Wow, it’s been a long week! Lab night was a great success, though I learned while work does get done it’s more a social activity than work. But I met a lot of important people in the area, at least when it comes to archaeology, as well as a couple of other teens that have interned with The Foundation in the past, both my age. It’s always cool to meet people your age who have similar interests in common, especially if those things are a bit unusual. Wednesday I had a morning at the office trying to track down a slave named Matilda who was bought by a family named the Robbins who ran a mill in Gloucester in the 1800s. It’s an unusual name for the time period so I’ve had some luck finding a trail, but unfortunately most of it is based on educated guessing rather than solid facts. I’m using Land tax records and property tax records crossed over with the information provided in the Robbins Ledger that I’ve been transcribing. The part that I think everyone including myself have been waiting for came on Thursday. You probably haven’t heard of Toddsbury unless you have lived in Gloucester County, VA. I definitely hadn’t. It’s supposedly the oldest working structure in Gloucester, a house that used to be a huge plantation established in 1652. It’s on the banks of the York river on two sides and is absolutely stunning. It’s not often that people get to work on sites like this. Toddsbury, until Thursday, had never had any real archaeology done. The only reason we knew where to look was from a very undefined map drawn up when a brick foundation was discovered while workers were putting in a utility line some fifty years ago. We spent most of the first morning just trying to figure out how we were going to go about setting up Shovel Test Plots (one-by-one foot holes that go down until you reach subsoil, the water table or four feet, whichever comes first= STP.) We went around randomly probing the ground in the area we believed to have the foundation struck by the utility workers. Throughout the first day I think our total count of STPs was 65. Thank God we had two volunteers that came down from Minnesota, as well as a girl named Mollie who volunteered with Fairfield last summer. Her family currently owns the house, and has for quite a while. Her grandmother came to visit us and spent lunch Thursday telling us about growing up there in the 1920s. Mollie and I had a lot to talk about as we traded off digging the STPs and shifting through the dirt that came out of the holes looking for artifacts. Funny thing about Mollie was that she almost went to Westtown! Anyway, as she and I sifted through endless piles of dirt finding pounds of brick and oyster shell, along with the more interesting pieces of pottery, rusted nails, and animal bones, Anna Hayden (intern manager and Archaeologist extraordinaire) struck solid brick on her first STP. That was the first of FIVE brick foundations that we found during the course of the day. Just to make it clear, FIVE brick foundations in one day happens maybe once on a lifetime, if that. We had no idea the day would be so successful. Thursday we came back and started a test unit, in this case a five by five foot hole which we placed to cover two foundations which were only one foot apart. It was a beautiful and day very successful, and I really hope we can get back there before I leave. Saturday we were suppose to go to Walter Reed’s Birthplace but because of bad rain we canceled, so I ended up lying in bed trying not to move so my muscles wouldn’t hurt. Honestly Archaeologists would make great body builders. You may not think so just watching but try a day on the job and I promise you’ll be in pain by the end. But no pain, no discovery. Today my hosts, The Browns, and I went into Colonial Williamsburg to go see the Oyster Rick that had been built in the Brickyard. An Oyster Rick is a structure made out of oyster shell and both wet and dry wood. When you light it the Oysters burn and at the right temperature turn into quick lime which is used to make mortar- basically what is used to bind the bricks together- no concrete necessary. Tomorrow it’s back to the office to do more research on Matilda and basically everyone else in Gloucester in 1855 and 1856. Wish me Luck!
When people picture Archaeologists, most people imagine some kind of Indiana Jones crawling out of a great pit carrying some amazing artifact. The truth of the matter is nothing like that. Though getting in the ground for a dig is definitely the highlight, what happens to the artifacts after they’ve been found is just as important. If everything isn’t documented and organized, you can forget where they came from, which means you might not know why they are important. Even the smallest piece of glass or teeny tiny fish bone has to be catalogued. So even though we all agreed that today would’ve been a great day to get out in the field, we followed our plan and worked in the “storage facility” today. The storage facility is basically a climate controlled room which has become a temporary office and artifact storage space all in one. So I spent my first day doing just that. Now some people, alright many people would think of that as boring, but it really isn’t. As you go through areas and layers of soil you see all of the amazing artifacts collected from each stored safely in the bags I have the honour to handle. Yeah I admit, the continuous bags of old brick can be pretty boring, but how often do most people get to hold beautiful Native American beads from the 17th century? It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
But…my day wasn’t done. Our last task of the day was scoping out a hotel meeting room for a conference that Fairfield is trying to make sure Gloucester can host. It’s a conference for a Virginia History group (there’s about a million) that Fairfield really wants to host here in Gloucester, which is full to the river banks that surround it with history. It was actually a Gloucester Chamber of Commerce meeting that we were visiting during, so I even met Congressman Rob Wittman, the representative from Virginia’s first district. It was an interesting experience, I was representing the Fairfield Foundation, but I also got quite a few questions about my school. Most of the people I talked to were very interested in Westtown, though one man thought that since it was a Quaker school that meant kids rode to school in their horse-drawn buggies, of course confusing the Quakers with the Amish. I tried to clear this misconception up, but didn’t have much luck, the man didn’t seem to quite understand.
Nevertheless it was a great first day! Tomorrow I’ll be working till about 9 pm because it’s Lab Night! Volunteers from all over the area and of all ages come to help wash and examine artifacts at our lab on the Rosewell Plantation property Visitor’s center. It’s from 6-9 pm and all are welcome, so if anyone is in the area you are welcome to come join. Directions are on the Foundation’s website.
~HopeLily Van Duyne
So, according to the Amtrak website, my train is 1 hours and 58 minutes late and we are going at 25mph. No one can really tell us why, but good news: the wifi is finally working! Bad news: They closed the cafe car. I guess no one is really worried about keeping a schedule on Friday night in the middle of Virginia. I wouldn’t be worried either, except my hosts are waiting for me at the train station.
It’s worth it though. I’m going to spend the next two weeks immersed in history. My senior project is Archaeology in Tidewater Virginia. I’ve been in love with history for the past ten years, but until now I’ve focused on learning it, teaching it, experiencing it in historical reenactments, never have I spent time discovering it. That’s new. I’m going to be working with a group called the Fairfield Foundation, a small independent group centered in the Tidewater area, which had its foundlings around the Fairfield plantation. Fairfield Plantation, like most of the sites they work on, is a colonial 17th-18th century plantation. The group also has ties to Yorktown and Jamestown as well as various other sites of the same era.
My internship officially starts on Monday and I can’t wait.