Log palisade thought found by radar Discovery of site of wall in St. Mary's City dates back to the 1600s, archaeologists say.

November 13, 1991|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Evening Sun Staff

Ground-penetrating radar has found what archaeologists say may be the remains of a log palisade in Chapel Field in St. Mary's City, and they're trying to figure out what exactly it was protecting.

Henry Miller, chief archaeologist for Historic St. Mary's City, said the radar study in September detected traces of a trench 18 inches wide. Subsequent excavations found soil stains revealing where logs, a foot or so in diameter, had been set upright in the trench, forming a wall.

The wall may have surrounded the Jesuit Mission and wooden chapel built at St. Mary's City in 1635, and burned by agents of the Protestant Parliament in 1645, Miller said. The mission was the first Catholic school in English America.

Archaeologists have been looking for the mission site for years, and excavations close to the apparent palisade have been turning up pre-1650s artifacts and building remains. If the palisade could be shown to enclose those finds, it would help convince Miller he's found the mission.

On the other hand, Miller said, "this could be the wall of the 1634 fort," the long-lost fort built at St. Mary's by Maryland's first English settlers, who arrived on the Ark and the Dove in 1634.

"We know from the historical record that the original fort had a palisade, with four flankers, or bastions at each corner," he said. The fort was 360 feet square.

"The problem is, we don't know where it was," Miller said. "The traditional location [of the fort] is a quarter-mile away."

Complicating the picture is a 1638 military order for the colonial militia to assemble "in ye chapel yard next to ye fort" -- suggesting that they stood side by side.

One other discovery -- or rediscovery --took place this fall in the reconstructed State House at St. Mary's City.

All summer, archaeologists working at the Brick Chapel site had been finding small fragments of sandstone not native to North America. They suspected the fragments were pieces of the original flooring stones.

No intact stones, or even big pieces, were found, suggesting that they -- like bricks, tombstones and everything else of value above the ground -- were systematically removed for use elsewhere when the chapel was demolished in 1705.

Studying written references, archaeologists Tim Riordan and Silas Hurry found that one stone referred to as a "chapel flooring stone" had been displayed at the State House during a 1934 celebration of Maryland's tricentennial.

But no one knew what happened to the stone. Finally, it was found lying in a corner of the State House, its significance forgotten.

Comparison of the stone with the fragments unearthed at the chapel site confirmed a match. Nothing is known of how this flooring stone was preserved and its origins remembered from 1705 until 1934. "I'd love to find out," Miller said.

Efforts are now being made to identify the quarry -- in England, Europe or the Caribbean -- where the stones originated.

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