Clues to Carroll County's religious past lie under more than 200 years of dirt.
So Kirsti Uunila, an archaeologist for the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory in Calvert County, and a crew of volunteers intend to brush off the dirt to see what they can find.
Uunila and volunteers provided by the Archaeological Society of Maryland set out last week to excavate the land around what is thought to be the house of Robert Strawbridge, who is believed to be the first Methodist preacher in Maryland. They hope to determine whether Strawbridge lived in the 18th-century, three-story home in New Windsor.
Historians believe Strawbridge came to America from Ireland about 1760 and soon began America's first Methodist class, preaching in the house, which is now named Strawbridge House. It has been designated as a National United Methodist Shrine by the United Methodist Church since 1974.
Uunila said she knows that a tree ring dating test of the logs used to build the house suggests that it was constructed about four years before Strawbridge is said to have lived in it.
So far, the group has found artifacts dating to the 1770s, more than 10 years after Strawbridge is said to have moved in. So the work is not done.
Uunila and the volunteers spent last week digging trenches 2 to 3 feet deep, recording measurements and making maps of where the trenches are in relation to other geographic points. This information will be fed into a computer to generate a three-dimensional map of the site.
They have found fragments of kitchenware - drinking glasses, bowls and plates - and nails, wooden buttons, marbles and pieces of brick.
Uunila noted a scarcity of tobacco pipe fragments. She said most sites in Maryland that she has excavated have been brimming with them, but the recent search has uncovered only two.
This is an indication that Strawbridge might have lived at the house, because Methodists of his day avoided the use of tobacco, Uunila said.
But nothing can be certain.
So many findings "can't be explained, but it's our job to explain them. It's a giant, multidimensional puzzle," Uunila said.