Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Little Bowl in the Fort

Native American pottery fragment from the third Fort de Chartres.

Archaeologists spend a lot of time talking about pottery. This humble little fragment from our recent work at Fort de Chartres is an illustration of why that is.

Ninety-nine percent of the ceramics we find at eighteenth century sites in Illinois are European products – mostly French wares before 1750. French merchants and colonists brought these here. The Native American residents of Illinois had ceased to make pottery by this time, and were using brass kettles and the occasional piece of French faience. The dominant indigenous group during the occupation of Fort de Chartres was the Illinois nation. By the time the third fort was constructed in 1732, the Illinois had been without a native pottery tradition for about 50 years. The last evidence for their manufacture of pottery (called “Danner Series) was in pre-1680 contexts in the upper Illinois River valley.
Danner Series sherd from the 17th century Zimmerman site, in the upper Illinois River Valley.
By the 1680s or 1690s, the Illinois were no longer making clay pots. The reason for this is complex. The old chestnut has been that they traded in their ancient practice of pottery making for shiny new brass kettles, which were more durable. However, a closer look at the seventeenth century villages of the Illinois reveals that for one or two generations, brass kettles and old-style clay pots were used at the same time. The former did not immediately replace the latter. Instead, the end of pottery-making seems to have followed population decline and social disruption. In other words, brass kettles didn’t destroy clay pots; warfare, disease and resettlement did, at least in Illinois. 
European brass kettle.
This brings us back to the tiny sherd found this fall at the fort. It is of native manufacture, but it was not made in Illinois. It was made in the southern Mississippi Valley, probably by the Natchez. There are references in the historical record to “Indian pots full of oil” brought up from the southern part of the valley, where indigenous pottery traditions were still alive and well during the eighteenth century – and where French brass kettles were also in use. 

Eighteenth century Natchez bowl.
This little vessel would not have been big enough to use to ship bear’s oil upriver, however. It was probably a little bowl or small bottle, decorated in a pattern of incised lines. It probably came to Illinois as part of someone’s personal possessions. It was also one of the last pieces of traditional pottery in use in the central Mississippi River valley, where Native American ceramics had been made for over 2000 years prior to the arrival of the French.

Such artifacts can be the tips of enormous historical icebergs….

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Garden by the Fort

This post will begin to describe the results of our 2012 archaeological testing at the site of the 1732 Fort de Chartres, in Randolph County, Illinois. The fort was built by the French to provide a military and governmental center for the Illinois Country colony. It was the third of four versions of the fortification.
Like most French colonial forts of the period, this version of Fort de Chartres was of the “Vauban” plan, consisting of central square area flanked by four diamond-shaped bastions. The central area housed most of the buildings associated with the fort (as well as the parade grounds), while the bastions provided defensive views of the walls of the fort and also housed specialized buildings. The walls of the fort were constructed of wooden poles set into deep trenches. The outlines of those trenches are still visible in the subsoil today, and allow us to accurately map the size and shape of the structure.

Our work at the site exposed the northeast bastion of the fort.  The base map above shows the features that we encountered there. The tan color represents areas of subsoil exposed by our test units and trenches. The black lines represent wall trench features. The gray shapes are pit features, and the small red shapes are posts.

In appreciation of the hard work provided by the good folks at the Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden (who demonstrated eighteenth century colonial culinary traditions at the Winter Rendezvous), I will begin with something unusual that we found outside of the limits of the fort.

As you can see in the second plan map (below), there are a series of narrow, perpendicular trenches that are anchored to the very tip of the bastion of the fort. These were very shallow features that could only have supported short, narrow posts - such as those that one would expect on low fencing. Such a fence would not have been sufficient to contain large animals, and instead, I am of the opinion that these trenches reflect a produce garden that was situated just outside the northeast bastion of the fort.

Trenches outside of the fort, as first exposed in excavation block.
This was a bit of a surprise, as the area around the fort (called the glacis) was meant to be kept clear for defensive purposes. However, Fort de Chartres was located in a rather sleepy place, militarily speaking. During the last years of this facility (which probably stood until the mid-1750s) most of the soldiers affiliated with the fort were actually stationed elsewhere. It would appear that those remaining in the fort, or perhaps some of the residents of the adjacent village, eventually set up a garden just outside of the bastion. A fragment of an unusual French stoneware pot or jug was found in one of the fence line trenches, and may have been used in the garden for watering or for other purposes.

What intrigues me about this find is that it is so unofficial. The little fence wasn’t part of the grand plan of the fort. Instead it represents both the everyday reality of needing to grow your own food, as well as the slow, quiet tide of village life that eventually overtook the site of the 1732 fort.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Back to Fort de Chartres part I

One of several storms approaching.

I have been lost in writing a sequel to the “At Home in the Illinois Country” book, this one focusing on seventeenth and eighteenth century Native American villages and French forts in the Illinois Country. For this reason, I’m afraid I haven’t spent much time updating the blog this summer. However, I finally got a break from the lab and the computer – as we spent another 2 weeks at the site of the 1732 Fort de Chartres.

This year, we opened a larger area, in hopes of exposing the plan of the northeast bastion of the fort. The project did just that – and we now have a good idea of how the fort was built, repaired, and what kind of activities occurred inside. The next few posts will focus on what we found. But first, here are a few snapshots of the 2012 work, and our dedicated volunteer crew. Thanks to everyone who leant a hand in the rain and the cold wind.

More to come….
Site view.
Jane profiling a pit feature abandoned before 1760.
Ron excavating one of the wall trenches that supported the bastion wall.
Robert mapping the wall trenches.
Margaret removing the redeposited remains of a fireplace.
A damp and dedicated crew, October 2012.

Crew pictures courtesy of Corinne Carlson...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ethnicity in Antebellum St. Louis

An Irish neighborhood in St. Louis, 1858.
        In St. Louis, the neighborhoods straddling Biddle Street between 6th and 12th Streets during the mid 19th  century were generally remembered as densely populated residential districts inhabited primary by working class Irish immigrants. During the 1850s, 60s, and 70s, particular areas of the neighborhood were known by informal names such as  “Kerry Patch” (referring to County Kerry in Ireland), “Castle Thunder” (a particularly scary tenement building), and “Clabber Alley” (referring to sour milk). Census information, however, indicates that these neighborhoods were also well populated by German immigrants.

I just finished a study of thousands of artifacts, dating circa 1840-1865, that were excavated in this neighborhood. One of the findings of the study is that this very ethnic part of the city doesn’t really look much different from other neighborhoods of the same period, at least through the lens of archaeological artifacts. Instead, what we see by the mid 19th century is essentially a mass-produced, mass marketed material universe, not unlike the one we know today.
Two mid-19th century pipes from St. Louis: A British pipe with thistle motif,
 and a personalized German porcelain pipe.
            There were only a few objects that, by themselves, speak of the unique heritage of the neighborhood. These include traditional redware food storage and cooking pots, German porcelain smoking pipes, and British-made smoking pipes decorated with traditional Irish and Scottish symbols. Even at a folk-object level, traditional symbolism was complex: an unusual folk pipe that might be attributable to German immigrant pipe-maker Henry Nolle, is decorated with a portrait of Napoleon.
A smoking pipe possibly made by St. Louis pipe-maker Henry Nolle, around 1845. 
        The lesson here is that our cultural identity has been largely untethered from the things that we buy in stores for a very long time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Ancestor of Pepsi in Antebellum St. Louis

As I've been working on a report on a massive collection of artifacts from a Irish neighborhood in St. Louis, dating to the 1840s and 1850s, I thought I'd post a few more examples of relevant artifact types. Then I will return to the frontier and colonial periods of the region.
The first soda water bottle made for a St Louis merchant.
Made between 1845 and 1847.
Commonly recovered from archaeological mid-nineteenth century features in St. Louis are early soda water bottles. Soda water was first bottled in St. Louis in 1845, by druggists Rudolph and John Adams. A newspaper advertisement placed by the druggists in the spring of that year actually explained to local consumers that their product was “bottled by machinery in such a manner as to retain the fixed air perfectly, which renders it a beverage quite as delightful as being drawn from the fountain itself ”. 
Being the earliest form of the bottled, flavored soda pop that is so ubiquitous today, these products were also marketed for their health effects during the mid-nineteenth century (probably most often as relief for stomach complaints). 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Importers' Marks from St. Louis

Keeping on the St. Louis theme for a bit…

I’m working on a study of pre-Civil War artifacts recovered during the 1990s from several downtown neighborhoods. On this post, I thought I’d show some rather rare “importers’ marks” found on ironstone (and whiteware) plates dating to the 1840s and 1850s.

Large scale American wholesalers of British “Queenswares” (the generic term for refined British earthenwares from pottery centers such as Staffordshire) often created direct relationships with the manufacturers of the table and teawares sold in their stores. In some cases, the names of these American merchants were printed directly on the pottery (alongside the makers’ names). A number of St Louis wholesalers (dating as early as the late 1820s) had such relationships with British potters, and some of their names are marked on pottery excavated in St Louis and the surrounding communities.

Here’s a sampling of St Louis makers’ marks. These are pretty rare – they appear on fewer than 5% of the marked specimens that we recover archaeologically. Besides providing a glimpse into the nature of the international trade in mass-produced goods during the mid 19th century, these artifacts also serve to illustrate the very important role St Louis played in shaping the material landscape of the Midwest before the Civil War. A very large percentage of the pre –1860 material culture that is excavated across Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (as well as further up the Missouri River) began its journey in a warehouse in downtown St Louis.

A colleague of mine is preparing an overview of St Louis importers, so stay tuned….

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Forgotten Eighteenth Century House in St Louis?

Speaking of archaeological features in St Louis (see my last post), here’s a remarkable structure that’s about to become archaeology. The remains of this stone house are located between Lafayette Square and Choteau Avenue. These photos were taken in the mid 1990s, and I’m sorry to report that the building has since lost one of its exterior walls.  It’s now just a picturesque ruin, but I’m wondering if anyone recorded the house when in was in better shape. 
The house as it looked in the mid-1990s.

The sign posted on the front of the house during the 1990s claimed it was constructed “circa 1790” by a “French fur trader” called  Joseph Mottard.

Does anyone out there know anything more about this site? I hope someone recorded it back in the day…. 

Ruins of the house in 2010.   

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Aspects of Urban Archaeology

I took this photo in an 1840s-1850s residential neighborhood in St. Louis. A house once stood here, torn down long ago. More recently, the lot was paved over with asphalt. The fill of the cellar associated with house gradually compacted and slumped, causing depressions to form in the asphalt above. Now, when it rains, pre-Civil War archaeological features are plainly visible. Imagine what may lie beneath. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Early French Ceramics 1

This is probably one of the earliest pieces of French pottery from documented contexts in Illinois. It was found during the 1950s atop Starved Rock, site of La Salle’s 1682/83 Fort St. Louis. The top of the rock, however, was also the site of a significant Peoria Indian occupation during the first decades of the eighteenth century. It is unknown which component this artifact was affiliated with, but in either case, it was probably in the ground before ca. 1720.

The artifact is a fragment of a distinctive green glazed jug (made in western France) known as “Saintonge”, from the region where such pots were produced. Potters there made these lead glazed jugs for centuries, and they were exported across western Europe, as well as the French colonies. Pictured is a non-archaeological example of a similar jug, made around 1800.

Monday, April 2, 2012

European Apothecary Pots

During our recent excavations at the third “wooden version” of Fort de Chartres (see 2/29/2012 post), we recovered a large fragment of an unusual form of salve or unguent pot. These little pots contained various types of viscous substances, usually medicinal salves, or in some cases, certain kinds of cosmetics.

Most 18th century French colonial sites in the Illinois Country produce fragments of apothecary / pharmacy pots, but they are different than the pot found at Fort de Chartres. More common are tin glazed varieties made in France. Thus far, sites in Illinois have generally produced only small fragments of the French unguent pots, but they seem to have been short, slightly ovoid, shouldered vessels.
Fragments of 18th century apothecary pots from Cahokia, Illinois.
The pot found at the fort (from 1740s or early 1750s contexts) is a distinctive type made in the Netherlands, rather than the typical French variety. It is nearly identical to pots frequently recovered in Amsterdam from 17th and 18th century contexts. I believe it is the first of its kind found in Illinois, however.
Two Dutch pots:
 The Fort de Chartres specimen (left), and an example excavated in Amsterdam (right).
Sometime after 1800, French unguent or salve pots became very popular, and are frequently found in 1830s-1850s contexts in St. Louis. These pots were of a different shape than their 18th century predecessors, with straight sides, small flaring lips, and no shoulders. They were generally coated in a bright green or bright blue tin glazes, while the 18th century varieties may have been more often glazed in plain white.
Two French, tin glazed pots from 1840s contexts in St. Louis. 
Like many old European ceramic traditions, the French and Dutch unguent pots were replaced in the international market by British whiteware pots during the mid 19th century.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Queenswares in St Louis Before the War of 1812

Back in 2002, the Sangamo Archaeological Center published a small summary of newspaper ads from St. Louis that advertised pottery between 1810 and 1850. I’m currently working on a paper with a colleague about ceramic use during the  American occupation of Fort Massac (1794 to 1814), and was looking at some of the War of 1812-era advertisements.

This is the earliest ad I have found for British refined ceramics in the region. It dates to January of 1809. The firm of H. Austin & Company (actually located in the old French town Ste. Genevieve, south of St. Louis) announced the arrival of a shipment of groceries and dry goods from New York, which included a “General assortment of Queens Pencil’d and Enamel’d Ware.” The reference to ceramic products was placed at the bottom of an ad focused primarily on fabrics and clothing.

 “Queensware” was a term coined by Josiah Wedgwood to refer to his creamware product lines of the 1760s and 1770s, the term was eventually used generically by potters and merchants to refer to most inexpensive British earthenwares, including post-1780 pearlware and post-1830 whiteware.

Example of painted pearlware teacup and saucer, circa 1790-1810
 “Pencilled Queens [ware]” probably referred to transfer printed pearlware or creamware, while “enameled” wares would have consisted of painted pearlware or creamware. This was fancy, fashionable stuff – fresh from the potteries at Staffordshire. And it was shipped into town by the crate when the population of St. Louis was still fewer than 400. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The "Cahokia Courthouse"

Below are a few artifacts from the 1930s excavations at the “Cahokia Courthouse”. They didn’t make the final cut of my recent book on French domestic sites, so I thought I’d share them here.

One of the few eighteenth century vertical log buildings still standing in the village of Cahokia is known as the Cahokia Courthouse. The building was constructed around 1740 as a private residence for the Le Poincet family. In 1793, the house was purchased by the Common Pleas Court of the United States for use as a courthouse, in what was then St. Clair County of the Northwest Territory. After about 20 years as a court building, the structure was sold and converted back into a residence. 

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the 160-year-old house, damaged by flooding and showing its age, had been abandoned. In 1904, it was purchased, dismantled, and hauled across the Mississippi River to St. Louis, where it was exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. After the exposition, the old building was purchased by the Chicago Historical Society, hauled back across the river and reconstructed in Chicago’s Jackson Park. What remained of Le Poincet’s house remained in Chicago until 1939, when it was returned to Cahokia. Prior to its reconstruction, basic archaeology was conducted on the site for the State of Illinois by archaeologist Paul Maynard.

All of the ceramics in this photo predate circa 1770. “A” and “B” are fragments of Rouen-style faience platters. “B” has been drilled with a hole that once held a lead staple, used to repair a break or crack in the platter during the 1700s. “C” is a fragment of a faience plate from Provence. “D” is a tin glazed plate made in Spanish colonial Mexico, and shipped to Illinois via New Orleans. “E” is an unusual serving dish from Italy, known as “Albisola Slipped”. This would have been included in French shipments from Mediterranean ports such as Marseille. Finally, “F” is a fragment of a kitchen bowl made in western France.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

An Important French Colonial Text as a Free Download.

Pease and Jenison’s 1940 volume Illinois on the Eve of the Seven Years War is available as a free download at the Internet Archive. This is an important text, and a must-have for anyone interested in the French colonial history of the Midwest. The original printing has become hard to find, but thankfully there is now a digital copy available. Better yet, it is searchable! A real resource…..
[Just click on the image above to go to the Archive page]

The Shadow of a 250-Year-Old Fort

This is why we dug where we did in 2011 (see Fort de Chartres posts February 29 and March 2). This is an aerial photo taken in 1928, which shows an unusually vivid soil stain in a cultivated field. This contrast-enhanced version clearly depicts a square enclosure with what appear to be four bastions, one on each corner. The northwest bastion is blurred by erosion. Archaeological remains of structures rarely leave behind such vivid stains – caused by changes in the organic composition of the topsoils, created by past activity. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Umbrella Men and Archaeology

This is a little more esoteric post. It is a short film by Errol Morris called “The Umbrella Man”, posted by the New York Times. It is surprisingly relevant to archaeology, and it’s also a pleasure to watch.

Click the umbrella to watch the video.

The most obvious thing for archaeologists to take away from this is the hazard of building assumptions on top of assumptions on top of anomalies – to be careful of what kind of story one creates around that unusual artifact, for instance.

What struck me even more, however, was that the Umbrella Man represents the potential and even probable reality of seemly nonsensical factors behind any historical circumstance. Once you look too close - when you really attempt to read each detail  - probability, predictability, and indeed Occam's Razor itself may fall apart. That smoking pipe or that broken teacup can reflect a world of circumstances, histories, habits, or choices….. Or, the pipe is just a pipe and the cup is just a cup. It seems instructive, however.

History of the Fort in Cross Section

During our November 2011 excavations at Fort de Chartres (see February 29 2012 post) we uncovered a segment of a large, deep, wall trench that once supported vertical logs that formed a palisade wall of the fort. The profile or cross section of the ditch told quite a story – and is a good example of how and why we read soils the way we do in such features.

  • On the western edge of the trench, Zone A was a sandy clay soil that contained no artifacts. This zone probably reflects the dirt excavated in 1732, which was backfilled against the new, upright logs.
  • Zone B represents a posthole affiliated with that initial palisade wall.
  • Sometime after the construction of the fort, parts of the palisade wall were repaired, including the portion uncovered by our excavations. This repair involved the removal of some of the original posts, and the redigging or expansion of the wall trench that support the uprights. That rebuilding activity is represented by Zone C, an old topsoil that was backfilled against a second line of posts.
  • Also associated with that replacement post setting is Zone D, which fills the eastern edge of the expanded palisade trench. This soil was similar to Zone C, but was greasier and more heavily laden with animal bones and other artifacts. This suggests that the soils used to backfill the trench (from what was the inside of the fort) were more contaminated with occupation-related debris. In other words the ground surface inside the fort was more littered with trash that just outside of the palisade walls.
  • Finally, Zones E/F represents the fill of a posthole associated with the replacement palisade wall. This was old topsoil that fell into the posthole when the fort was dismantled, sometime during the 1750s. 

So, visible in this unit was the initial 1732 construction of the fort, a circa 1740s repair episode, and the dismantling of the fort sometime in the 1750s. The palisade trench was about three feet deep, and supported a wall that was probably about 10-12 feet tall. Traces of charcoal at the bases of both lines of postholes suggest that they were partially carbonized before they were set, to slow the decay of the wooden posts once they were in the ground. Mineral (manganese) staining was also visible at the base of some of these posts, as well as across the base of the wall trench. This suggests that water often collected at the base of the palisade trench, at least in places. That's why we draw profiles....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lead Bale Seal from Fort de Chartres

This is a lead bale seal found during our 2011 work at Fort de Chartres III. The seal was probably used during the 1740s or early 1750s. While we usually assume lead seals found in 18th century French contexts were part of the fur trade (used to bind together furs for export), the few that have been recovered in Illinois are often associated with bales of French goods (cloth or clothing) that were being imported into the colony. I have a hunch that is what this one was affiliated with, but we haven't been able to decipher it....

On that topic, below are two lead seals found at the nearby Ghost Horse site, occupied between 1735 and 1770. At least one of these was actually attached to a bale of men's hosiery. Better yet, there is evidence that the house was occupied by Pierre Laclede, who wintered at the village of Chartres in 1763, just prior to founding the city St. Louis.

(The Ghost Horse site is described in the new book At Home in the Illinois Country - see sidebar link.)