Sunday, December 30, 2007

More on the Centennial

In digging our shovel test pits along the northern part of the Compton field, we were pretty sure that we had at least one 18th-century site, possibly pre-dating the American Revolution. This period is of particular interest for a variety of reasons, not least of which is Jean Lee's book, The Price of Nationhood: The American Revolution in Charles County (W. W. Norton, 1994). Dr. Lee's book, necessarily, has much to say about Port Tobacco. After all, it was the county seat and, as such, a hotbed of revolutionary sentiments as well as post-war dissatisfaction over war debts, economic depression, and foreclosures.

The Price of Nationhood is an excellent book and we are in the enviable position of reconstructing the appearance of the town in which so many of the events Dr. Lee describes occurred. The archaeological team is a little like a team of set designers, researching and describing the stage and props that provide the background to the play.

One part of the 'stage' that I wrote about yesterday was the site of the Centennial Hotel. The distributions of 18th-century ceramics and early 19th-century pearlware leave no doubt that buildings were on the site from sometime in the 18th century onward. Additional analysis will allow us to determine just how early in the 18th century. Now, a skeptic might say: hey, those are ceramics! You've shown where people threw out trash and not necessarily where they lived. Well, we have considered that issue. Take a look at this drawing.

Distribution of handwrought nails in the area of the Centennial Hotel.

The circles indicate shovel tests that yielded large quantities of masonry rubble (brick and mortar). The contours represent a simulation of handwrought nail density across the area. Handwrought (literally, made by hand) nails were used throughout the Colonial Period and into the 19th century. They were largely supplanted by machine-cut (mass-produced) nails between the 1830s and 1850s (dates vary depending on the part of the country in which the site is located).

The concentrations of handwrought nails correspond with concentrations of masonry rubble. Together they suggest four separate buildings pre-dating the middle of the 19th century. The distributions of 18th and early 19th-century ceramics clearly correspond to the distributions of architectural materials; therefore, we have found part of the stage on which Jean Lee's actors performed. Additional investigation will draw our vision of that stage into better focus.


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