Colonial history, bit by bit

September 25, 2005|By ANDREA F. SIEGEL | ANDREA F. SIEGEL,SUN REPORTER

"They haven't found Emmanuel Drue's kiln.

But sweat-drenched archaeologists - amateur and professional - who have been digging for the past week and a half at what might be the earliest Colonial pipe-making operation, have turned up just about everything else.

Scraping through centuries of dirt for the sixth summer in a field east of Annapolis, they are unearthing everything from the rare to the mundane as they search for Drue's kiln.

Drue, a tobacco planter whose artistic pipe-making was a sideline, died in 1669. Only in the last few years has his pipe-making come to light, as digs are turning up swirls of colored clays and elaborately stamped designs at Swan Cove.

Last week and last year, diggers found three shallow clay pits, places where colored clays are spread to cure; the innards of a Colonial-era kiln where pipes would rest for firing; and the kinds of rocks associated with a kiln structure.

On one hand, kilns had a way of getting plowed under, said Al Luckenbach, who runs the archaeology program for Anne Arundel County. On the other, there is hope: "There are places that we have not looked," he said.

But other finds in recent days round out the picture of what life was like in Providence, the early Colonial village of farmsteads outside modern-day Annapolis.

A prized find is a tobacco tin cover that appears to be dated 1683 and belonged to Richard Bennison. Archaeologists know little about Bennison, just that he had no direct offspring and died in 1687 in Anne Arundel County.

"The past is trying to speak to us. We just don't know what it is trying to say," Luckenbach said.

But the palm-sized cover, almost certainly from England, is in such excellent condition that its fancy scrollwork could be made out before it was thoroughly cleaned.

It has attributes that archaeologists dream of: a date and a name. The date helps provide a benchmark in time, and the name might turn out to be significant, given the gap in knowledge about what became of the property after Drue's death, and before about 1707, when records show Henry Merriday owned it.

"From 1670 to 1700, the artifacts are new. The big question is: Who was living here?" said C. Jane Cox, assistant county archaeologist.

A smoker's companion, an H-shaped, all-purpose gizmo for dealing with one's pipe, also was found - but nameless and dateless; it's anybody's guess whose it was.

More mundane are the endless supply of pig bones and chips of pottery, as archaeologists scrape away at what appear to be domestic trash pits from after Drue's death. There are so many holes that once held posts for buildings that Cox refers to Swan Cove as a complex of Colonial structures of varying dates.

Bin after bin of artifacts have come out of this sloping meadow in a matter of days, thanks in part to the volunteer effort.

This is the second year in a row that the Archeological Society of Maryland is holding its annual field school at Swan Cove, with financial backing from the state. The 1 1/2 -week program not only gives amateur archaeologists real-world training, it also provides hundreds of hours of free labor for the county's archaeology program.

Every day, between 12 and 40 volunteers - not all ASM members - have been on the site, digging holes, scraping dirt, dusting away soil, rinsing artifacts and mapping the site.

"This is like a sandbox to me, except you don't have to worry about the cats playing in it," said Vivian Eicke, 52, a former riding instructor from Silver Spring, now the president of the Mid-Potomac ASM chapter.

Working with other volunteers, she stood in a pit, her pants covered in dirt and her head covered with a straw hat, and she measured lines in the soil. She got into archaeology about eight years ago, she said, after attending a take-your-parent-to-dig-day at her son's day camp.

From all of this and other nearby digs of the same era, the emerging picture of Colonial life shows that it was not all hardship. The Swan Cove diggers unearthed pieces of lovely stemware, fragments of pottery from some of England's best-known dish-making regions and elaborately decorated stoneware from Germany.

Ships that took the planters' tobacco to England returned bearing all sorts of minor luxuries. Some made their way to Providence, settled in 1649 by about 300 Puritans invited to Maryland from Virginia. But by the turn of the century, the hamlet had faded away.

State archaeologists are pitching in - even those who don't usually dig in the dirt, such as underwater archaeologist Susan Langley. On Friday, she pulled an impressive iron fishhook out of the pit - not only was it about 5 inches long, but it still had the barb on it.

"There's always a maritime connection," she said.

Colonists not only lived near the water, they dined on its bounty, and not just the oysters whose newly discovered shells are nearly a foot long.

"Back then, they were getting big sturgeon," said Shawn Sharpe, a staff archaeologist, as he stretched his arms out.

Bolstering that claim are fish bones from the domestic trash pit that are as big around as an egg.

Cox said that the Swan Cove site might extend 500 feet or more uphill to what was the nearest water supply - crucial given that Drue would have had to haul water from it - and was a good 200 feet wide.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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