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Excavation at a Late 17th Century House Site in Gloucester City, New Jersey


Ronald A. Thomas and Martha J. Schiek IMG_1994 2




  In the early spring of 1983, during construction of a senior citizens housing project at the northwest corner of Market and King Streets in Gloucester City, New Jersey, evidence was uncovered of prehistoric and early historic period archaeological remains. The project site, which overlooks the Delaware River, was the center of the original 17th century settlement of Gloucester and during the following years because the site of a farm, a ferry landing, residence, business establishments and various local industries.


The discovery of the archeological remains was brought to the attention of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of the Interior. At the request of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of the Interior formulated a mitigation plan for the significant resources. The program was conducted with funds transferred from the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Gloucester City Housing Authority to the Mid-Atlantic Region, National Park Service. Negotiations were conducted with MAAR Associates, Inc., of Newark, Delaware to conduct the data recovery program at the newly discovered site (28CA50) (Plates 1 and 2). The field work continued for a period of approximately 10 weeks. The excavations resulted in the discovery of aboriginal and historic cultural features and the recovery of more than 16,000 artifact representing occupations at the site spanning an 8,000 year period.


Analysis of the information gathered during the investigations at 28CA50 has been completed and a technical report submitted by MAAR Associates, Inc. to the National Park Service. This report describes and discusses the entire range of aboriginal and historic material recovered. The following is a brief discussion of the evidence for 17th and early 18th century occupations of the site.


Early 17th Century Evidence


It appears that the earliest European peoples to have settled in the Delaware River Valley may have lived in or near the project area. It is thought that the site of Fort Nassau, a 1624 Dutch settlement, is just south of 28CA50. Swedish settlements were established on both sides of the Delaware River within the general region at a slightly later date. Evidence of possible use of the Gloucester City site by Europeans, and by aboriginal peoples in contact with them, has been found.


A number of bifaces, some of European flint and some of local material, exhibit wear as if they had been used as "strike-a-lites" or gun flints. Artifacts of these types have been found at other Delaware Valley sites thought to be of early 17th century origin. They may indicate trade of firearms to aboriginal people or the manufacture of gun flints by colonists who, from time to time, used locally derived flints for this purpose.


   A few other artifacts of European origin were possibly used at trade goods. Among these are glass beads, ceramics dating to the 17th century, metal trinkets, white clay tobacco pipes, and buttons. Some of the items are described below.


Late 17th Century Component


The historical document research conducted for this project has uncovered an abundance of information concerning the early history of the City of Gloucester. It has been learned, for instance, that the project area consisted of Lots 9, 10, 11, 34, 35 and 36, as originally surveyed for the establishment of the Town of Gloucester in 1689. Subsequent land use in the project area has also been traced. A ferry at the foot of Market Street was operated by John Reading, who provided land for the town. The town developed not only as a commercial area but also as a center of government. John Reading was possibly a resident of the project area. His service as a West Jersey Proprietor and a Clerk of the Court of Gloucester contribution to the significance of the site.


Historic Cellar and Foundation


   Archeological investigations revealed the brick foundations and cellar of an entire building within Lot 10 of the study area. The structure, situated with its long axis paralleling the river, was probably a residence occupied during the late 17th century, perhaps during the period from 1670 to 1710. Among the most datable items were English, Oriental and German ceramics, coins and trade tokens from London and South America, white clay tobacco pipe fragments, inscribed turned window leads (ca. 1678 to 1684), and various other household and personal items.


  The house was represented by a large cellar hole and a number of associated 17th century features. It measured approximately 26 feet (north-south) by at least 12 feet (east-west). Eighteen stratigraphic soil levels were identified in the feature fill. Nine additional features were found to intrude into the cellar floor. A section of a brick foundation was found in the southwestern quadrant of the cellar. This foundation was one and one-half bricks in thickness and laid in English bond with shell mortar. A brick pier, possibly a remnant of a larger "L"-shaped footing, was found at the southern end of the cellar.


A major sub-rectangular feature which intruded into the cellar floor, contained a large amount of animal bone and domestic refuse. This small pit was undoubtedly used as a refuse pit when the building was occupied. Located at the northern end of the cellar and almost totally destroyed by the recent excavation of a footer trench were the remnants of a possible hearth or fireplace foundation. Of particular note was the recovery of an intact set of wrought-iron fireplace tongs dating to the late 17th century.


Though it is difficult to recontruct the superstructure of this building on the basis of evidence revealed in the cellar, certain characteristics which are typical of 17th century architecture can be inferred. It is likely that the structure supported by the foundation was of box frame contruction rather than of brick. This is based on the fact that a more substantial foundation of at least two bricks in width would have been required to support the weight of brick walls. This frame structure would have been supported by a high foundation some three to four feet above grade in order to provide adequate room for standing in the shallow cellar. The roof of the frame building may have been covered with shakes.


It is well documented that the typical plan of the 17th and early 18th century structures is a "hall and parlor" configuration. In such a design, the hall would have represented the principal room in which the bulk of daily activities would have taken place. The adjoining parlor or chamber would have been separated from the hall by a partition and would have represented a smaller and slightly more private space within the house. A hall and parlor plan for this structure would have possibly included a hearth in the hall (north gable end) and a stair landing in the parlor (south gable end). If a second story existed, it was probably also partitioned. A similar arrangement might have been present. Finally, the presence of turned lead and window quarrel fragments in the occupation strats of the cellar suggests the presence of lead casement windows.


Historic Artifacts


The first 14 strata comprising the fill of the cellar hole contained artifacts which were not clearly associated with the house but probably date from subsequent occupations of the site. Lower strata, however, represent the principal occupation; and the artifacts recovered reflect both the architecture and use of the structure. The 28CA50 artifact assemblage contained 8,167 historic artifacts including items of 17th, 18th and 19th century derivation. Some of the important and interesting 17th century artifacts and artifact types are described below.


Ceramics:  A few fragments of North Devon gravel trempered ward, ca. 1620-1720, were found in the occupation levels of the cellar. Its presence at Gloucester City is an unusual occurrence of this war in the Delaware Valley. It has been suggested by Grant (1983:125) that ships from North Devon probably did not land at Philadelphia, "because they had few, if any contacts there."

   A distinctive type of plain, lead glazed red earthenware pottery appeared as the dominant ceramic in the earliest strata of the historic structure. Forms included large bowls and jars consistent with food preparation, consumption, and storage patterns of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Although the origin of manufacture may be England, there is good evidence that this type may also have been made in Philadelphia. Bowers (1975:6) has identified at least five potters working in Philadelphia after 1685 but before 1700. The pale pink body of this coarse tempered earthenware closely resembles the clays used in the earliest days of pottery making in Philadelphia (Liggitt 1984).


Tinglazed wares, slip decorated buff earthenwares, and mottled brown glazed buss earthenwares may also be of 17th century origin. Sherds of both decorated and undecorated tinglazed earthenwares were present in the Gloucester City site from the earliest historic deposits through late 18th century contexts. Forms include deposits through late 18th century contexts. Forms include ointment and pharmacy jars, chamber pots, bowls of various sizes, and plates. Drinking vessels, such as cups and mugs, are probably also present. Decorative motifs include plain bands at top or bottom edges, powdered cobalt or manganese based glazes, blue flowers and chinoiserie designs, and polychrome flowers. Although the decorated wares are probably from the period of 1720/30 to 1780/90, the undecorated wares and those with plain bands or horizontal stripes may be earlier. A distinctive plate base from the site has been identified by Noel-Hume (personal communication 1984) as being possibly English and dating to between 1680 and 1720.


Tinglazed earthenwares were supposed to have been made in Burlington, New Jersey at the pottery owned by West Jersey Proprietor Daniel Coxe and operated by John DeWilde, delftware potter of Lambeth, England from 1687-1692. Brenda Springsted (personal communication 1984) has been working on the problem of identifying these wares. During the summer of 1984 a possible site was tested for the pottery kiln, however, detailed information is not yet available.


English slip decorated, buff earthenware made from ca. 1680 to 1800 was recovered but only in small amounts. The typical combed, dotted and marbled patterns of brown and yellow were encountered on dishes and cups. Small amounts of English mottled brown glazed buff earthenware were recovered in the cellar. Although the sherds are small, they are probably from the delicate ribbed mugs identified with this distinctive were made in Staffordshire between ca. 1680 and 1740 (Celoria and Kelly 1973).


   Among the stoneware of known or possible 17th century derivation were Westerwald saltglazed stoneware mug with incised and applied decoration assigned to Westerwald (Germany) and probably made in the late 17th or very early 18th century. Several examples pictured in Reinekingvon Bock (1971:533-537) bear medallions dating to the 1680's and 1690's. No medallions were found on the blue decorated Westerwald sherds from Gloucester, therefore, precise dating for these wares was not possible.


  White clay tobacco pipes: Bowl and stem fragments recovered from the various features at 28CA50 were examined in detail. A Harrington Bar Graph, prepared by measuring the stem bore hole diameters of 890 white clay pipe stem fragments from the Gloucester excavations, demonstrates the presence of people on the site as early as ca. 1620 to 1650. This does not necessarily suggest permanent occupation but may represent occupations by such transients as surveyors or traders.

   By 1680, 138 portions of white clay pipes (15.9% of the total) were discarded. During the period from ca. 1680 to 1710, there is a decided increase in the frequency of specimens (37.5%) which suggests an increase in the population or intensity of occupation. In the period ca. 1710 to 1750, the use of pipes declined sharply, to 15.1% of the total, which might indicate a discontinuity in the occupation of the site.


One specimen with the letters "EB" impressed within a circle on the heel, appears to have been made by Edward Bird, and English pipemaker working in Amsterdam between 1630 and 1665. A portion of antoher Dutch bowl has a crowned "EB" within a circle on a small heel. Two of the decorated Dutch pipe stems had the letters "LUOAS" shown in relief. These were made possibly in Gouda between 1675 and 1700. A stem fragment with a protion of the heel attached contains a mark consisting of a star surmounting the letters "WW" within a circle. This can be dated to ca. 1680. One stem fragment with a quadruple fleur-de-lis can be identified as Dutch manufactured during the period between 1635 and 1665.


Window Leads: The use of truned leads as an archeological dating tool is a recent development discovered during artifcact analysis of collections from the James River area of Virginia. Investigators for Colonial Williamsburg and James River area of Virginia. Investigators for Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown National Historic Site found that many turned leads were imprinted with a name and a date. The imprinting occurred during the manufacturing, as they were drawn through a glazier's vise. Ivor Noel-Hume (personal communication 1984) suggests that these imprints may have something to do with governmental inspection and taxation. Individuals involved with preservation, conservation, and maintenance of European stained glass windows, ie., church windows, have been aware of these impressions for many years and consider them to be "signature impressions...giving the name of the craftsman, the town and the date" (Rambusch, personal communication 1984). These people were

unaware of American examples from non-stained (non-church) windows.


   A total of 124 turned leads were found. Of these 69, or 55% have impressions. This is a considerably higher frequency than occurs in the Jamestown or Williamsburg collections. Three sets of impressions are present among the Gloucester City site turned leads. Sixty-one leads, 88% of the total impressed leads, bear the following inscription:



The second most frequent inscription is:


W.M. 1681.

There are three of these in the collection, representing 4% of the total impressed leads. One of the leads is inscribed with the following:


EW * 1684 * IS . (*)

The remaining four are essentially unreadable.


   The Jamestown collection contain leads with the initials "WM" and dates of 1671, 1676, 1678, and 1686. Also found was a lead with the inscription "EW" and a partially readable date of 171-. Additional turned lead specimens with inscriptions and 18th century dates have been reported from Annapolis, Maryland. Ivor Noel-Hume's discovery of a turned lead with a 1625 date is the earliest known specimen (Noel-Hume 1982).


   Gun Flints: Twelve gun flints of European material were found among the Gloucester assemblge. Included are opaque, are described by Witthoft (1966) as being from the Riss glacial outwash beds of the Low Countries in Holland Belgium and Luxenbourg. Two flints are French, and one is English.


Six of the flints are gun spalls (Noel-Hume 1969) or wedge shaped flints (Witthoft 1966) which were popular in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Three of these show no signs of use, and two are so worn that only a small piece of the heel remains. Two of the flints appear to be sized for arms smaller than a musket. Three of the flints exhibit flaking patterns that suggest that they may have been used with a fire steel rather than in a gun lock.


Glass Beads: Four small glass beads of a type generally considered to be Indian trade goods were found at the Gloucester City site. Two are polychrome tube beads 1/4" long and layered in navy blue and white. A small round black glass bead and a molded light bule bead with ridges complete the collection of glass beads from the site.


  Household Goods & Tools: A large number of miscellaneous household items & tools, such as pins, a thimble, scissors, book hasps, candle stick holders, a maddox, and furniture hardware werre found at 28CA50. All of the pins are wrapped heads, tin plated, straight pins. A maddox and portions of its wooden handle were also recovered from the lower levels of the cellar fill.


Two paris of scissory were found at 28CA50. One is similar to those that Noel-Hume describes as dating to the third quarter of the 18th century. However, one specimen more closely resembles scissors illustrated as mid 17th century in date (Noel-Hume 1969).


Two book hasps of different syles were found. They are not speciffically datable, but this style is usually found in late 17th to early 18th century contexts.


   The only identifiable furniture hardware item is a small brass drawer pull. This style of handle, with a central knob flanked by balusters, appears in 17th centry collections from Jamestown and mid 18th century collections from Williamsburg.


   Personal Items: Two cuff links were recovered during the excavation. The larger of the two is copper on a brass shank. The copper may have been silver plated, though no silver remains. The smaller of the two links is brass. Both are late 17th century to early 18th century. However, a cuff link identical to the small specimen from 28CA50 was recovered along with other trade goods at the Susquehanna River Indian village known as Conestoga Town (Kent 1984).


   Several types of buttons are present in the artifact assemblage from the Gloucester City site, although the total of 24 is small compared to other historic sites. Fourteen of the 24 buttons are made of bone and shell, while the remainder are made of plastic and were recovered from the upper levels of the site deposits.


   Two styles of probable 17th century buttons were found at 28CA50. These buttons are solid cast, of a nickle-steel alloy with the shank set in while the metal was still molten. One of the two styles has a flower design molded on the face. The other has a "nipple" projection on the face. Information available on the latter button style in confusing. According to Noel-Hume (personal communication 1984), this type of button is usually hollow. Solid cast buttons appear to be most common during the 16th and 17th centuries and unlikely that "...they werre still in use in the later years of the 17th century." Noel-Hume points out that, since the Gloucester City specimens are solid cast rather than hollow, they should be considered early rather than late 17th century. Since these buttons were found associated with the flowered variety, it can be assumed that they are contemporaneous and among the earliest items on the site.


   The only ornamental dress item with any military association found at 28CA50 is a silver plated sword clip. It appears to date between 1690 and 1710. Of particular interest is a small sealing wax seal. The seal is of the fob type with a dark purple glass or stone setting with a Griffin carved on the bottom. The handle is copper and was probably silver plated. The general style of the metal work suggests that the seal is from the 18th century. It is known that, by the middle of the 18th century, seals with a wide variety of designs could be purchased and used by anyone, much as they are today.


   Coinage: Two British trade tokens and two coins were found at Gloucester in subsurface features. Two additional copper discs were found, but no markings surviving to identify them as coins. Of the two identifiable coins, the best preserved is a silver Spanish coin bearing the numerals "68". It has been identified as a 1/2 REAL of Carlos Sigundo, probably minted in Lima, Peru or Potosi, Bolivia and could belong to either of two issue periods. Those from Lima were struck from 1684 to 1689. The Potosi issues range from 1668 to 1701 with no issue in the year 1681. These issues do not bear complete dates, only two or three numerals of the date (David Parris, personal communication 1984).


   The second coin is a cooper English coin in poor condition. The only visible identifying marks are the name, GEORGIOUS, and a bust facing right. Nothing is visible on the reverse face. By process of elimination, the coin could have only been minted during the reigns of George I and George III, sincde George II busts face left.


   The British trade tokens from the site were studied by David Parrris of the New Jersey State Museum. His comments are as follows:


      "A particularly interesting aspect...is the recovery of two British trade tokens of the 17th century. Copper coinage for such small change was generally insufficient to meet the public needs in the middle of that century, and the merchants and tradespeople began issuing their own trade tokens. These tokens were mostly in half penny and farthing sizes, and there are thousands of varieties...Because coins were insufficiently supplied to the American colonies, it is not surprising that some of the tokens found their way to the port cities of this area...use of the tokens was forbidden in Great Britain in 1672, but they could have circulated after that time in remote areas of overseas."


   These two tokens, identified below, came from widely separated areas of London, East

London, and the West End, respectively:


   BRITISH TRADE TOKEN: Identifiable as that of Dorothy Hulet of London (Boyne-Williamson No. 2059). Dated 1663. Value: One Farthing. As originally catalogued: 2059. O DOROTHY HVLET, COVEN=D.H. 1663. R GARDEN. NEW STREET=A heart crowned.


   BRITISH TRADE TOKEN: Identifiable as that of Percival Towle of London (Boyne-Williamson No. 2753). Dated 1668. Value: One half Penny. As originally catalogued: 2753. O PERCIVAL. TOWLE. BAKER. IN=HIS HALF PENNY R SCHOOL. LANE. RATCLIFFE=P.T.T. 1668.


   Historic Fauna: The fauna from the cellar excavations includes materials from a great range of dates and events and may not be significant in itself. Materials excavated from levels deposited prior to the destruction of the building, however, may be attributed to the 17th century occupation. The species identified and the live weights represented suggest a reliance on domestic animals but with s significant amount of wild game and fish also being used.


   Meat weight estimates are sometimes misleading. The ox/cow specimens identified at the 28CA50 cellar, for instance, are all skull portions, except for one trapezoid (a waste bone of the foot). It may well be that the occupants only consumed the meat from the head and other less desirable portions of the animal. If so, the meat weight based on entire animals is wholly misleading. An alternative explanation is use of the structure as a slaughter site only, as explained below.

   There is strong evidence that pork was a major meat source, perhaps the most important. While it is possible that the faunal assemblage discarded by the occupants of the building, the features revealed important, specific information about the use of swine.


   Two of the cellar floor features were offal pits, and were apparently used only once. They yielded mostly pig bone and small amounts of duck and fish remains. In one, a minimum of four pigs was represented. The material represented is sufficiently complete so as to reveal some details of butchering techniques and slaughter age.


   It is clear that the usual slaughter age for pigs was about one year, which is generally recognized as an efficient slaughter age, even in the 20th century (Ziegler 1966). It is also clear that, in the cases represented by these two features, the method of butchering consisted of removal of the head, which was apparently stripped of usable meat and the bones discarded. At least one carcass was severed at the shoulder and another may have been split.


   Especially notable is evidence that the mandible of one skull was purposely broken into three equal segments with cleaver marks evident. Presumably, this method allowed easy removal of meat, including the tongue. the waste bones, including many rib and vertebral fragments identifiable only as large mammal, were cast into holes dug in the floor; suggesting that a major portion of the carcass was cooked and consumed on the premises. This was not done by roasting over flames, since there are very few charred or scorched bones. If the butchered carcass had been stored or sold, then the large number of rib and vertebral fragments would not have been found. It is probable that at least one loin cut (vertebrae and ribs) was cooked at the time of slaughter.


   The burial of offal and the distribution of waste bones in and beneath the floor of an occupied building would seem to be a curious practice not in keeping with the use of the structure as a dwelling. A hypothetical explanation may be that the bone specimens were deposited at a time when the structure was in use as an outbuilding and/or occasionally a slaughter house. This would no necessarily preclude occupancy of the building as a dwelling at other times, as the total amount of bone is not large and may have been deposited within a relatively shore period of time.



   The discovery of archeological remains during construction at Gloucester City in the spring of 1983 was followed by salvage excavations participated in by professional and avocational archaeologists from throughout New Jersey. The salvage excavations confirmed the presence of both aboriginal and historic archeological resources and resulted in an intensive archeological data recovery conducted by MAAR Associates, Inc. of Newark, Delaware. The MAAR Associates investigations at te Gloucester City site (28CA50), involving a crew of from 10 to 15 archeological aides, continued for a period of approximately 10 weeks. By the end of the mitigation effort, excavation of over one hundred cultural features, recovery of more than 16,000 artifacts, and the gathering of information about 8,000 years of occupation at the site had been accomplished.


   The investigations resluted in the recovery of information confirming the earliest occupation of the Gloucester City area during the first half of the 17th century. During the latter part of the 17th century, the population of the Gloucester City area increased to the point where it became advantageous to establish a town. The Town of Gloucester was set up by the West Jersey Proprietors on land acquired in the 1680's. In 1689, surveys were conducted and lots were established. John Reading, one of the West Jersey Proprietors, owned the land of the project area as well as considerable other land in the area.


Archeological investigations revealed the brick foundations of a building situated with its long axis paralleling the river. Based on material recovered from occupation levels of the cellar of the structure, a private residence, was occupied during the late 17th century, perhaps during the period from 1670 to 1710. The document research and archeological investigations conducted at 28CA50 made a significant contribution to our understanding of the early history of Gloucester City and the Delaware River Valley in general. The following summarizes the significance of the investigations.


   Evidence of the domestic architecture of this early period of the Delaware River Valley, such as was found at 28CA50, is rarely encountered. Archeological investigations within the cellar hole of the building revealed the presence of a chimney foundation at the north end of the dirt floor and also indicated that the cellar was divided into two chambers. Evidence exists to reconstruct a staircase which led up to the first floor at the south end of the structure. The thickness of the brick foundation suggest that the building was a one and a half story frame structure. It may have had a hall and parlor plan. Found within the structure. It may have had a hall and parlor plan. Found within the structure were numerous lead window cams, indicating glass windows. The size, form, and construction details of the house are indicative of a middle to high economic-status occupant.


   The types of ceramics and other domestic artifacts found during the archeological investigations indicates that the occupants were economically "well-off" relative to other settlers of this frontier environment. Commercial goods available directly from Europe were plentiful in the collected material from this site. The inscribed window cams were obviously manufactured in England. Ceramics of a variety of English types were imported although tableware included several types that may have been locally made. Also found within the deposits were coins, personal articles, items of clothing, pipe fragments, and other items that suggest continued access to sources of imported goods.


   The interpretation has been made that the structure was occupied by a middle class tenant farmer, craftsman, or perhaps a ferryman in the employ of John Reading. The period of occupation of the structure seems to have ended during the first decade of the 18th century. John Reading is known to have sold the ferry in 1707.


   The significance of 28CA50 lies not only in its early date and the presence of imported expensive goods. The setting and time in which the site occurred indicated it then lie upon the American frontier. The manner in which early settlers adapted to such an environment is of great interest to historians and anthropologists of frontier life. Site 28CA50 has contributed significantly to our knowledge of this critical period.


   In the 1780's, the town population declined and commercial activity diminished. In 1786, the courthouse and jail on Market Square (at the intersection of Market and King Streets) were moved to the new county seat in Woodbury. In the early 1800's, a tannery and fishery occupied the waterfront opposite the old town center, indicative of the industrialization of the area which continued until recently.


Over 16,000 Artifacts of Gloucester City's History in Storage at the New Jersey State Museum