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Before archaeologists discovered the house of Leonard Calvert, Maryland’s first governor, at Historic St. Mary’s City in 1981, they’d been looking for it nearly two centuries. They knew from records that the key to unlocking the town’s 17th-century landscape lay in finding the structure, which historic documents indicated sat at the very center of the Colonial village.
When archaeologists finally unearthed the foundation, thanks to a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, one corner of the first governor’s house was discovered sitting under the corner of the Broome-Howard House, constructed in the 19th century. The outbuildings built in 1840 also disturbed the site.
Broome’s outbuildings were excavated in 1994.
“That was our first time to check what was underneath,” Tim Riordan, HSMC director of archaeology, said.
Now, just in time for the Tidewater Archaeology Weekend’s 25th anniversary July 28-29, archaeologists are at work on the site again, this time unearthing the 19th-century features to get at Calvert’s house, which for the most part is still there.
“We’re also exploring the floor of the smoke house to see what is underneath,” Riordan said. “Under the smoke house brick floor, if we had gone three more rows of brick in 1995 about a foot we would have unearthed this second brick floor embedded in about a half inch of sand. When we looked there this summer, we found bricks for the south wall of the Leonard Calvert house. That was a surprise. We thought that would have been disturbed in 1840 when they built the manor house and the outbuildings near it. We’re still in the process of cleaning it up. We wanted to see the part of the foundation we’d never seen.”
In addition to 17th-century artifacts, archaeologists have been pulling up materials from the 19th and 20th century. Riordan said they are also exploring a mysterious feature, a cellar with a burned clay collar they’re curious to unearth. Another corner of the structure was probably destroyed by an oil tank added to the Broome Howard House in later years.
The 19th-century structure was relocated in the mid-1990s to a site on Rosecroft Road where it now serves as a bed and breakfast.
Riordan noted they’ve also found two brick cellars.
“We’re still examining the fenceline and outbuilding architecture,” he said.
“I think that’s kind of cool,” he added. “It gives the public a real sense of the stratography. We have 17th-century features with 19th-century features right on top of them. It makes a good picture of how the sites evolved over time.”
Silas Hurry, curator of artifacts at Historic St. Mary’s City, said Leonard Calvert’s 17th-century home was discovered as part of a random sampling of 6 percent of the strata-line in 1981.
“We can take the artifacts associated in clusters from areas near the building and once you find the foundation, then you can make the association and date the site,” Hurry said. “Based on that information, we did much more intensive archaeology, cleaning the foundations.”
Gary Wheeler Stone, who did some of the earliest excavations at Maryland’s first capital, participated with the team of archaeologists who did the analysis on the 1981 excavations from the governor’s house.
Hurry noted that the first Tidewater Archaeology Weekend was held at the site 25 years ago.
“That was not long after I had arrived here,” he added. “I wasn’t working here when they initially found the site. I worked for the Maryland Geological Survey for seven years. I actually volunteered to come down and help with the archaeology.”
Hurry said Calvert’s house is important on a number of levels. It is the house of Maryland’s first governor. It’s the first very large house built in St. Mary’s City (1635-36).
“A lot of significant events occurred there,” he noted. “The Act of Religious Toleration was passed there. It also became the first state house. It was not only serving as a state house but was functioning as a tavern at the same time.”
It was not unusual to have a tavern as part of government in the 17th century, he noted.
“In the 1670s, when they had moved the state house over to where Trinity Episcopal Church cemetery is today, there was a tavern right next door to the state house. The legislators made them cut out alcohol because it was distracting the lawmakers,” he explained. “The tavern was a principal business in town to provide sustenance for the assemblymen.”
“It’s a little bit ahead of St. John’s Freehold,” Hurry said of Calvert’s house and the date of its construction.
St. John’s was among the first sites excavated from the Colonial town. The site recently underwent further archaeology and was covered with a climate-controlled shelter, which visitors to the site on Tidewater Archaeology Weekend can enjoy in air-conditioned comfort despite summer’s inevitable swelter.
At St. John’s Freehold, Hurry pointed out, Maryland’s citizen government was instituted, Mathias de Sousa became the first person of African descent to participate in an American legislature, the place of religion in a secular society was examined and debated, and Margaret Brent became the first woman to request a vote in British North America.
At the site of the first governor’s residence, however, 2012 summer school students found one of the most interesting pieces they have unearthed from the 17th century a terra cotta Native American pipe bowl with carved images of fish, most likely rockfish.
“That’s one of the most amazing pieces of terra cotta pipe I’ve ever seen,” Riordan said.
“It’s very unique,” Hurry agreed, “and very unusual. We’ve seen a lot of pipe bowls with a running deer motif. We found one that had a heron and the stick figure of a man, and another beautiful example with a man’s face. We do have a piece of pipe from an early excavation which was broken and had a design on it that looked like a fish. This is very unusual. It’s a different style and a different motif.
“I’ve always considered terra cotta pipe to be the most symbolic art from the period we have with meaningful patterns,” he added. “So much of the material culture was organic, very little survives. What they did with leather and shells, a lot of that can be seen in Powhatan’s mantle, which is in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford, England.”
That robe is probably one of the best and only examples of that type of art from the native culture in the region before the Calverts came, Hurry said.
“Those types of things just didn’t survive,” he noted.
Archaeologists have been fascinated by the pipe bowl.
“It’s unusual to get any kind of depiction on terra cotta,” Hurry said. “It could have been some kind of clan signature made using animal symbols.”
Celebrating Tidewater Archaeology Weekend’s 25th anniversary might be considered an exercise in endurance.
“We were washed out once and had our brains fried on many occasions,” Hurry said. “The good thing is that if it’s hot this year, visitors will have three different sites where they can get in the air conditioning. One of those places will be the archaeology lab, which is the only time we allow the public in here. We limit the number of folks who can come in at one time.
“One thing we tell people is that every artifact is the same and every single one is different,” Hurry added. “We show them the processes we use in handling the artifacts after they come out of the field. They are cleansed, labeled and catalogued. We also discuss what types of analysis we do and depending on who asks what question, I’ll pull out an artifact and ask them what they think it is. And it depends on the makeup of the group as to what I pull out, because kids have different interests than adults. We show what tells a good story. We’ll also play ‘what is it?’ where the public tries to guess what the object is. The future of archaeology is the analysis of the material.”
This year’s summer archaeology staff is a particularly gifted one. Three of the current students are working on PhDs. This year’s class has 14 students and an intern.
In addition to the pipe bowl, which is among the “coolest” things they’ve found this year, there were also large chucks of English gun flint.
“We don’t know if they were pieces they used to chisel gun flints off or whether they were used to start fires with flint and steel,” Hurry said.
“There is good preservation at the site,” he added. “The artifacts are in pretty good shape.”
Archaeologists unearth Leonard Calvert’s house
Archaeologists working at Historic St. Mary’s City have uncovered the stone and brick foundation of the Calvert House. The structure was built soon after the settlement of Maryland as home for the founder and first Governor, Leonard Calvert. This historic structure later served as an ordinary or inn, and a court house, before being purchased by the Province of Maryland in 1662 to serve as the first state house. Located in the center of Maryland’s first capital, the building was both the social and political capital for most of the 17th century. The last historical mention of the house was in 1695 and it is likely that it was torn down early in the 18th century.
Current excavations build on work first begun in the 1980s when the site was identified and tested. At that time, sufficient excavation was completed to discover the size of the structure, 66 feet by 40 feet, and to map out its unique layout. The foundations show the house was built with two rows of rooms separated by a hallway running through the long axis of the structure. Two chimneys were also discovered. Many questions concerning the architecture of the building and its use were never answered.
This summer’s excavations were planned to address some of those questions. Specifically, the archaeologists are investigating two cellars under the house. These were discovered in the 1980s but were not fully defined nor tested. The first is called the “burned clay” cellar and it was created by digging a hole, filling it with wood and brush, and lighting it on fire. This baked the clay walls to a bright orange color. For obvious reasons, this cellar is one of the oldest features on the site. At a later time, the cellar was filled in and its depth or what it contains remain a mystery. The other cellar is brick lined and perhaps replaced the earlier one. While one side of the cellar is known, the interior wall has not been located. Both cellars are being tested this summer.
For the first time in 30 years, new portions of the Calvert House foundations are exposed in the excavations. These remains will provide new insights on how the structure was built and used. Particularly important will be the junction between the regular foundation and the brick-lined cellar which will demonstrate whether the cellar was part of the original house or a late-17th-century addition.
Visitors are encouraged to view the foundation and the cellars and watch as archaeologists uncover other features during normal museum hours.Work will continue through Aug. 3.
Tidewater Archaeology Weekend
Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, 18751 Hogaboom Lane, St. Mary’s City.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 28-29.
Admission: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors $6 for ages 6-18. Children under 5 and Friends members are admitted free. Admission includes access to special activities, living history sites and the St. John’s Site Museum.
Contact: www.stmaryscity.org or call 800-SMC-1634 or 240-895-4990, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take a break at an Archaeology Film Fest featuring shows filmed at HSMC. Learn more about Project Lead Coffins, find out what the BBC’s Time Team found in the old city and discover the “Written in Bone” exhibit on display at the Smithsonian Museum on Natural History. Shows will run from 1-4 p.m. each day in the visitor center auditorium. Take advantage of a once-a-year opportunity to tour the archaeology laboratory. Discover what happens to artifacts after they are unearthed. Space is limited. Sign up at the Visitor Center, 18751 Hogaboom Lane, St. Mary’s City. Tours begin at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m..
Visitors are encouraged to explore the St. John’s Freehold site, Maryland’s premier archaeology museum and one of the most important historic sites in the state. Activities will take place from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Get the inside scoop on St. John’s by touring the exhibits at 1:30 p.m. with the senior staff archaeologist who directed excavations on the site. Sign up at the visitor center in advance.