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.)