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Archaeology Report 2005

Outstanding Finds at Ferryland
Dr. Jim Tuck - Archaeologist

Archaeology at Ferryland, Newfoundland, has concluded for the 2005 season after 18 weeks of excavation and a number of remarkable discoveries.

Ferryland is the place on the Southern Shore of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula where European migratory fishermen settled each summer for more than a century beginning in the early 1500s, where George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, established his colony of Avalon in 1621 and where Sir David Kirke and his family occupied the Pool Plantation from1638 until it was destroyed by French forces in 1696.

Both architectural remains and artifacts have added greatly to the story of one of the first English settlements in North America.

Architecture included two wood-frame houses from the early years of Calvert’s colony, a third somewhat later structure not yet completely exposed and a large stone building that archaeologists believe is Lord Baltimore’s long-sought-after “Mansion House”. The stone building, measuring about 18' by 30' inside (36' by 23' outside) was a story and a half or two story structure with a roof made from locally-produced slates. In places the massive stone walls still stand over six feet high. A large fireplace is located along a side wall of the two-room “hall-and-parlour” structure, a layout common in Wales and perhaps reflecting the origins of its builder, the colony’s first Governor, Captain Edward Wynne. Brick, ash and charcoal in the collapsed building indicate a fireplace on the second floor. The interior walls were plastered with fine lime, probably some of that requested by Governor Wynne from Calvert in 1622 when he asked for “lymestones and a lyme burner”.

The Mansion House has eluded archaeologists for decades, partly because of the more than two meters of overburden and modern structures that obscured it from view. It has also been a common belief that the Mansion House and the first house, constructed by Captain Wynne in 1621 were one and the same. However, a reinterpretation of the documents casts doubt on this belief and points to the large stone structure as Lord Baltimore’s Mansion. In 1622, after the first house was completed, Captain Wynne requested six masons, four carpenters, two or three quarry men, and a slater or two in addition to the limestone and lime burner. Clearly, some major construction was planned.

The result was the house excavated this past summer which stands in decided contrast to the wood frame first house which contained only about one-half the living space and was decidedly less grand than the stone building completed a year or so after the colony was first established. Eventually the complex came to include a detached parlour, several tenements, stone storehouses and other buildings all surrounded by cobble courtyards and pavements.

Most interesting among the more than 50,000 artifacts discovered in 2005 are the last of a small hoard of seven silver coins and two finger rings – one a “goldstone” ring consisting of a glass band containing copper filings that retain their sheen and give the appearance of gold and a gold ring with enamel work surrounding a silver bezel set with quartz and glass stones. The coins, two of which were found several years ago, include an Elizabethan “groat”, or four pence piece, two shillings, three half-crowns and a one ounce Spanish “cob”, a small slab of silver mined and minted in Peru. By a strange coincidence the coins were found on September 21, the same date as the French attack in 1696 when they were probably hidden by their owner who never returned to retrieve them.

Among the other currency found during 2005 were two small lead tokens bearing the initials “DK” almost certainly those of Sir David Kirke who resided at Ferryland from 1638 until 1651 when he was recalled to England during the Commonwealth period to account for his activities at Ferryland. Kirke never returned to Ferryland and died in London in 1654. In all likelihood the tokens were struck, for use in place of scarce small change, during Kirke’s stay at Ferryland. According to Paul Berry, Chief Curator of the National Collection of the Bank of Canada, they are probably the oldest pieces of money made for use in British North America.

After David Kirke’s departure from Ferryland, his wife, Lady Sara Kirke, continued to operate the Pool Plantation until her death in the early 1680s. She soon became the most successful planter and merchant on the English shore and arguably was British North America’s first woman entrepreneur. Lady Kirke’s presence at Ferryland was underscored late in the season by the discovery of pieces of several dozen earthenware plates and bowls which bear the initials “SK” in blue on the white tin-glazed surfaces. They can only have belonged to the proprietor of the Pool Plantation herself.

Three previously unknown structures, two wood-frame houses with stone fireplaces and a third structure, only partially exposed and of undetermined function, were also discovered in 2005. One predates the Mansion house and was later incorporated into that building. The second is of the same width as the first house and seems to fit the description of that structure in other respects as well. Further excavations in 2006 may reveal its exact dimensions and the date at which it was built.

Archaeologists also look forward to the discovery of the stone kitchen built in 1621 and a well dug in the same year. Several fragments of gravestones suggest that a cemetery from the early years of the settlement is also nearby.

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