so often happens.

bow making1
A stone celt is used to skin the bark from the pine.

completed bow
The completed bow.

Remote Sensing Success at the Smith’s St. Leonard Site

Earlier in 2012, JPPM hired geophysicist Tim Horsley to conduct three different types of remote sensing—ground penetrating radar, magnetometer, and soil resistivity—across the Smith’s St. Leonard site. These types of geophysical surveys can help reveal the locations of subsurface disturbances such as wells, privies, and building cellars prior to putting a shovel into the ground, and are a valuable tool for helping plan excavation. Tim observed numerous subsurface anomalies, including a large, deep anomaly in the area where an eighteenth-century storehouse may have been located.

Tim Horsley resistivity meter, with Christa
Volunteer Christa Conant assists Tim Horsley with soil resistivity testing at the Smith’s St. Leonard site.

Preliminary GPR south end
The red outlined box at the lower right depicts the projected location of the cellar.

Alex, Ed and Annette worked throughout the summer and fall to remove the overlying plowed soil from areas where Tim’s testing had found anomalies. In every location that Tim predicted a subsurface feature, the digging showed the accuracy of his testing. As October drew to an end, the decision was made to test the possible storehouse cellar. Tim predicted that this 20 by 20 ft. feature would contain large quantities of brick at a depth of about four feet.

18CV91 - 2233F Alex excavating in cellar(3)
Field technician Alex Glass has the unenviable task of balancing on brick rubble as she digs!

And sure enough, after several days of careful troweling, Alex and Annette came upon a layer of brick rubble, about three feet under the ground surface! Way to go, Tim! The rubble has been removed and preliminary testing suggests that the cellar fill extends at least another foot or so deeper, possibly bottoming out on a brick floor. Unfortunately, the cellar soil has not been particularly artifact-rich, so we don’t yet have a good date on the filling of the cellar. In addition to wine bottle glass, oyster shell, and a few fragmented white clay tobacco pipes, the crew did find this nice brass buckle. Curator Sara Rivers Cofield believes it could have been part of a horse harness. We hope that continued work in the cellar will yield further clues about the function of the building and its construction and destruction dates.

buckle 18CV91 - 2233G
Ornately shaped brass buckle from the cellar fill.

Kids' Work by Patricia Samford

What do making ice cream, doing laundry and playing marbles have in common? They are all part of an exciting new program for fourth graders, created by and being run by JPPM docents, under the guidance of Education Director Kim Popetz. Entitled “Kids’ Work”, this program takes a look at what life was like for African American children growing up in post-Civil War Calvert County.

The lives of children are often overlooked in historical documents and this program uses archaeological findings, oral history, and other sources to help students understand how life was both different from and similar to their lives today. Despite their newly-gained freedom, African American families often found themselves in circumstances not much different economically or politically than what they had known before the Civil War. A significant number of families took up tenant farming and, while education was highly valued, the labor provided by children past a certain age was also needed to help the families survive. This program focuses both on the work and the education of children following the Civil War. Over the course of the fall and next spring, every fourth grader in the Calvert County Public School system will visit the park to participate in this program.

kids work a
Scrubbing clothes with a washboard is hard, wet work!

kids work c
Newly-cleaned clothes drying on the fence.

Students begin their program with a visit to the Sukeek’s Cabin site, where they learn about one farming family and see artifacts found at the site. Particularly interesting are slate pencils and an alphabet plate that suggest that the Dawkins family were practicing reading and writing at home at a time when there were few schools for African American children.

The students then rotate between three activity stations: an everyday life station where they learn about children’s work by hauling water in buckets and washing clothes with a washboard and fels naptha soap. They then proceed to a food activity, where they discuss what it was like to procure and prepare food in the post-bellum period–a time before there were Giant supermarkets in every town. As a special treat, the students make vanilla ice cream using cream, sugar and vanilla in ziplock bags. To illustrate recreation and free time, the fourth graders make clay marbles and then learn to play a few simple marble games.

kids work b
A student demonstrates the proper way to hold a shooter marble.

Once the students complete the activities, they stay to have lunch at JPPM before boarding the bus to head to the Old Wallville School, one of the original African American schools in Calvert County. This portion of the program focuses on the importance of education to these families and what school would have been like during that time period.

While I would have thought the ice cream station would be “hands-down” the favorite activity, according to Kim, the students really like doing the laundry! Go figure! Early reviews are rave: one student wrote on her evaluation that it was “the best day of her life”! Kudos to the docents and the Education Department on creating another great program!

Another Mystery Solved! The King George Wine Glass - by Alex Glass

A few months ago at the Smith’s St. Leonard site, volunteers and crew discovered a small colorless glass fragment. Finding glass at an archaeological site is not that unusual since it preserves fairly well in the ground. So what makes this little fragment so blog worthy you ask? This piece is very thick, with a square shape and curved figures molded on the sides. We were a little stumped when the piece was initially found. What type of vessel was it from? Is the molding a design or letters? Is it even contemporary to the site (1711-1754)? Left scratching our heads, the artifact was put back into its bags and we continued with fieldwork.

king george glass 1king george glass 2

Figure 1.  The small fragment of leaded glass from the Smith St. Leonard plantation.

Then, last week, while researching some other forms of table glass for cataloging, we stumbled onto a picture that looked a little familiar. It was a wine glass fragment, with a squared chunky stem and molded lettering around the sides. A light went on, and we pulled our mystery glass fragment out from its bag to compare it with the photograph. Sure enough it was a match!

King George Wine Glass

Figure 2.  What the wine glass fragment from Smith’s St. Leonard probably looked like. “God Save King George” molded wine glass. Text is at the widest part of the stem beneath the bowl.  Museum of London, Wine or Cordial Glass 1715-1717, image number: 007227

This type of wine glass has a “pedestal stem” which is heavy, thick and tapers up to a flattened top rather than down like other wine glasses. The pedestal style was popular for a short time during the beginning of the 18th century. It was then replaced with a more delicate design after 1745 when the English government began taxing glass by weight.

Most exciting though, the molded lettering around the top of the pedestal says, “God Save King George”. This is interesting not only because it shows the Smith family’s patriotic feelings towards the crown (a sentiment that within the next few decades changes for much of the colonies), but also because this glass was only produced for a short period of time in honor of King George I coronation in 1715.