Friday, September 12, 2014

Archaeology of the War of 1812

Now you can read more about some of the War of 1812 sites we've discussed in this blog - and learn about many others! Archaeology of the War of 1812, edited by Julie Schablitsky and Michael Lucas, is now available. All proceeds are being donated to the Society for Historical Archaeology's Student Endowment Fund. 

This is the first summary of archaeological contributions to our understanding of the War of 1812, published as the war commemorates its 200th anniversary. The contributors of original papers discuss recent excavations and field surveys that present an archaeological perspective that enriches-- and often conflicts with—received historical narratives. The studies cover fortifications, encampments, landscapes, shipwrecks, and battles in the midwestern, southern, mid-Atlantic, and northeastern regions of the United States and in Canada. In addition to archaeologists, this volume will appeal to military history specialists and other historians.

You can view the Table of Contents right here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Farmstead, Fort and Tavern: Williams Fort in White County, Illinois

Hello and apologies for the long hiatus in archaeology posts! Today's post is a fascinating study by Cally Lence and Monica Shah Lomas of American Resources Group. Williams Fort, located in White County, Illinois, offers a rare glimpse into a small, family run farmstead and tavern that experienced dramatic change during the War of 1812.

Williams Fort was occupied from about 1811 to 1838 by Aaron and Tabitha Williams. American Resources Group tested and mitigated the site for White County Coal of Carmi, Illinois, in 2005 and 2006. The site principally functioned as a farmstead but was briefly fortified during the War of 1812 period and served as a rural tavern during the 1820s and 1830s.

Williams Fort is in Hawthorne Township within White County on a sandy ridge at the eastern margin of a historic prairie in the lower Wabash River valley of southeastern Illinois. This 1876 state atlas map contains superimposed data from multiple sources, most notably the extent of Big Prairie (in green) in 1809, and the locations of six forts estimated from a combination of old hand-drawn maps and descriptions in the 1883 county history. These civilian defenses were supported by an organized militia stationed in the prairie. Aaron and Tabitha Williams moved to Big Prairie in ca. 1811. A historical account of the New Madrid earthquake, the first of which occurred on December 16, 1811, ties the family to the area by then as one of their daughters was badly burned while cooking when the earthquake hit.

 When we began the Phase II testing project at the Williams Fort site in 2005, we were not expecting to discover any evidence of a blockhouse or fort. In fact, previous investigations by another group suggested only the possibility of a tavern at the site. Unmistakable sections of the stockade wall trench began to emerge during the testing phase and was exposed in full during the mitigation phase of the project.

The stockade wall formed a roughly squared enclosure with an elongated southeastern corner. A squared bastion projected from the center of the north wall, and a gate was located directly opposite on the south wall. Baked clay and daub recovered along the stockade footprint would have been used to chink gaps between the posts. The slightly irregular stockade footprint meant that existing buildings had been incorporated into the enclosure.

The stockade wall appeared to contain four horizontal log buildings. Openings at the southwest and southeast corners were interpreted as the location of two blockhouses. The one at the southeast corner was the first or main blockhouse judging by the significant activity occurring to the southeast. Compacted subsoil at the proposed blockhouse locations suggests dirt-floored buildings. Two rectangular cabins—the earliest buildings at the site, joined by the bastion, were located at the two openings along the north wall.

No wells or cisterns were located within the enclosure meaning that little time was spent inside. While the absence of a water source within a fort was not unusual based on comparative data, it was certainly more precarious judging by accounts of settlers being attacked or killed while fetching water.

The height of the Williams’ stockade was extrapolated from known building techniques to average 11 feet with some deeper-set taller posts ranging from 12 to 14 feet.

The taller posts may have been used for special functions like the two associated with the gate accommodating a set of hinged swinging doors on the south wall. This was the only provenience where numerous modified antler tips and tines were found.

The hypothesized cabins on the north wall each contained shallow, rectangular subfloor pit cellars (Features 2 and 19) with very high artifact and faunal density. These were the two earliest features, and interestingly, they also produced most of the site’s gunflints and lead balls. Though there is no written record of Williams Fort having been attacked, three Kaskaskia iron arrow points recovered here and at a neighboring farmstead that was excavated at the same time offer strong evidence of conflict with the local Indians. 

The site’s first well (Feature 16) was found under and just outside the stockade wall trench. This feature offers the best evidence for the construction of the fort after the site was already established. This well is thought to have collapsed during the 1811 earthquake and might be the reason it was filled and not included within the stockade. 
Three activity areas were identified outside of the stockade: Area 1, in the center; Area 2, to the south; and Area 3, the site periphery to the north and east. Artifact assemblages from the features suggest that there was a progression of development from north to south at the site.

The most intensively used activity area outside the enclosure was Area 1, which is adjacent to the southeastern corner of the stockade and is associated with the farmstead and tavern. Area 2 is located about 20 m south of the fort. The types of features, artifacts, and density of faunal remains support food processing activities, such as smoking, curing, and butchering occurring here.

The well (Feature 42/50) in Area 2 is the site’s second well, though it was still built very early, probably right after the first well collapsed during the 1811 earthquake. Due to its location directly south of the gate, it would have been easily accessible from the fort when confined within the stockade. This well was located in the floor of a square cellar almost 5 feet below the surface. A large number of redware storage vessel fragments from this feature is indicative of a cold storage function on the upper “shelf” of the well. Post molds around the periphery of the feature may have been supports for a building, possibly a barn. Adjacent to the south side of the cellar and well was a midden dense with faunal remains.

Area 3 encompasses the eastern and northern peripheries of the site. The most significant aspect of this area was the identification of at least four fire pits, which are thought to represent campfires associated with the militia during the first decade of site occupation.

The largely vacant space within the stockade, in conjunction with the fact that published accounts by two early travelers in 1817 made no mention of a stockade, indicates the fortification had been dismantled early on, probably around 1815 after the potential threat of Indian attack had diminished with the close of the war. 

More than 2,300 historic artifacts were collected, three-quarters of which were associated with food preparation, storage, and service vessels. The Feature 7 well directly east of the stockade was the site’s last well based on artifact analysis. The contents of this well also offer the best evidence for a rural tavern in the final years of occupation, specifically this cache of artifacts found in one massive heap in the well. Aaron and Tabitha Williams’ probate records also support the presence of a tavern based on the inventory of 31 bed sheets, two trumpets possibly used to herald arrivals and departures of stage and mail coaches, and a large number of tea and tablewares and serving vessels.

The closest redware potteries to the site would have been 8 miles northeast in New Harmony, Indiana, and 20 miles north in Albion and Wansborough, Illinois. One small redware fragment with a bright green copper glaze is French in origin. The stoneware was probably made out east since it was generally not being produced in Illinois before the 1830s. One stoneware fragment bears an incised exterior decoration painted in cobalt with an outline of a house or cabin—a design that was popular from the late 18th century to the 1840s.

Decorative motifs on tea and tablewares are primarily handpainted fineline floral soft pastel and earthtone varieties that were popular in the 1810s and 1820s.

This rich glassware assemblage is very rare for a rural frontier-period site in southern Illinois and provides the best evidence for a tavern dating to the late 1820s through the 1830s. Vessels in the collection include pattern-molded flasks, a large molded beehive bottle, large globular bottles, cylindrical bottles, tumblers, stemmed glassware, a decanter, a salt cellar, a pocket flask, a cruet or caster for condiments, and several wine or port bottles.

Among the personal and sewing artifacts was a British military button from an officer’s coat that dates to the late 18th to early 19th century. The silver coin is a cut Spanish Real 1 also known as a “piece of 8".

Based on the architectural assemblage, windows on the buildings at Williams Fort were covered with animal skins, fabric, or greased paper rather than glass, and log construction was utilized. Wells are thought to have been lined with wood. A relatively large sample of horseshoe nails and equestrian artifacts compared to other farmstead sites in the region may be indicative of a higher than average number of travelers or visitors to the site. 

Williams Fort was abandoned by 1838 after Aaron Williams died. Although Tabitha lived for four more years, the 1840 census reported her living in her son’s household, probably nearby but not at the site.
The fortification was strictly civilian in nature but more extensive than was suggested by written accounts and produced important comparative data on an early 19th century fortified farmstead in southern Illinois. Although noted in the literature as a blockhouse, our excavations revealed a stockade wall with two log blockhouses at the southwest and southeast corners and a bastion flanked by two log cabins on the north wall. The Williams Fort stockade wall was taken down around 1815, and the residence and activity areas moved from the north towards the southeast and south. 

Aaron and Tabitha Williams never applied for a tavern licence, and the only evidence for a tavern at the site was from the probate records and the excavation of the terminal-period well yielding a large primary deposit of drinking and food service vessels supporting a public establishment during the final decade of site occupation. This may have been a more formal expansion of activities already occurring at the site as settlers’ forts served as community centers and gathering places.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Check out Caulk's Field this Weekend!

How often do you get to witness a battle reenactment based on a complete archaeological analysis of a battlefield? Probably never - but if you can get out to Kent County, Maryland this weekend, you will have a chance to witness archaeology coming alive! That's just so cool. You should totally go.

Schedule of events is right here, even more information about goings-on in Kent County right here, and our post about the archaeology of Caulk's Field is right here!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Brookeville 1814

The town of Brookeville, Maryland has a new interactive website highlighting the town's involvement in the War of 1812! Here is what it's all about:
As the sun set on August 26, 1814, a weary James Madison rode into the town of Brookeville, Maryland. The President of the United States had been on the move for nearly three days since he left Washington ahead of the British troops marching to capture the city.
In Brookeville, the President found a small but prosperous industrial town overflowing with other refugees from Washington. After a night spent at the home of leading residents Caleb and Henrietta Bentley, Madison and his attendants returned to Washington the next morning. His stay made the town "U.S. Capital for a Day," a title the town still proudly claims today.
Brookeville 1814 explores the people and community that welcomed the President and the town's place in American history.
Check it out here:

Find out about upcoming War of 1812 events in Brookeville here:

And check out the pictures of the archaeological dig at Madison House right here:

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Archaeological Potential of a Burned Capital

Today's post comes to us from Kevin Bradley, a former intern for DC's Historic Preservation Office through the Washington DC District Leader Program (DLP). Kevin recently completed his Master's degree in Public Anthropology at American University, and is currently working for JMA in Philadelphia. While he was still with the DC HPO, he addressed a problem familiar to every urban archaeologist: how much has the intensive development of the modern landscape obscured (or obliterated) the physical remains of the past?

The Archaeological Potential of a Burned Capital 

Recently, the Washington, DC Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO) Archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Trocolli, and her staff incorporated the GIS Cut/Fill tool in their efforts to identify archaeological sites within the city. Since August 24th and 25th of this year will be the 200th anniversary of the burning of the capital by the British Army, we decided to explore a few notable sites from the invasion in 1814 to find out what this new analysis would add to an understanding of the city’s history.

One of the main responsibilities of the DC HPO Archaeologist is to ensure the integrity of the city’s archaeological resources. Quite often this means providing information and as much guidance as possible to archaeological companies contracted to conduct studies within the District, such as historic documents, maps, references, and geographical information systems (or GIS) data. GIS, in particular, is an extremely valuable resource for archaeologists. The DC HPO uses GIS to map previously discovered sites and locations of surveys, as well as landscape features. In other words, it helps archaeologists keep track of the ever-changing urban environment in Washington, DC, including the construction of roads, bridges, and buildings, the installment of numerous utilities, and the changing elevations and shorelines of the city. All of these activities may have an impact on archaeological remains. The GIS tool, “Cut/Fill”, helps archaeologists understand these changes to the landscape even better.

What is a Cut/Fill analysis? It is a simply a method of calculating the elevation changes in a landscape over a period of time. Most cities are not built on unaltered terrain. Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure are easier to build on relatively flat surfaces. Therefore, higher elevations, such as hills, tend to be leveled and low lying spots, like valleys and streams, get filled. Comparing the elevations from, say, an 1888 topographic map and a current topographic map may tell us how much earth has been cut away or added in between the two periods, potentially destroying or preserving buried archaeological features in the process.

Battle of Bladensburg (Copyright Gerry Embleton; Courtesy NPS/Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail)
Washington, DC, like every other city, has changed dramatically since 1814. While excellent archaeological work has been conducted around the city boundary on the site of the Bladensburg Battlefield, little work in the District has focused on the British march through the city. Performing a Cut/Fill analysis of broad areas where these activities took place will help determine if archaeological sites are likely to be present and provide some idea of their integrity. What follows is the result of performing this analysis on a few select sites and what the results indicate about potential material remains.

Eastern Avenue Ortho 2012 (DC HPO GIS)
1888 US Coastal and Geodetic Survey (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA))
The American defeat at Bladensburg on August 24, 1814 completely opened up the nascent capital city to the British. Part of the battle (or at least the retreat) spilled across the current DC/MD boundary. As you can see from the 2012 Orthographic aerial photograph (above), this portion of Washington, DC is heavily urbanized. Fort Lincoln Cemetery (top right of the photo) lies on the Maryland side of the boundary line and abuts the District along its southwest border. The second image shows an 1888 US Coastal and Geodetic Survey map overlaid on top of the 2012 photo. You may be wondering why a map produced 74 years after the event is being used for comparison. Unfortunately, reliably detailed maps of Washington, DC are few and far between prior to about the Civil War. The 1888 map represents one of the more comprehensive early maps. In order to determine elevation change, topographic lines from different time periods must be compared. Once two sets of topographic lines are obtained, a rendering of the terrain can be produced within the GIS program and a Cut/Fill analysis will determine where changes in elevation have occurred.

Eastern Avenue Cut/Fill (DC HPO GIS)
Eastern Avenue Area of Interest (DC HPO GIS)
The image above is a simple outcome from running the analysis. The red represents areas that have been filled (where the soil has increased in volume) and the blue represents areas that have been cut (where the soil has lost volume). Grey represents no change, which you can see from the image, is not common. The degree of cut and fill activity represented in this image is unsurprising given such a developed area. Noticeable in this map are features, such as Bladensburg Road located in the northwest of the cut and fill area, indicated by a thin line of fill, and a creek, present on the 1888 map in the southeast corner, which has since been filled, indicated by the large red blotch in its place. The yellow box in the second image represents an area of interest for the DC HPO archaeology staff – a presumably relatively undisturbed area just across the city boundary from Fort Lincoln Cemetery, where archaeological remains of the battle were previously located.

The British pursued the fleeing Americans southwest along present-day Bladensburg Road until they reached the city gate. Though this area is not specifically identified on maps or in primary sources, it is assumed that the British halted and camped just outside the current intersection of Florida Avenue (then Boundary Street), Bladensburg Road, Benning Road, Maryland Avenue, and 15 Street. The image below was created from the same 1888 topographic map as the previous Cut/Fill analysis. Again, we can see sporadic episodes of cut and fill throughout the area, though lines clearly follow roads and buildings at times. The partially transparent close-up image shows how areas, especially under ball fields and buildings, have been graded to make level surfaces. If you’re wondering why this particular map took such an odd shape, it’s because the production of any map is reliant on available data (see the 1888 map, below). The notch omitted from the Cut/Fill map represents the former site of the Washington Brick Company where no topographic lines were recorded, though the nature of work at brick yards virtually ensured that any archaeological deposits would have been destroyed.

British Encampment Site (DC HPO GIS)
British Encampment Site, Close-Up (DC HPO GIS)
1888 US Coastal and Geodetic Survey, British Encampment Site (NOAA)
While the main force of the British army was camped outside the city gate or still marching down the road from Bladensburg, General Robert Ross, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, and a handful of British soldiers continued down Maryland Avenue towards the US Capitol building to discuss the city’s surrender. A few hundred feet prior to the East Lawn of the Capitol, the British were fired upon from a structure located on the northwest corner of the Constitution Avenue and 2nd Street, NE intersection – the current location of the Sewall-Belmont House. After razing the building, the British 3rd Regiment entered the city and proceeded to burn several public buildings (and a couple private structures) over the course of the following 24 hours.

U.S. Capitol after burning by the British (George Munger, 1814, Library of Congress)

Perhaps most infamously (for Americans), the British showed no hesitation in storming up Capitol Hill and setting fire to the still incomplete government structure that sat atop it, incinerating the House of Representatives, as well as collections that comprised the Library of Congress (LOC). While the British soldiers supposedly set up camp on the East Lawn of Capitol Hill, General Ross established his headquarters in the private home of Dr. James Ewell; an end row house on the northeast corner of 1st and A Streets SE (the former intersection can be seen in the 1872 map below).

Carroll Row, ca. 1880 (Levin Handy, Library of Congress)
1872 Bastert-Enthoffer Topographic Map (Library of Congress)
The 1888 US Coastal and Geodetic Survey used to produce the two previous Cut/Fill maps did not record elevation data in the city proper (the historic federal city). Therefore, the 1872 Bastert-Enthoffer Topographic map (above) was used in its place. The 1872 topographic map also provides elevation data at five-foot intervals; though, you may notice that the topographic lines are not as detailed as the 1888 map, meaning fewer elevation points were likely obtained to create those lines. Hence, the resulting Cut/Fill map may be less precise in its measurements than previous maps.

Capitol Hill Cut/Fill (DC HPO GIS)
Nevertheless, the Cut/Fill map of Capitol Hill (above) produced expected patterns (i.e., cut and fill along roads and the edges of squares). If we trust the reliability of this map, though, a large swath of the East Lawn of the Capitol has been cut away, unfortunately, removing any potential evidence of a campsite. Dr. Ewell’s house, however, appears to be located in an area of fill. The Cut/Fill map, though, may not always tell us everything we need to know…

Library of Congress construction, 1889 (Levin Handy, LOC)
The image above shows the construction of the current LOC building in 1893 on the site where Dr. Ewell’s house once stood. Notice the depth cut for the foundation of the LOC most assuredly affected any potential archaeological remains. The point is that while a Cut/Fill map may indicate an area of fill, archaeologists must incorporate other research to determine whether intact buried historic layers remain.

These are just a few of the sites related to the British invasion of Washington, DC. From the Capitol, the British spread out through the city and burnt or ensured the destruction of other notable structures, such as the President’s Mansion (White House), the Navy Yard, the US Treasury, and others, before exiting the city on the night of the 25th.

The DC HPO is in possession of few confirmed artifacts related to the War of 1812.  Archaeology presents a unique opportunity to inform current DC citizens of and connect them to this extremely formative and often overlooked event in the city’s (and country’s) history. The Cut/Fill tool is a valuable first step in exploring the archaeological viability of these sites. Of course, archaeologists will never know the validity of any desktop analysis until shovels are actually put in the ground, but the potential of this GIS tool to predict intact site locations seems promising.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Meet William Beanes

Here's an interesting event: you can join The Center for a Healthy Maryland for the Fifth Annual Hunt Lectureship on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. This year’s speaker is Paul Plamann, Park Ranger at Fort McHenry, who portrays MedChi Founder, William Beanes, M.D.

Dr. Beanes, a country physician from Southern Maryland, was taken captive by the British Army and Francis Scott Key was dispatched to negotiate for his release. While doing so, the Battle of Baltimore began, and Fort McHenry was bombed for more than 25 hours. When the smoke cleared, Key and Beanes could see the massive flag flying over Fort McHenry, and knew that the Fort had not fallen and Baltimore was safe. Francis Scott Key was moved to write the verses which became our national anthem – the Star-Spangled Banner. You can read more about the fascinating life of Dr. Beanes right over here at the MedChi blog.

The Fifth Annual Hunt Lectureship will begin with a reception at 5:45 and the lecture will begin at 6:30 with the singing of the National Anthem. Tickets are free, but reservations are necessary. Please e-mail, or call 410-539-0872, ext 3337.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MedChi and the War of 1812

MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, is now a partner of Maryland's War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission! The Medical Society was originally known as the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland, but nowadays that's been shortened to MedChi. MedChi was founded in 1799, and fortunately for everyone, they maintain an archive that documents their long and fascinating history.

In 1814, MedChi’s physicians were present at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore, and nearly 30 of their physicians were involved in other War of 1812 battles. The MedChi archive's blog will feature several articles about MedChi members' role in the war over the next few months. You can check out their blog right here:, and start learning about early 19th-century medical practices!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Go Dig Hampstead Hill!

Are you in Baltimore, or do you plan to visit soon? If so, you should head out to Patterson Park, where Baltimore Heritage and their partners are conducting an archaeological investigation looking for the remains of the fortified line that defended Baltimore from a British land attack during and after the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. The project is an opportunity to research the history of the battle, celebrate Baltimore’s history, and preserve Hampstead Hill and the Eastern Defensive Line for future generations to discover.

You can find out more about the project here, or sign up to volunteer here, or just check out their Open House on April 19th (more information here). I have it on very good authority that they're finding all kinds of cool stuff!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mystery on the Maumee

This week, we have a fascinating article from Patrick M. Tucker, RPA, of Firelands Archaeological Research Center in Amherst, Ohio. I recruited him as a guest blogger when I read an article he wrote with David Stothers in Northwest Ohio History. This project focuses on a frontier settlement in Ohio called Port Miami, and the long, strange story of how Port Miami was lost, almost found, almost found again, and finally really found through diligent historical research and the revisiting of an old and almost forgotten archaeological collection. That archaeological collection, and the excavation of the site (18Wo50), led to the discovery of a really remarkable piece of history that had been overlooked for 200 years - and it was a very exciting story, too. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Note: Port Miami was known variously as Port Miami, the Port of Miami, Miami Rapids, and Maumee Rapids, among other combinations. For the sake of clarity, I have changed all references to the town's name to "Port Miami," although this name was by no means agreed upon historically. The river near the settlement is known today as the Maumee, so I refer to it as such, although it likewise has had many names in the past.


By Patrick M. Tucker, RPA
Firelands Archaeological Research Center, Amherst, Ohio

The historian Donald Hickey has famously called the War of 1812 “America’s forgotten war,” but forgotten or not, the war was particularly hard-fought along the Detroit frontier. In North America and Canada, over 45 battles were fought during the course of the entire conflict. Three of the five worst actions in terms of the number of Americans killed, wounded, and captured were all fought near Lake Erie’s western basin. Those three battles were the siege and surrender of Detroit (2,340 men lost on August 16, 1812), the battles and massacre of the River Raisin (1,067 between January 17-19, 1813), and the first and second sieges of Fort Meigs (938 between April 28-May 9 and July 21-27, 1813).

But what happened to the small American frontier settlements and communities in the Midwestern part of the country, caught in the web of military action between Great Britain, her native allies, and the United States? History, for the most part, remains silent on this aspect of the war. There must have been dozens of frontier settlements in the present-day states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin that faced the problem fight or flight during the War of 1812. This is the story of one such settlement.

The Mysterious Village

Early military reports of the War of 1812 near Fort Meigs, Ohio, and late 19th-century reminiscences by early settlers suggested the existence of a previously unknown and mysterious settlement along the Maumee River prior to the construction of Fort Meigs in 1813.

Elias Darnell, a volunteer soldier with the Kentucky militia stationed at Fort Meigs, kept a journal. On January 16, 1813, he noted the solemn appearance and majestic beauty of the rural landscape, draped in a blanket of white snow. He remarked that the only signs of human settlement were the brick chimneys of ruined houses, their former owners apparently long gone and unknown. Less than a month later, Captain Daniel Cushing, commander of a gun battery of the 2nd U.S. Light Artillery Regiment at Fort Meigs, fired a cannon ball from the fort, across the Maumee River, where it landed short of its intended target and bounced into the only abandoned house still standing among the ruins of this unknown village. The ruins were mentioned once again in June of 1813 when Samuel Williams, of Chillicothe (Ohio), sent a description and sketch of the area to the editor of the Weekly Register in Baltimore (Maryland) for publication and the interest of its readers concerning the war near Fort Meigs.

Samuel Williams' map of the area around Fort Meigs, Ohio, including the ruin of a village. From the Miami Rapids Weekly Register, Jul 17 1813 V4 No 98
Other clues to the mysterious village’s existence came from celebratory activities and reminiscences of early settlers remembering the War of 1812 in the local community. At a battlefield preservation ceremony conducted at Fort Meigs in 1896 by the Maumee Valley Monumental Association, two women, Esther Purdy Green and Philothe Clark, shared their experiences with the public as young girls who lived as frontier pioneers near the Maumee Rapids in 1812. And, in 1908, hundred of musketballs and other War of 1812 artifacts, including a copper U.S. 1813 cent, washed out of the river bank below and slightly upriver of Fort Meigs. Local historian John Gunckel was eager to attribute these remains to military activities at Fort Meigs, not knowing these objects could have been the result of military action well before Fort Meigs was constructed to defend Ohio from British and Indian military invasion and attack.

Was the village destroyed in fighting during the British and Indian invasion of Ohio after the fall of Detroit in August of 1812? Or had the settlers simply fled, abandoning their homes? What caused the village to disappear, almost without a trace, from the American frontier landscape?

The Discovery of 18Wo50

In 1977, students from the University of Toledo, under David M. Stothers, excavated the Strzesynski site (33Wo50) on the Maumee River floodplain just west of Fort Meigs. The excavations revealed structural remains of an early 19th-century log farmhouse, as well as some prehistoric materials and various other artifacts. Historical investigations, including the examination of the property records, deeds, and other archival sources, had not been conducted. Lesson number one: never dig an historic site without first conducting historical investigations. Historical research will tell you what questions to ask of the site, where to look, and its overall significance to local, regional, and national history.

Excavations at 33Wo50
Among the artifacts recovered from the site were coins, War of 1812 military artifacts (1st and 3rd light artillery regiment buttons, U.S. general service button, scabbard chape, musket sling clasp), crockery, buttons with quality marks, a brass locket with a glass cover, a Britannia ladle handle, a musket ball and shot, iron nails,  brass thimble, a jaw harp, a lead bale seal,a screw driver, a silver-plated Indian brooch, federal-style drawer-pull plates, and a pocket knife with an engraved bone handle.

An assortment of the artifacts recovered at 33Wo50
One of the features identified during the brief excavations, designated Feature 4, contained some of the remains of a structure. The profile or cross-section of this feature showed a cellar hole at the bottom, followed by a layer of fire-reddened clay and a burned structure floor, structural rubble and debris above the floor layer, and the plow zone above this with scattered artifacts and other materials. Cultural contents consisted of foundation stone (large limestone rock slabs and cobbles) above the cellar hole, heat-oxidized limestone mortar, lathe-plaster from the structure’s interior walls, fire-reddened clay, pieces of carbonized wood with mortar still attached, hand-forged and machine-cut iron nails, various early 19th-century artifacts, burnt brick from a collapsed chimney, deformed and discolored window glass (burned or heat-oxidized), and highly corroded sheet iron. This feature probably represented part of the north wall of the farmhouse, which contained the home’s doorway with at least one window facing the Maumee River, which was the primary means of transportation during the pioneer period.

The base of the structure had a limestone rock or slab foundation supporting a wooden floor. Handmade brick recovered from this feature and the general fill of the excavation unit represented a fireplace and chimney. The structure was destroyed by fire at some point, and the debris and rubble with cultural contents slumped into the cellar hole. 

After only a week of test excavations, the property owner visited the site during lunch one day, and asked the field crew what they had found. The principal investigator was away from the site at the time, and the field crew, excited about their interesting discoveries, told the property owner about their findings, including the handful of coins they had recovered.

Excavations at 33Wo50
Later that day, the property owner returned to the site and ordered the archaeologists to pack up their equipment and leave the property. Members of the Toledo Area Aboriginal Research Society (TAARS) at Fort Meigs later observed a backhoe at the site excavating several trenches; it appears that the property owner believed some sort of buried treasure was present on his property. Lesson number two: never let the field crew engage in conversation about the excavations with the property owner. That’s the job of the principal investigator. A simple slip of the tongue can compromise an entire archaeological project.

Preliminary historical research identified Aurora Spafford and his mother, Olive Spafford, as the owners of the farmhouse and property from 1818 to 1823. Amos Spafford, Aurora’s father and Olive’s husband, was a customs collector from 1810 until his death in 1817. Most of the artifacts recovered from the site were consistent with a frontier domestic site dating to the first part of the 19th century; but Stothers was intrigued by small discrepancies in the material culture and the historical documentation. There were a number of War of 1812-period military artifacts among the materials recovered from the site. Were these heirlooms? The only widely known War of 1812 activity that occurred nearby was at Fort Meigs. What was the connection between the Spaffords and the War of 1812?

Lacking funding for further research, and with plenty of other endangered sites to worry about, Stothers moved on to other projects.

18Wo50 was boxed up and shelved for 32 years.

The Spafford Farmstead

In 2009, with the War of 1812 bicentennial approaching, interest in sites with a connection to the war increased, and 18Wo50 was dusted off for a second look. Stothers recalled there were several War of 1812 military artifacts in the 33Wo50 collection that were not satisfactorily reconciled with the historical context of the Spafford farmhouse. Stothers and a former contract archaeologist (the author of this post) began in-depth historical investigations of the site and analysis of its material culture, to see how much of the mystery they could unravel.

The first key piece of evidence they found was a petition written by Amos Spafford to Ohio State Senator Thomas Worthington in 1811. In it, Spafford asked Congress to pass a law giving him the right of pre-emption to purchase his land. 

Spafford’s petition was not a major priority when it was originally received, likely due to the government's preoccupation with the specter of war with Great Britain. The request resurfaced after the War of 1812 in a report to Congress by the Committee on Public Lands in 1816. This report recounted a fascinating history: in August of 1812, the Spaffords, along with several other American families, fled Port Miami to the interior of Ohio, leaving their home and property to be “plundered, burnt, and destroyed." The committee concluded that Spafford had incurred considerable expense in erecting the necessary buildings to accommodate his family and carry out the duties of his office as customs collector and inspector of the revenue at Port Miami. They recommended to Congress approval of the right of pre-emption to purchase the land upon which his homestead had once stood. So Spafford’s house and outbuildings described in 1816 were not his original house and buildings, but had been rebuilt after the War of 1812.

This was the secret concealed from archaeologists in the rubble and debris excavated at 33Wo50 in 1977. It wasn’t a single house, but two separate houses built on the same site during back-to-back occupations. 33Wo50 was a pre- and post-War of 1812 frontier farmstead. The original Spafford house (1810-1812) was destroyed by fire in August of 1812. The second house was built by 1816, and inhabited by the Spafford family until 1823, when Olive Spafford died. The farmhouse was inhabited by another family in 1833, and eventually abandoned due to flooding, which completely destroyed the house by 1858. The Spafford farmhouse, and the other buildings that had once formed the settlement of Port Miami, were soon concealed beneath layers of silt deposited by the Maumee River.

Personal letters and memoirs by Port Miami residents, kept in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, shed still more light on this lost chapter of frontier history. Some of these, but not all, were reprinted in the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections between 1874 and 1924. In 1809, Port Miami was described as a rural village of about 100 inhabitants.

By 1812, Port Miami consisted of about 70 French and English-speaking families, around 280 people. Jean-Baptiste Beaugrand, a partner of the firm Godfroy & Beaugrand, managed a store that sold transnational goods to farmers, traders, and Indians alike. Farms generally consisted of a log house, one or more outhouses, garden, barn, fenced livestock compound, and fenced fields for crops. Amos Spafford had an warehouse and office for his duties as customs collector, and David Hull, nephew of General and Governor William Hull, had a store and warehouse in the settlement. But as the settlement grew, Spafford found that the Port Miami community was deeply divided into contentious pro-Michigan and pro-Ohio factions who vied for political control of the settlement.

Relations were also adversarial between the Port Miami settlers and the local Native Americans. In January of 1812, news of Indian depredations on the frontier prompted Spafford to write Reuben Attwater, Acting Governor of the Michigan Territory at Detroit, asking for arms to be issued to the community’s militia company.

Reports circulating throughout the region claimed that Indians were burning houses, killing cattle, and attacking settlers. Unfortunately, the rumors proved all too true. Indians killed two young men twenty miles east of Sandusky on April 4, 1812; twelve days later, they killed three others near Fort Defiance.  When local settlers brought their bodies into Port Miami on April 19, most Port Miami citizens were ready to flee the settlement for fear of massacre.

Official reports in the Canadian library and archives at Toronto and the Knopf volumes at the Ohio Historical Society revealed that the situation changed drastically when Detroit surrendered to the British on August 16, 1812. The terms of surrender demanded by Major-General Isaac Brock, and agreed to by Brigadier-General Hull, included all American troops who were now prisoners of war. The Michigan and Ohio militia were paroled upon their pledge to remain in an inactive status for the remainder of the war, or suffer hanging if captured again. The surrender included the militia garrisons and military blockhouses at the River Raisin and Port Miami.

Early in the morning of August 21, 1812, Lieutenant John Caris made ready to evacuate the Ohio militia garrison at Port Miami in fear of the British and Indian force at Frenchtown. He informed the remaining residents, about 25 families or 100 individuals, that his detachment would quickly evacuate to Lower Sandusky (now Fremont, Ohio). He urged them to take what provisions they needed from the block-house.

Later that morning, a British and Indian detachment from Fort Malden, Canada headed to Port Miami to accept the surrender of the port facility. The party consisted of Captains Peter Latouche Chambers and William Elliott, both of the British 41st Regiment of Foot, Captains Matthew Elliott and Thomas McKee of the British Indian Department, Captain Charles Askin and Jean-Baptiste Barthe (interpreter) both of the Essex County Militia (Ontario, Canada), Lieutenant Benoit Bender, commander of the British gunboat Chippewa, and some Canadien boatmen, Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, Wyandot Chief Roundhead and his band of Indians.

When Spafford received word of their approach, he immediately gathered his family and several neighbors and headed for the river, where they launched a barge that had descended the river the year before from Fort Wayne (Indiana). Raising a square sail made from a bed blanket, they headed downriver and made cover under old Fort Miami, when they saw flames rising from their deserted homes. While the Indians looted and plundered the houses, Spafford and his little band of fugitives sailed downriver to Miami (Maumee) Bay, where they made their way eastward on Lake Erie, hugging the shoreline, and keeping out of range of rifle shot. The party descended the Huron River, and eventually made it safely to the Quaker settlement at Milan.

Several other families hastily left by wagon south for Urbana (Ohio) through the Black Swamp. Nearly devoured by mosquitoes with no water, except what filled the cattle tracks, the group arrived at Urbana exhausted and hungry after a two week journey. Other Port Miami residents hid in the woods upon arrival of the Indians, and watched from concealed positions as their homes were ransacked, feather beds ripped open and contents scattered to the winds, money and valuables stolen, and their houses burned to the ground.

When Chambers arrived at Port Miami, he was stunned to see its destruction in progress. Tecumseh stopped the Wyandot from burning all the houses and personally saved the life of long-time resident Lewis Bond. The Indians confiscated horses and mules, shot and killed cattle and hogs, drove off other livestock, and burned 26 of the 30 houses. Tecumseh himself set fire to the militia block-house and stockade, which was still burning when Chambers arrived.

When Captain William Elliott and Lieutenant Benoit Bender arrived late in the afternoon on board the gunboat Chippewa with two other smaller vessels, the British loaded all the confiscated public property into the boats and five additional canoes they took from residents. They seized 77 barrels of pork, 18 barrels of flour, nine barrels of whiskey, two barrels of salt, a musket bayonet, a cartridge box, and some soap and candles. The British found no other arms or ammunition, although they suspected such items were hidden somewhere in the village.

Skirmishes continued in the area in the following weeks, but eventually, the British returned to Port Miami in October of 1812 to gather all the livestock and produce left behind and transport it back to Fort Malden. The animals did not cooperate, however, and the detachment soon grew frustrated in their attempts to capture the creatures. Most of the houses and outbuildings still standing at that time were destroyed by fire before the British and their Indian allies departed. The only house left standing was Beaugrand’s house and store, but even this building would soon disappear from the landscape. And so, in a remarkably short period of time, the village of Port Miami was left in ruins, its only inhabitants the hogs and dogs left behind by the unfortunate settlers.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Daughters of the War of 1812

You've probably heard of the Daughters of the American Revolution, but what about the Daughters of the War of 1812?

If you are interested in information about the War of 1812, or researching your family history (especially your 1812 ancestor), Washington D.C. has a boutique library and museum you will not want to miss!  The United States Daughters 1812 Memorial Library and Museum, 1463 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington , DC 20005 is free to the public.

The library has the only collection in Washington, DC that focuses on the period from the end of the American Revolution through the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent in 1815. Indeed, it may be the only such collection in existence. The collection includes the Archives of Pennsylvania, the Archives of Maryland, and similar official publications of those states most involved with this period. Rosters of militia for most of the 18 states in the Union during this time period are also in the Library collection.  There are more than 5,000 titles in the collection representing some 6,000 volumes.

The second floor of the building, occupies the 1812 Museum.  It is an exceptional facility dedicated to the 1784-1815 time period.

Both the library and the museum are usually open Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.  You may call 202-745-1804 to be sure so you don’t waste a trip.  The Library has limited staff so assistance can be provided and we can give you a tour of our beautiful and unique museum.

We regret that Assistance cannot be offered in genealogy or lineage research.  Limited photocopies can be made at a cost of $.20 per page and microfilm copies at $.50 per page.  No photography is allowed in the museum.

For more information, and to view the library’s holdings, visit the Daughters of the War of 1812 on the web at

The British Are Coming Again

"Huzzah, boys! More Rum, More Tobacco!" The British make the most of their time in Alexandria.
Historic Alexandria is planning several commemorative 1812 events this summer and early fall, and as usual they're approaching history with humor and style. On August 31, 2014, there will be a big event at the waterfront, including a British-American rematch tug-o-war, a yacht race, and a cricket match. You can find out all about that right here (, or check out the Historic Alexandria Calendar of Events.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

War of 1812 Events: Alexandria

Starting this month, the Alexandria Lyceum is offering a series of talks about the War of 1812 in Virginia and the D.C. Metro area. Check out their calendar of events or their website to see more!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Following Francis Scott Key

This week, Architectural Historian Rebecca Crew takes us on a tour of historic sites associated with Francis Scott Key, author of The Star-Spangled Banner

Following Francis Scott Key

In honor of the current winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, this blog post will consider the author of our national anthem, Francis Scott Key, and the places that commemorate him. What is the Gold Medal place that best defines Francis Scott Key’s significance?

Portrait of Francis Scott Key, Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Francis Scott Key was born at Terra Rubra on August 1, 1779 in what was then part of Frederick County, but is part of Carroll County.  Terra Rubra is listed in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties as MIHP # CARR-2 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1978. Birthplaces of significant individuals are not normally listed on the NRHP, but Terra Rubra’s association with Francis Scott Key adds to its significance along with its representation of plantation architecture. The combination of NRHP Criterion B and C is likely what qualifies this place for NRHP listing.

Terra Rubra, Keymar, Maryland, birthplace of Francis Scott Key. Wikepedia
Key spent his early childhood at Terra Rubra, and then went to study in Annapolis at St. John’s College and Preparatory School. For seven years, he lived with his great-aunt and great-uncle at the Upton Scott House (MIHP # AA-726), which contributes to the NRHP-listed Annapolis Historic District (MIHP # AA-2046).  St. John’s College, chartered in 1784, was then contained within what is now known as McDowell Hall (MIHP # AA-675).  Key graduated in 1796 and St. John’s College now has a Key Memorial Hall on its campus, but it is a Modern structure designed by the renowned architect Richard Neutra that was not built until 1956-58, falling into the commemorative category of historic sites.

Upton Scott House in Annapolis. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Key married in Annapolis in 1802, and spent some years in Frederick studying law.  Between 1805 and 1808, he purchased a house in Georgetown overlooking the Potomac River. This was Francis Scott Key’s residence when he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the accomplishment for which he is most-well known. 

A photograph of the Key Mansion before it was lost. Via
Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombing of Fort McHenry on the night of September 13-14, 1814 from the Chesapeake Bay.  Key was aboard the British gunship HMS Tonnant with Vice Admiral Cochrane, Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross to negotiate the release of his friend, an Upper Marlboro physician named Dr. William Beanes. As part of the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, a red, white, and blue National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) buoy is located at Key’s approximate location during the bombardment. 

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. Via
After the bombardment, Key was able to return to land. Many histories state that he stayed at a Baltimore hotel known as the Indian Queen Hotel, where he completed his poem.  The Indian Queen Hotel, then owned by John Gadsby (who had formerly owned a tavern in Alexandria, Virginia) was at the southeast corner of Hanover and Baltimore Streets, a site now occupied by the Brutalist-style Morris A. Mechanic  Theatre. Other histories say Key stayed at the Fountain Inn at the northeast corner of Light Street and Lovely Lane (now Redmond Street), which is now a surface parking lot.

In 1805, Key wrote a poem that included the words “star-spangled flag,” and he had set this to the tune “To Anacreon in Heaven” which was originally composed by John Stafford Smith, and had been re-worded as “Adams and Liberty” by Robert Treat Paine for the 1800 political campaign of John Adams. The Smith tune and Key’s new words about the Fort McHenry bombardment were closely tied from the beginning.

There are several explanations for how the poem was originally distributed. The first publishing of the poem, as a hand-bill, may have been produced by Benjamin Edes, a printer at the southwest corner of Baltimore and South Streets, former location of the Baltimore American.  On September 20, 1814, the Baltimore American published the “Defence (sic) of Fort McHenry.” The Baltimore American’s office was at No. 4 Harrison Street.

Key’s great-grandson claimed that soldiers at James MacConkey’s Tavern in Baltimore first sang Key’s poem in late September 1814, and its first public performance is said to have occurred next door to MacConkey’s Tavern at the Holliday Street Theater just a few days later; newspaper accounts verify this occurred October 19, 1814.  The Holliday Street Theatre was damaged by fire in 1873 and it, and the site of MacConkey’s Tavern as well, is now the site of Baltimore’s War Memorial Plaza. 

War Memorial Plaza, Baltimore. Via
Carr’s Music Store (then assigned the address 36 Baltimore Street) published the song (the poem and music together) in November 1814. The Carr family operated music stores in Philadelphia and New York as well as Baltimore, and the song spread quickly through the country, which was still at war with Britain.  36 Baltimore Street, at the northwest corner of Baltimore and Gay Street is now occupied by Baltimore City government’s Charles Enton Building (417 E. Fayette Street).  All these printing and performing sites in Baltimore City are located within the boundaries of the Business and Government Historic District (MIHP # B-3935), which was listed on the NRHP in 1987. 

While the Star-Spangled Banner remained popular after 1814, it did not immediately become our national anthem. During the Civil War, the Star Spangled Banner was the unofficial anthem of the U.S. Army, and around 1890, it became the official song of the U.S. Army and Navy. However, it was not until 1931, during President Herbert Hoover’s administration, that Congress resolved to make the Star-Spangled Banner the National Anthem.  The 117 years between the writing of Key’s poem and its adoption as the national anthem suggests that Key's significance to Americans was not widely recognized during his lifetime, and this is reflected in the varying preservation levels of places associated with his life.

Following the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key continued a life as a lawyer in Washington, DC, arguing cases at the Supreme Court, and serving as U.S. District Attorney from 1833-41. He also served as Vice President as the American Bible Society, was active in the American Colonization Society, and continued to write books and poems. His home during the later part of his life was The Maples, or Friendship House, at 630 South Carolina Avenue, SE, Washington, DC; it is still extant.
The Maples, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Key died in 1843 in Baltimore, while visiting his daughter Elizabeth Key Howard; her house was on Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore. Key was originally buried at Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore. Key's house on M Street in Georgetown was sold out of the Key family ca. 1853, and converted to commercial use. 

In 1866, Key was re-interred at Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. Around the same time, his boyhood home, Terra Rubra, was damaged by fire. The Howard Mansion, where Key died, was demolished and became the site of Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church in 1872. The Francis Scott Key Monument (MIHP # F-3-159) at Mount Olivet Cemetery was constructed in 1898 from funds collected by Maryland school children, and while it commemorates Key, it is significant under NRHP Criterion C as an example of the work of sculptor Pompeo Coppini.

Francis Scott Key Monument, Mount Olivet Cemetery

The house where Key had lived in 1814, at 3518 M Street in Georgetown, was sold out of the Key family ca. 1853, and converted to commercial use undergoing variations over time that eventually diminished its integrity of design, materials, and workmanship.  In 1907, the Francis Scott Key Memorial Association was established with the purpose of buying and preserving Key’s Georgetown house as a memorial to Key; the organization failed to acquire enough funds to purchase the house.  In 1923, a new bridge over the Potomac River connecting Georgetown and Rosslyn, Virginia was named for Francis Scott Key and located near 3518 M Street. This reinforced concrete arch bridge was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1995 and to the NRHP in 1996 under Criterion C.  In 1931 the federal government acquired the 3518 M Street property as part of Palisades Park, but by this time, the house was too altered and in too poor condition to warrant preservation.  Francis Scott Key Park was established on the site in 1933.  

Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge over the Potomac. Wikipedia
Baltimore’s own Francis Scott Key Monument, a sculpture by Jean Marius Antonin Mercie was erected at Eutaw Place and West Lanvale Street in 1911. 

Francis Scott Key Monument, Eutaw Place, Baltimore. Wikipedia
In 1925, Fort McHenry was made a National Park, and it was made a National Monument and Historic Shrine in 1939. It was added to the NRHP in 1966, the inaugural year of the list. Finally, the Maryland State Highway Administration bridge carrying I-695 over the Patapsco River in Baltimore County was completed in 1977. The bridge has not yet reached the age at which it will be evaluated for the NRHP (50 years). Named for Francis Scott Key, it was built by and continues to be maintained by the Maryland Transportation Authority. Its commemorative naming is appropriate given its location near the site where Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Francis Scott Key’s The Star-Spangled Banner has come along way from the Patapsco River to the current Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The anthem's lyricist also traveled extensively during his lifetime, although many of the places he lived and visited are no longer extant. Key's boyhood home, his college, and his late-life home remain to this day, and he is commemorated all across the nation in the names of schools, bridges, and monuments. Overall, though, this judge finds Baltimore deserves the Gold Medal for being the place where Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry, where he wrote the poem, where it was first printed, sung, and performed, and where Key died, was originally buried, and remains commemorated through impressive monuments. Despite the loss of actual buildings, the relationship of these points on the landscape preserves the association of Francis Scott Key and The Star-Spangled Banner.