Diggers find foundation of Charles Calvert's home

October 01, 1994|By Doug Birch | Doug Birch,Sun Staff Writer

After three years of research and digging, a team of archaeologists has uncovered portions of the brick foundation of Mattapany, the 329-year-old house of the third Lord Baltimore, at the Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center.

Built for Charles Calvert, the only Lord Baltimore ever to live in Maryland, the fortified mansion was a symbol of the family's power over its tobacco-rich colony for 23 years. Then in July 1689 a force of 800 Protestant rebels seized the mansion, without bloodshed, from 160 defenders. By that time, Calvert was safely back in England.

Researchers, led by Julie King, an archaeologist with the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in St. Leonard, have been cautiously digging and sifting through the soil at the site for the past few years. But not until this spring did they begin excavating a patch of gray clay, apparently dumped on the site by the Navy after it took over the property in 1942.

At a depth of about 3 feet, they hit a layer of brick rubble. "We knew then that we were on the house," Dr. King said.

Beneath the rubble was a brick foundation, 2 feet thick -- one of the largest 17th century foundations discovered in Maryland, second only to that of the brick chapel in St. Mary's City.

In early August, Dr. King, archaeologist Edward Chaney and their team uncovered a whitewashed clay tile floor in the basement, an extravagance that archaeologists see as another sign that the owner of the house controlled vast wealth.

Amid the rubble, they have picked up bits of floor, roofing and fireplace tile, brass clothing ornaments and furniture tacks, pottery and glassware, pieces of clay pipes and other 17th-century artifacts --including fragments of glass wine bottle seals, one of which may have borne the initials "C. C."

They also found two weights used to measure the precious metal content of coins. Dr. King thinks these may have belonged to Calvert, who minted coins to try to wean colonists from their reliance on barter in tobacco.

Calvert, sometimes portrayed as a bumbling administrator, ruled Maryland from Mattapany for almost 20 years. For a while, Dr. King said, the home was the site of meetings of the colony's privy council, and Maryland courts convened there.

One of the grandest Maryland homes of its time, Mattapany stood two or 2 1/2 stories tall and covered an area of 60 by 30 feet, she said. Its fireplaces had dressed hearthstones and were decorated with tiles bearing abstract designs and Chinese landscapes. Its windows were made of panes of glass, expensive imports from across the Atlantic.

"It was probably a very impressive structure," Dr. King said. "It was described in the 1680s as a fair house of brick and timber."

In recent years, Dr. King and her team have identified the remains of an armory and found traces of what must have been a sturdy palisade, or stockade fence, attached to the home and built, apparently, to protect the Calverts against Indians, pirates or Protestant malcontents.

She suspects the mansion may have been designed from the beginning as a "bawn," or fortified house, common in English-ruled Ireland at the time.

While Catholics themselves, the Calverts participated in England's occupation of Ireland in the 17th century. Dr. King thinks Charles Calvert may have visited relatives there and modeled Mattapany after bawns they built.

Archaeologists have excavated portions of Mattapany using $90,000 in grants from the Navy, through the Defense Legacy Resources Grant program.

Dr. King said her team does not plan to excavate the entire foundation of the mansion, a task that could cost about $1 million. In part, archaeologists want to leave some of the site to those who come along in the future, perhaps with more sophisticated tools.

Instead, the researchers will hunt for more outbuildings around Mattapany, she said.

The site is on an active military base and is not open to the public. But the base periodically holds open houses at the dig. And the Jefferson Patterson Museum staff is producing a brochure and video about Mattapany.

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