Thursday, February 21, 2013

Archaeologists Search for Traces of the War of 1812 at Nottingham


This week, we'll explore some recent discoveries in Prince George's County courtesy of Mike Lucas and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission

Department of Parks and Recreation Unearths Clues to the War of 1812 at Nottingham, Maryland

During 1813 and 1814 British and American troops clashed at many sites along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay—often referred to as the Chesapeake campaign of the War of 1812. The most significant events of the Chesapeake campaign happened during the summer and fall of 1814, culminating in the British attack on Fort McHenry at Baltimore. A major component of the Chesapeake campaign was the British march on Washington DC. On their march toward the capital, British ground troops established several encampments, including one on the outskirts of the small village of Nottingham, Maryland.

Archaeology program staff of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) Department of Parks and Recreation are in the midst of a three year historical and archaeological project to explore the War of 1812 at Nottingham—a project with two basic goals:

1.       Locate, define and gather information about the British encampment on the outskirts of town.
2.       Determine the role that the town of Nottingham played in the War of 1812.

MNCPPC Archaeologists mapping artifacts in the field - Archaeology in Action!
Nottingham is located on the Patuxent River in eastern Prince George’s County, Maryland, approximately 20 miles southeast of Washington DC.  The town of Nottingham was established by the Maryland General Assembly in 1706 and continued to thrive as an important economic port throughout the eighteenth century.  An official tobacco inspection station established in the town in 1747 solidified Nottingham as a player in the lucrative regional tobacco trade.  Nottingham reached its height of prosperity during the nineteenth century with an ever-expanding steamboat trade with Baltimore. 

Town of Nottingham, as mapped in 1861
The War of 1812 came to Nottingham just as it was becoming the primary anchor community for southern Prince George’s County.

In the summer of 1814 British Rear Admiral George Cockburn ordered ground troops under the command of Major General Robert Ross and naval forces led by Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane to attack Washington from the southeast via the Patuxent River.  This two-pronged assault began at Benedict, Maryland, roughly 30 miles to the south. 

Over 4,100 ground troops landed at Benedict on August 19, 1814 with two goals in mind: 1) to deliver a demoralizing blow to the Americans by sacking the capital, and 2) to capture the small fleet of shallow draft barges used by Commodore Joshua Barney to harass the British war ships.  Cochrane chased Barney upstream while at the same time supplying their ground forces on the shore as needed.  British troops established the base camp at Nottingham, which was along the way, on August 21.

Department of Parks and Recreation Fieldwork at Nottingham

At Nottingham, a fieldwork strategy has been employed, which combines:

Traditional shovel testing
Excavation units  
Geophysical testing

We have completed the first phase of archaeology and have gathered enough information to plan phases two and three of the project.

What’s Been Unearthed at the British Encampment

Based on historical research, we laid out a 200-by-400-foot-north-south oriented excavation block at the encampment site for metal detector survey and identified 729 artifacts. Over 500 of these artifacts were generic nail or spike fragments, but many were related to the British encampment. 

We found: A single bayonet tip; two British half pennies; lead artifacts, including two possible flint pads and a chunk of partially melted lead bar stock; a variety of generic buttons, one with the 75th regiment insignia; a strap and stock buckle; four iron worms, which were used for cleaning the barrels of Brown Bess muskets; a George III Half Penny; several horse shoes, and 62 unfired musket balls (about .67 to .69 caliber).

  Three musket balls recovered from the encampment.  All of the musket balls have been cut, except for two(this was presumably done to increase their destructive power).

Conserved worms used to extract musket shot lodged in the barrel.


Brass button with the 75th Regiment insignia.

Photo of a stockbuckle.

George III Half Penny.

Preliminary data suggest several directions for future research. The concentration of artifacts near Nottingham road may suggest that the rear guard was concerned with protecting the encampment from attack from this primary road into town.  Unfired musket balls combined with the lead bar stock indicate the production of munitions on site, perhaps while the rear guard was waiting for the return of the main army.

One of the goals of the next phase will be to test other areas of the field to determine the extent of encampment debris and to detect other activity areas.

What We’re Learning about the Town of Nottingham

We’ve recovered over 23,000 artifacts where Nottingham town buildings were anticipated through a total of 738 shovel tests.  Subsurface features were identified in most of the areas tested.  Nearly half the artifacts were recovered from the 1.5 acre portion of Nottingham known to have contained commercial buildings.  This may have also been an area used by Commodore Joshua Barney when he occupied the town with his flotilla men during the summer of 1814, so we have targeted this lot for future testing.  We designated this portion of the site the Stamp lot.

The identification of several features coupled with the distribution of artifacts support a number of preliminary conclusions about the early nineteenth-century occupation of the Stamp lot.  First, the volume of artifacts suggests that the north half acre of the lot was the most intensely developed, with one deep feature, probably a cellar and at least two early nineteenth-century refuse deposits discovered during shovel testing.  Comparatively few nineteenth-century artifacts were recovered from the southern portion. 

There is tremendous potential for additional archaeological excavations at the Stamp lot based on our historical research and preliminary archaeological survey.  The Stamp lot provides an opportunity to study how a single commercial block changed from just before the American Revolution to the end of the War of 1812 and perhaps aid in determining the economic impact of both wars.

Our next phase of archaeology will begin this spring with comprehensive geophysical testing at the encampment site and the Stamp lot, followed by limited text excavations based on the magnetometer and GPR (ground penetrating radar) data.

M-NCPPC Archaeologists sharing their findings at the Nottingham Public Day! 
There will be more Public Days in April, so stay tuned and we'll let you know when that happens and how you can get involved - meanwhile, the volunteer coordinator for archaeology is Kristin Montaperto: kristin.montaperto@pgparks.com. 


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