Update for the Levels Road-Rumsey Polk Site
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Eighteenth-century occupants of the Rumsey/Polk Tenant/Prehistoric Site (CRS # N-14492; 7NC-F-112) in St. George’s Hundred near Middletown may not have been at the top of the food chain. They struggled to protect themselves with hunting, trapping, and laws providing bounties for killing wolves. Predation by wolves was not just part of a bad fairy tale. It was a real and frightening part of their lives threatening both livestock and people. Artifact and faunal analysis are underway for the Phase II/III archaeological investigations at the Rumsey/Polk site and are revealing some fascinating tidbits about the lives of the site’s residents. RGA’s staff faunal expert, Dr. Adam Heinrich, has identified the bones of a wolf from Feature 5, a subfloor pit that also yielded fragments of an iron kettle, large pieces of a North Devon gravel tempered crock or jar, portions of a riding saddle, and many fragments of an imported English hand painted creamware canister-shaped teapot. The range of artifacts and faunal remains hints at some of the day-to-day tensions and challenges faced by these folks, tenants of the socially prominent Rumsey family. The wolf bones include the right and left scapulae (shoulder blades), the right ulna and radius (forearm bones), and most of the right front foot. Even more intriguing, the bones were butchered. The wrist end of the radius and ulna contain cut marks made by a metal knife. The location of these marks near the animal’s wrist indicates removal of the wolf’s pelt after it was killed. The wolf found in Feature 5 may have been shot. An oval shaped pit with crushed bone within it is located on the animal’s elbow, consistent with being shot with the lead balls from a musket or comparable firearm. It is uncertain if being shot in the elbow had killed the wolf, but it may have injured it enough to be finished off more easily. Ongoing analysis is expected to reveal more about the site’s occupants and their lives in this world that was still part of the frontier in eighteenth century Delaware.
Cardon-Holton Site 7NC-F-128 (Hunter Research, Inc.)
Analysis is underway on the data from the Cardon-Holton site 7NC-F-128. Hunter Research, Inc. is currently working with a range of specialists to explore different types of material recovered in the excavations.
The most exciting information to date comes from the preliminary examination of the wood recovered from the well feature at the Cardon-Holton site 7NC-F-128 by the Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory. This has provided us with two dates: 1737 and 1753. The on-going study of historic wells in Delaware indicates that very few firm dates exist, and most are derived from artifact evidence rather than the much more precise information from tree rings. Conservation of the wood from the well is underway at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, providing a preserved example of dated well-timbering from Delaware.
Our assumption is that the two dates reflect the initial construction and a subsequent repair/replacement of structural members of the well casing. Archaeological evidence suggested the well had been either deepened or repaired, as the upper portion exhibited signs of shoring atypical of normal well construction. Deepening of the well may have been in response to a drought. Repairs are common for wooden wells given their perishable nature in an environment with a fluctuating water table.
The two dates can be compared with the site occupation range of 1720 to 1740 suggested by the ceramic assemblage. As the site was situated adjacent to an intermittent stream and a likely spring head, there may not have been a need for a well initially… until perhaps a drought caused their water source to dry up. Was the well constructed in response to a drought which caused the spring head to run dry during the occupation? Initial research shows that a severe drought hit the region in 1730. Could the well have been maintained or re-established for agricultural use after the domestic occupation had ceased to exist at the site by the new owners of the property who established a residence immediately to the north at the Holton-Cann site?
Just as interesting is the initial examination of the faunal materials by Adam Heinrich, who has identified not only the remains of a very old horse and cow, but also coyote and bear teeth!
Other specialists are analyzing soil samples for chemical signatures, macro-floral remains, phytoliths and pollen remains. These studies will help to piece together a picture of the former environment at the site.
In the course of researching African American life in St. Georges Hundred for the Dale site alternative mitigation, the Louise Berger Group came across the probate records of Thomas Bayard, who died in 1864. Bayard was a farmer who lived just east of Odessa, Delaware, a prosperous man who owned a dozen horses, an “old pleasure carriage,” six silver tea spoons, and a French silver watch. He was one of the two richest African Americans in his part of Delaware, probably one of the ten richest in the whole state. When he died, he left a will calling for his whole estate to be sold, including the land, and the money divided among his heirs. Probably this was his children’s own wish — probably they wanted to move to the city or study for the ministry, so the farm was sold to further their ambitions. This made his estate sale a big event. The whole contents of a prosperous, up-to-date farm were auctioned off, from the cows to the bed sheets, and the whole neighborhood turned out to bid. The record of the sale lists 193 lots sold to 36 different bidders, with a total value of $400.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the sale is that the bidders were about equally black and white. Fifteen African-Americans brought something home from the sale, along with 21 whites. Six of the bidders were women, one white and five African American. The document shows no sign of segregation, as black and white names are mixed together in haphazard order. They bought some of the same things, too. The women bid mainly on household items, although one bought a beehive, but the black and white men bid on everything. A wealthy white man bought some of Bayard’s bed sheets and pillow cases. In the small section above (the sale spills across six pages), Harris, Brinckley, Segars and Griffin are African American families, but Stevens, Chambers, and Doughten were whites. Surely this was one of the most thoroughly integrated events in the history of Delaware up to that time.
What could bring blacks and whites together in America? A bargain.
Two of the quilts in the section above are also intriguing. Quilts typically sold for a dollar or two, but two of Thomas Bayard’s quilts sold for $5.00 and $4.70. Those must have been very fine quilts indeed to have brought that price from these practical farm folk. Some woman in Thomas Bayard’s household must have been an ace quilt maker. The valuable quilts were bought by Joshua Brinckley, who was married to Bayard’s daughter Eliza, so perhaps he and his wife were determined to keep grandma’s best work in the family.
Alternative Mitigation of the Polk Tenant Site (7NC-F-111), February, 2014
This month we’re continuing in our analysis of well data in Delaware, taking a look at well depth and the local water table. Perhaps one of the most salient characteristics of the wells in our sample is that many of them are very shallow. None of those for which bottom depth was recorded is deeper than 30 feet, and all but 4 of those are 15 feet deep or less. Three other wells were excavated to below 20 feet, but the depth at the bottom was not documented for these. Figure 1 illustrates the data for the 20 wells for which the bottom depth was identified. The depth recorded by the archaeology is shown (the height of the bar) along with a blue line that shows the average depth of the water table according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the USDA that collects data about soils and water. The red line on some of the bars indicates the depth at which archaeologists recorded the water table. Most of the excavated wells show a close agreement between the predicted or observed water table and the depth of the well.
This has obvious implications for the technology used to dig and line these wells, and also for the potential reliability and quality of the water obtained. With the exception of the wells at 7NC-B-11 (Weldin Plantation) and 7K-C-203 (John Powell Plantation), the wells in the sample were dug little deeper than the water table. One advantage of shallow wells is that they don’t require any special technology to dig, and you can get away with fairly expedient technologies for linings, like using barrels. On the other hand, such materials might be more prone to fail than masonry linings, requiring that site occupants dig new wells periodically. In fact, 12 of the sites in the sample include multiple wells that may have been used in succession, including the Moore Taylor Farm (7K-C-380) which had five wells. Shallow wells might also be prone to contamination.
One significant problem with this data set is that the original constructed depth of the well was only recorded for 20 of the 53 features documented. Not fully excavating a deep well is understandable, given the challenges and hazards associated with excavation below the water table. However, not documenting the base of the well poses an obvious dilemma for interpreting well technology in Delaware. Answering the question about whether people in Delaware sometimes dug their wells deeper to avoid them running dry requires that the bottom depth be determined and clearly documented. Finding the base of the well may also be important for dating, since material deposited at the bottom of a well may indicate the period of use and abandonment. Material recovered near the top of a well, in contrast, may be related to much later activity, perhaps when the site as a whole was abandoned.
This past weekend Dovetail assisted the Archaeological Society of Delaware (ASD) and the Delaware Department of Transportation with an artifact display at the Annual Gem Mineral and Fossil show in Newark, Delaware. The show was hosted by a wonderful group of people from the Delaware Mineralogical Society, Inc http://www.delminsociety.net/
Although the show’s primary focus was on fossils and gems, archaeology did have its place. The ASD and the Archaeological Society of Maryland had tables with artifacts highlighting the prehistoric occupation of the Delaware and Maryland region, while a sample of historic artifacts recovered during the Route 301 excavations were in a display case in the main room. There was an overwhelming response from the attendees to see artifacts from Delaware, and many appreciated seeing and learning a little more about the history of their home state.
Dover – The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued Winter Storm Warning in Delaware, effective 9 p.m. Sunday night through 4p.m. on Monday, for what is being characterized by NWS officials as the “most significant winter weather event of the season.” The forecast predicts snow accumulations of more than six inches, with the greatest amounts of 10-14 inches expected in central Delaware. Precipitation is forecast to begin as rain tonight and convert to snow after midnight. Based on weather forecasts for tonight and tomorrow, it is likely the State of Delaware will issue a State of Emergency with a level 1 driving warning starting tonight.
DelDOT crews will be fully mobilized tonight and throughout the storm, with more than 450 pieces of equipment on the roads statewide.
DelDOT is urging residents to prepare for the storm by obtaining essential items, including medications, food and batteries, in advance of the expected precipitation.
Because the forecast is for snow to fall at a rate of as much as 1″ – 2″ per hour, it will be difficult for DelDOT plows to stay ahead of the accumulation on primary roads. For this reason, secondary and minor roads may not be attended to until the snowfall stops some time tomorrow.
With the storm likely to start as a rain event, it will not be effective to pretreat roads with brine today. Brine washes off roads when it rains.
Further updates on storm updates and preparations will be issued late in the day as weather updates are provided. Information updates are available at www.deldot.gov or www.dema.delaware.gov.
Direct links to weather stations and traffic cameras:
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