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ARCHAEOLOGY AT FERRYLAND - 2006

The year 2006 marks fifteen years of continuous archaeology at Ferryland. Even after this time, new discoveries continue to be made, some questions are answered and new ones posed. The past summer was no exception and new discoveries, both of architecture and artifacts were made throughout the season.

Excavations concentrated in the area south of the present road to the Point of Beach, in the former location of the house of Leo and Lena Walsh. In terms of the overall plan of George Calvert’s early settlement and subsequent modifications by the Kirke family, several structures explored in 2006 are of principal importance. These dwellings require a new interpretation of the documentary evidence from the early colony and suggest a significant rebuilding during the tenure of the Kirke family at their Pool Plantation.

Lord Baltimore’s mansion and the first house

Compared to many English colonial sites, the documentary record from Ferryland in meagre, indeed. No more than a handful of letters survive from the first years of the settlement (1621 to 1629) and only slightly more from the time of the Kirkes (1638-1696). Among the early letters are several describing the wood frame structure built by Edward Wynne and the first colonists between late August and All Saints’ Day in 1621. The dimensions are given as: an entry of six feet, a hall of eighteen feet and a cellar of twenty feet, the last dug into the hillside, all fifteen feet in width. It has long been assumed that this was Lord Baltimore’s “mansion house” sought after by archaeologists and others for more than a century.

Until 2005 archaeologists working at Ferryland accepted this traditional interpretation. In that year, however, a large two story stone structure, 36 feet by 23 feet, with a large lateral fireplace and a second fireplace on the second floor emerged. Some of the walls still stand more than six feet high and evidence shows that the roof was of slate and the interior finished in lime plaster. Clearly more substantial that the house described by Captain Wynne, the discovery sent us back to the documents for another look. It soon became obvious that despite the completion of the first house, Wynne had something far more substantial in mind. In a letter to Calvert he requested, among other supplies:

that such as be sent hither hereafter may be such men as shall be of good strength, whereof we stand in need of six masons, four carpenters, two or three good quarry men, a slater or two, a lime-burner and limestones, a good quantity of hard laths...

Six masons were more than at all the other English settlements in North America combined. A substantial project is indicated and Wynne’s request – masons, slaters, quarrymen, limestones etc. – fit well with the large stone dwelling discovered in 2005.

But what of the house described by the first settlers in 1621 and long believed to have been Lord Baltimore’s mansion? In the last days of the 2005 season we got a glimpse of where the answer to this question might lie. A well-built stone fireplace and portions of a cobble floor, both built directly on the subsoil and therefore an early structure, began to emerge just west of a cobble courtyard adjacent to the stone mansion. In 2006 we were able to confirm that this structure was most likely the remains of the first house. There is an entry of six feet, a cellar of 20 feet and a hall that is at least 16 feet and extends under the present paved road for an unknown distance. The whole is 15 feet wide, and all measurements accord well with the original description.

The floor is entirely of cobbles and gaps where timbers once lay indicate not only the location of the entry, cellar and hall, but also of what appears to have been the partition for a stairway to the second floor in the northwest of the hall. The remains of the structure are remarkably well preserved, from the floor, to the sills, to the stone south wall of the cellar. Artifacts from thee structure indicate an early date for its construction, in all likelihood 1621 as reported by Captain Wynne. Somewhat to our surprise the artifacts that were on the cobble floor at the time the house was razed or collapsed, especially the time-sensitive tobacco pipe bowls, indicate that the building was destroyed not more than about 20 years after it was built, or about 1640, not long after the arrival of the Kirkes.

Other discoveries have expanded our view of the original settlement, particularly the structures and other features adjacent to the principal residence. At the northwest of the mansion is a small dwelling that extends northward under the present road. It was built slightly earlier (perhaps only a few months earlier) than the mansion and its fireplace and chimney were incorporated into the principal residence. At the northeast corner a small wood frame structure abutted the corner of the stone mansion. A paved courtyard to the east of the mansion was matched by another to the west that connected the mansion and the first house.

To the south of this courtyard are the remains of a mortared stone building measuring about 16 feet by 22 feet. The northeast corner is mortared to the south west corner of the stone mansion. An unusual feature is a deep, timber lined cellar, at least eight feet deep, that was partly excavated during the summer of 2006. Unfortunately the earth walls of the cellar became increasingly unstable as the depth increased and the whole had to be refilled with sand before the bottom was reached. The structure appears to have been a dwelling, for a pile of bricks on the first floor may be the remains of an as-yet-unexplored fireplace or stove.

To the west of the first house a welter of stone and frame structures were partly exposed, many of them wholly or partly superimposed on earlier buildings. Most appear to have been outbuildings, since they do not contain hearths. No trace of the stone kitchen built by the first settlers in 1621 and described by Wynne in one of his letters to Calvert has yet been found. It may well lie beneath one of the more recent structures built by the Kirkes.

Artifacts from the summer of 2006 include the usual hundreds of pipe bowls, perhaps our most useful dating tool, ceramics from England, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and America, bottle, drinking and window glass, and a number of unusual or unique objects. From the partly-explored cellar, in the collapse of the upper floors came the skeleton of a dog, shot in the leg and later buried in rubble when the building was destroyed by French forces in 1696. In the same deposit was a rare “ear pick” in the form of a billfish or dolphin. The spoon-like tail was remove ear war and the pointed bill as a toothpick or to clean fingernails. Perhaps the most interesting find was a large lead token bearing three “DK” stamps, the fourth similar token to be found. Paul Berry, Chief Curator of the national Currency Collection, Bank of Canada, Ottawa. Has studied the tokens and believes that they are the first pieces of money to be manufactured in British North America. The smallest piece may have been valued as a farthing (one quarter of a penny), the two mid-size pieces as half-pennies and the large triple-stamped as some higher denomination. Two tokens also came from a mid eighteenth-century deposit to the west of the first house. Both were struck of lead from the same die. The obverse bears a fleur-de-lys and the name “JAQUES COLOMB”; the reverse an undecipherable device and the words “POUR ETRANGER” (“or foreign” or “for overseas”). Thus far, we have met with no success in tracing the French merchant Jaques Colombe.

At the close of excavations the profiles were covered with tarps to prevent winter collapse, the fireplace of the first house similarly enclosed and a short section of profile adjacent to the present road stabilized with a wood crib topped by a “viewing platform”. If this latter technique is successful and survived the winter we hope to extend it in both directions during 2007. The area of the courtyard adjacent between the mansion and the first house was repaired to remove traces of a recent well dug through it and reproduction bricks are being produced on an experimental basis to determine whether they will be suitable replacements for the original brick in hearth aprons that will not stand up to Ferryland winters. If this is successful the bricks will be replaced in the spring and the hearths made visible to the public.

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