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Excavations in 11G8, Knox’s Artillery Cantonment of 1778-1779 Pluckemin , New Jersey
Pluckemin History & Archaeology Series, Report No. 3
John L. Seidel, Ph.D. Washington College 2012
Trash & Tea: Gleanings from a Revolutionary War Refuse Dump
Excavations in 11G8, Knox’s Artillery Cantonment of 1778-1779
It’s no secret that archaeologists have an interest in old trash. Their job, in essence, is to reconstruct the lives of past people through the debris they left behind. Sometimes this trash is confined to a dump or “midden,” but more often it is scattered around the places where people lived and worked. The refuse can include food remains, tools and hardware, the remains of buildings, roads, and the general debris from everyday living. When archaeologists find a discrete trash deposit – a garbage pit or trash dump – it is exciting. Not only is the material concentrated in one place, making it easier to recover and potentially reconstruct, but it also may date from a discrete point in time, reflecting life at a given moment, rather than life over decades or centuries. This is the story of one such trash deposit. Located on a hill overlooking the village of Pluckemin, New Jersey, the dump is part of a much larger archaeological site, the 1778-1779 winter cantonment of the Continental Artillery (Figure 1). For seven months during the American War for Independence, this site bustled with the activity of a small town, as artillery units and support troops moved in. They quickly built barracks, warehouses, and workshops, and they also created an important supply center and the nation’s first military academy. The story of this small part of the war, and of subsequent attempts to understand the site through history and archaeology, has been told in the first report of this series (Seidel 2012a) and several other places (Sekel 1971; Seidel 1983, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1995a, 1995b). Still, it can be quickly summarized. The archaeology began with a survey of the site in 1979, followed by the formation of the non-profit Pluckemin Archaeological Project in 1980 and an ensuing decade of field work. The extent of that work can be seen in Figure 2, and the area discussed in this report is shown in Figure 3. While the archaeologists excavated, historical research continued, and eventually the story emerged of an ambitious plan by Brigadier General Henry Knox, with the support of his commander-in-chief, General George Washington. What Knox and his men built at Pluckemin was a remarkable complex of buildings. And what occurred within those building and in the surrounding area was equally remarkable. Officers were taught the science of gunnery and warfare, men were drilled in gun evolutions, craftsmen made and repaired everything from muskets to canteens, supplies were brought into warehouses from around the country, and the larger Continental Army quartered to the south at Middlebrook was resupplied for the campaign of 1779. Pluckemin is a story of American success, and it is a story worth telling. This report, the third in a series that tells the Pluckemin story, focuses on a small corner of the cantonment. Given the predilection of archaeologists for other people’s garbage, it’s not surprising that a focus was placed on a garbage dump early in the decade long investigation. Located in the northeast corner of the site, behind the officers’ Northeast Line of Barracks (Figure 1), it had already attracted the attention of Clifford Sekel, an historian who re-discovered the Pluckemin site in the late 1960s, wrote a Master’s thesis on the winter occupation (Sekel 1972), and felt that the profusion of oyster shell, pottery, and nails were important clues to the location of the site. Surprisingly, it seemed that the garbage pit had escaped the 1
attention of archaeologist Max Schrabisch (1916-1917, 1917), who had excavated at Pluckemin in the early 1900s. His work, which seems to have concentrated in the northeast portion of the site, was extensive, but poorly recorded. This was disappointing, as it meant that much of the officers’ quarters was probably disturbed and data might be suspect. The garbage scatter behind the building was intriguing because it appeared to have been untouched by Schrabisch. It therefore offered an opportunity to obtain a small sample from “officer country,” even though no evidence of construction methods, room sizes, or other information could be expected.
Figure 1. Contemporary drawing of the Pluckemin cantonment, by Capt. John Lillie – the refuse scatter was located behind the barracks in the circled area
Figure 2. Pluckemin site plan showing excavations from 1979-1989, with projected barrack lines
Figure 3. Detail from Pluckemin site plan, showing the central portion of the site; 11G8 is in the center (north at the top of the page)
Figure 4. Central portion of the Pluckemin site, showing the chimney mounds (left side of map) of the Officers’ Barracks, Northeast Line, with the trash refuse to the rear of the barracks (labeled 11G8)
The Refuse Scatter
The refuse scatter was located in the rear of the Officers’ Barracks in the Northeast Line. Figure 4 shows a site plan of the center of the site, which can be correlated with John Lillie’s drawing of the camp (Figure 1). The center building shown by Lillie, running up and down hill, with a large cupola-topped building, can be seen by dashed lines in the bottom center of Figure 4. To the left in Figure 4 are several circular shapes that represent chimney mounds in the Officers’ Barracks, and the refuse scatter, designated 11G8, is located behind and to the rear of the building. To the right in Figure 4 is a long building that is the Southeast Line of the camp, also shown by Lillie (Figure 1) running south along the base of the slope, in line with the Officers’ Barracks. The trash scatter (Figures 5-6) covered an area measuring roughly 2.0 meters (6.6 ft) north-south by 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) east-west . It was nestled into a depression at the base of a steep slope. Once the vegetation had been removed, it was visible primarily as a concentration of shell and bone in a black organic soil. Scattered across the surface of the circular deposit were fragments of porcelain and glass, along with 5
chunks of lime that presumably were used to make mortar. Smaller amounts of artifacts, particularly porcelain, were visible in the rocks uphill. They gave the impression of having been thrown toward the pit by someone with a careless or erratic aim.
Figure 5. Refuse scatter 11G8 being drawn by J. Seidel (right) and C. Sekel (left)
At the outset, it was uncertain whether this was a deep deposit or simply a surface scatter of materials. The approach was therefore to divide the feature into two halves along an east-west axis and excavate one side at a time. This approach would leave a visible cross-section of the soils or layers that made up the deposit, allowing for easier recording and interpretation. The surface scatter of rocks and artifacts is illustrated in Figure 6. As with every excavation at Pluckemin, each layer was drawn to scale, with all rocks and observable features recorded. Once the feature was drawn and photographed, excavation could begin. First, the dark, artifact-laden soils comprising the feature were removed, and then a larger area around the feature was excavated. The limits of excavation are shown on Figure 4, enclosing the stippled area. The excavated area measured 4.0 meters (13.1 ft) by 1.5 meters (4.9 ft), all of which was removed down to an undisturbed subsoil. The excavation area was numbered 11G8, following a standard nomenclature used at the site, and every layer was numbered. Each layer or discernible phenomenon is referred to as a “locus,” given a number (referred to as a “locus number”) and carefully recorded.
Figure 6. Plan view of refuse scatter and excavation area 11G8 7
Soil Layers and Stratigraphy
Although it was hoped that a deep trash pit would be revealed, soon after excavation began it became clear that the deposit was very shallow. Instead of having many interlayered levels extending to great depth, a thin layer of trash extended across the entire feature. This dark, organic soil was designated as locus 002 (the second layer or level), and it was relatively thin, ranging from only 3 cm (1.2 inches) to 7 cm (2.75 inches) below the surface. Beneath this artifact rich, black soil was a lighter colored layer of soil (Locus 004), with fewer artifacts and larger stones. The stones and artifacts in this lower layer were oriented at haphazard angles and were loose, confirming this was a feature deposited by people, and still part of the refuse deposit. The lighter, rocky soil of Locus 004 was of variable thickness, ranging between 15 to 55 centimeters (5.9 to 21.7 inches). Once archaeologists removed these two layers of trash (locus 002 and Locus 004), subsoil was exposed in a saucer-shaped depression. It appeared that the subsoil had been cut into, with nearly a half meter (two feet) of the original soil removed. Into this some stones had been randomly placed or rolled down from higher up on the hill. Why this excavation was done during the winter of 1778-1779 was unclear, but the depression then became a convenient place for officers (or their servants) to toss their trash. As this debris came to rest on the rocks, smaller artifacts filtered between the stones. The darkness of the upper soil suggested that the debris included some organic debris such as food remains, which had long since rotted away. Although there is no way to be certain how the initial depression was formed, it may have come from the construction phase of the camp. Other archaeologists have found what they interpreted as “chinking pits” around cabins, where soil (usually clay) was dug out for use in filling the gaps between logs or boards in a wall or for binding together the stones of a chimney. This filler or binder is called “chinking.”
Artifacts - Interpreting Activity in the Barracks
The materials recovered from the pit included oyster shell, bone, chunks or small bits of lime, hand wrought nails, corroded and unidentifiable bits of iron, fragments of olive green glass, and sherds of pottery. Although the area was small and confined, a total of 1,798 objects were dug up, placed in bags that recorded their original location, and transported back to the lab for analysis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, since the deposit was located directly behind the barracks, the bulk of the material was related either to eating and drinking or food preparation. There are a variety of ways to look at archaeological materials from historic sites. In order to figure out what people did on part of a site or to assess an area’s function, it sometimes is helpful to separate materials into different functional classes of objects. A pioneer in this technique was Stanley South (1977), who divided artifacts from colonial sites into eight categories that he believed would allow him to analyze function and see some important patterns in past human behavior. These types, which broke artifacts down into groups such as kitchen-related items, architectural objects, furniture remains, and so on, can be seen in Table 1. As South excavated and analyzed site after site, he began to recognize recurring patterns, some 8
characteristic of almost all domestic sites in the settled Eastern seaboard (the “Carolina Pattern”), and others that seemed to characterize frontier sites or sites with more specialized functions. South’s Carolina Pattern, as shown in the left half of Table 1, makes sense when one considers the way in which artifacts were used on a domestic house site that was occupied for decades, or longer. A large number of items such as nails, hinges, bricks, and pane glass would have been used in construction. But these items were not used on an everyday basis, in the way that pottery or food was utilized. So on a dwelling site, one would expect large numbers of the architectural artifacts that were used in construction, but an even larger amount of material related to the kitchen, items used for food preparation, storage, and consumption. On the average site examined by South, the percentage of kitchen-related artifacts in the entire artifact assemblage was 63.1%, while architectural material comprised 25.5% (and the percentages of other artifact groups also can be seen in the table).
Kitchen Architecture Furniture Arms Clothing Personal Tobacco Activities Total
Carolina Pattern Mean % % Range 63.1 51.8 - 69.2 25.5 19.7 - 31.4 0.2 0.1 - 0.6 0.5 0.1 - 1.2 3.0 0.6 - 5.4 0.2 0.1 - 0.5 5.8 1.8 - 13.9 1.7 0.9 - 2.7 100.0
11G8 Pattern Count 1,126 431 0 5 22 0 8 206 1,798 % 62.6 24.0 0 0.3 1.2 0 0.4 11.4 99.9
Table 1. 11G8 artifact percentages compared to South’s Carolina Pattern
By contrast, short-lived sites on the frontier typically have a much higher percentage of architectural objects - although the number of nails and other construction items would be the same as on sites back in more settled areas (how many nails does it take to build one house?), the short duration of occupation left far less time for kitchen debris to accumulate. So the relative frequency, or percentage, of artifacts in the kitchen and architecture groups might be reversed on a frontier site, as compared to a settled site of the Carolina Pattern. An industrial site, or place that had another very different function, could be expected to show quite different artifact patterns than either the Caroline or Frontier patterns. Although the patterns used by South are characteristic of entire sites, they also can be used to glean hints about smaller areas, or portions of a site. The right hand columns of Table 1 show the numbers and percentages of artifacts from 11G8 that fall into South’s groups. Most of these percentages fall into the Carolina Pattern. Given the short occupation span of the Pluckemin site, this clearly indicates a very domestic character to the functions associated with the garbage deposit, and presumably the adjacent barrack. This is quite different than what one would expect in workshops, for example, thus supporting the identification of the adjacent building as barracks.
Count 680 90 82 31 883
Ceramic Type Chinese export porcelain Refined earthenwares Unrefined earthenwares Stonewares Totals Table 2. Ceramics from 11G8
% 77.0 10.2 9.2 3.5 99.9
What is more interesting in this case, perhaps, is some of the patterns seen within South’s groups. Out of the total number of 1,126 kitchen artifacts, almost 20% were from bottles, most of which would have held wine or spirits. While this is not out of line with the frequency of bottle glass on other military sites such as Fort Moultrie (South 1977:150), it does suggest that officers at Pluckemin had plenty of access to alcoholic beverages. The largest percentage of artifacts in the kitchen group in 11G8 was ceramics, making up 78% of the category. Compared with the paucity of ceramics at sites such as Valley Forge, this is a startling number. Multiple excavations at the Virginia Brigade huts at Valley Forge recovered only 67 sherds of pottery, while Wayne’s Brigade produced 281 sherds, Maxwell’s Brigade 12 sherds, and Conway’s Brigade area only one (Parrington, Schenck, & Thibaut 1984). In other words, this single refuse scatter at Pluckemin, home to a single brigade, yielded more than twice as many ceramics (883 sherds) as were found on four brigade sites at Valley Forge combined (361 sherds). This says something significant about the level of supply in the winter of 1778-1779, compared to the previous winter, and it certainly suggest a vast improvement. Equally startling is the type of ceramics that were recovered in 11G8. All Americans know about the duties placed on tea prior to outbreak of war, which reduced its use. One might assume that the British blockade would have restricted its availability during the war. Similarly, we could expect that supplies of luxury or high status items such as Chinese export porcelain were in relatively short supply in the United States during the Revolution. It is easy to assume that troops in the field would not commonly have used such items, even if their civilian counterparts had access them. Yet over three-quarters of the ceramics from 11G8 were Chinese porcelain, almost all from tea service (Figures 7-8).
Figure 7. Chinese export porcelain rim sherds from 11G8 (three sherds, mended)
Figure 8. Chinese export porcelain base sherds from 11G8 (four sherds, mended) 11
The kinds of ceramics found here contrast markedly with those encountered in other areas of the Pluckemin cantonment, such as the “New Line of Barracks” adjacent to the Academy. The “New Line” housed seven companies of enlisted men from Lamb’s Company. In that area, more than three-quarters of the ceramic assemblage was made up of unrefined earthenware, such as less highly fired redwares, a cheaper material than either refined earthenware (e.g. creamware, pearlware) or porcelain.
Ceramic Type Porcelain Refined earthenware Unrefined earthenware Salt-glazed stoneware White salt-glazed stoneware Totals
11G6 1 3 12 0 0 16
Count 11G10 7 16 95 2 3 123
11G17 0 3 13 0 1 17
Total of 3 units Count % 8 5.1 22 14.1 120 76.9 2 1.3 4 2.6 156 100
Table 3. Ceramics from the New Line of Barracks (Seidel 1987:513, Table 24)
This pattern is repeated in other enlisted barracks at Pluckemin and points to two quite distinct classes at the site. There are at least three possible distinctions in rank or status on military sites. The first and most obvious is military rank, with officers ranking higher in the pecking order than enlisted men. The second type of rank is social status, and the third is economic status. It is useful to make the distinctions, because although the three are clearly related, there is not necessarily a correlation. Theoretically, a high standing in one category does not guarantee a high position in another. It is always possible, for example, to have wealth and not be accepted in “polite society,” while “good breeding,” on the other hand, has never been an assurance of success. It also is theoretically possible for an individual of low socio-economic status to achieve high rank in the military. Although difficult, it did sometimes happen. For a long time these distinctions were ignored in histories of the American Revolution, perhaps because such gradations were thought to be inconsistent with the ideals for which the army supposedly fought. The emphasis placed on the privations experienced by officers and men alike at Valley Forge, for example, no doubt reinforced this view. Historians now recognize that over the course of the War for Independence the Continental Army increasingly linked military rank with socioeconomic status. Porcelain is infrequently found on other American Revolutionary War sites, and it was both a status symbol and presumably more expensive than other ceramics. The overwhelming concentration of porcelain in the officer’s quarters at Pluckemin points to a correlation of all three standings in the American officer corps. It provides a graphic confirmation of recent scholarship and emphasizes the gulf between officers and men. The social function of porcelain is important in this regard, as the 11G8 materials are primarily from tea service. The importance of the tea ceremony in the Anglo world of the 18th century as an expression of social status was demonstrated long ago by Roth (1961) for civilian society, and archaeologist Leland Ferguson (1973) explored its use by British officers in America as a means of reinforcing their rank and higher social status than their soldiers.
The high frequency of porcelain in this single Pluckemin deposit suggests that American artillery officers used it frequently, and perhaps in the same way. This evidence from the ground also makes it clear that officers such as Samuel Shaw, General Knox’s aide, were not exaggerating when writing (Shaw 1847: letter to William Knox, May 27, 1779):
You know what an agreeable circle of ladies this Stat [New Jersey] afforded us two years ago … it is since much enlarged, so that we can (in the military stile) at a moment’s warning parade a score or two. We had a tea party last Tuesday afternoon, and in the evening what we call a social hop. We have several times been honored with the ladies company on such occasions [sic], when they have always expressed the highest satisfaction.
The evidence from a lowly trash pit, hidden from view in the rear of the officers’ barracks, thus provides us with a telling glimpse into the social life of officers at Pluckemin. When combined with evidence from excavations elsewhere on the site and with documentary evidence, the scene stands in stark contrast to Valley Forge. American officers had access to tea and to high status goods. There were distinct differences between their material world and that of their soldiers, not just in the shape of their barracks, but also in what they used inside those barracks and how they behaved. They entertained local ladies, and the tea ceremony reinforced the gap between officers and enlisted men, pointing to a hierarchy based on more than just military rank. Although this is but a small piece of the evidence, it suggests an American army that was better supplied and reflected the more traditional hierarchies of 18th century armies. Despite the tea, the Continentals were becoming more professional.
Ferguson, Leland 1973 Analysis of Ceramic Materials from Fort Watson, December 1780 – April 1781. Conference on Historic Sites Archaeology Papers. Vol. 8:2-28.
Parrington, Schenck & Thibaut 1984 The Material World of the Revolutionary War Soldier at Valley Forge. The Scope of Historical Archaeology. Edited by David G. Orr and Daniel G. Crozier. The Laboratory of Anthropology, Temple University, Philadelphia.
Roth, Rodris 1961 Seidel, John L. 1983 1987 "Archaeological Research at the 1778-1779 Winter Cantonment of the Continental Artillery, Pluckemin, New Jersey," Northeast Historical Archaeology, Vol. 12: 7-14. The Archaeology of the American Revolution: A Reappraisal & Case Study at the Continental Artillery Cantonment of 1778-1779, Pluckemin, New Jersey. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. "'China Glaze' Wares on Sites from the American Revolution: Pearlware Before Wedgwood?" in Historical Archaeology Vol. 24, No. 1:82-95. "The Winter of 1778-1779 at Pluckemin" in Flintlock and Powderhorn, Vol. 11, No. 1:4-11. Tea Drinking in 18th Century America: Its Etiquette and Equipage. Contributions to the Museum of History and Technology, Paper 14. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
1995a "Military Industry in the New Nation" in Invisible America, ed. by Mark Leone & Neil Silberman. Henry Holt & Company, New York. 1995b "'Class Warfare': The American Militia System" in Invisible America, ed. by Mark Leone & Neil Silberman. Henry Holt & Company, New York. 2012a The Continental Artillery at Pluckemin & Middlebrook, 1778-1779. Report submitted to the Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House, Bedminster, New Jersey. Washington College Public Archaeology Laboratory, Chestertown, Maryland. 2012b Patterns on the Ground: Surface Archaeology at the 1778-1779 Pluckemin Cantonment. Report submitted to the Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House, Bedminster, New Jersey. Washington College Public Archaeology Laboratory, Chestertown, Maryland.
2012c Barracks on an Elegant Plan: Excavations in the Artificers’ Quarters, Southeast Line, Knox;s Artillery Cantonment of 1778-1779. Report submitted to the Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House, Bedminster, New Jersey. Washington College Public Archaeology Laboratory, Chestertown, Maryland. 2012d Arming the Troops: the Gunsmith’s Shop at Pluckemin, 1778-1779. Report submitted to the Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House, Bedminster, New Jersey. Washington College Public Archaeology Laboratory, Chestertown, Maryland. Sekel, Clifford, Jr. 1972 Shaw, Samuel 1847 South, Stanley 1977 Method & Theory in Historical Archaeology. Academic Press, New York. The Journals of Major Samuel Shaw. Josiah Quincy (ed.). Boston. The Continental Artillery in Winter Encampment at Pluckemin, New Jersey, December, 1778 – June 1779. Master of Arts thesis. Wagner College, Staten Island, New York.
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