An Archaeological Dig
at a 17th Century Slave Plantation on Long Island
in New York State
This site has become quite large with pictures and will take a little while to load.
| This web site is an attempt to share with
the people of Shelter Island the daily activities of the dig at Sylvester
Manor through the eyes of an inquisitive observer. It is not the official
web site of the dig or the project. (There will be an official University
of Massachusetts web site for the dig at some time in the near future.)
It is a work in progress, done on a daily basis, so the construction of the writing is not definitive nor complete from one instance to the next. It is more note taking than anything else. It is exploration toward understanding.
Digs are arduous and intense and yet the workers are people -- many strangers to each other -- who have come together to get a difficult job done under often stressful conditions. In a short time, I have learned the vitality of the human dynamics.
This is an evolving and organic event, new to the concept of writing in a new technological age. When I began, I did not intend to create a web site. I was doing research for a future article. Someone suggested, You are putting this all up on the web, aren't you? Well, OK, I thought, I can do that.
So, please accept this site in the spirit in which it is given: Observations, notes on an evolving process which has a beginning and an end but no one knows the road in-between.
Patricia Shillingburg, Observer
Griswold, the garden historian, tells the story of a breathtaking discovery.
While visiting friends on Shelter Island, an 8,000 acre island tucked between
the north and south forks of Long Island, her host suggested a row in a
dingy on Gardiner's Creek. They turned around a bend, and suddenly before
her was a Georgian mansion -- a twin of the Wordsworth House on Brattle
Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also yellow. "The boxwoods beyond the
house struck me immediately -- they had to be well over 300 years old."
The house known locally as Sylvester Manor was appreciated by Islanders, but few knew what a treasure it really is.
The manor house was built in 1734. The property has been inhabited continuously by descendants of the same family since Europeans first settled the Island in 1652 when Nathaniel Sylvester and his bride Grissel Brinley arrived on Shelter Island to run a plantation to supply the family business in Barbados with food stuffs and wood for barrels. Like settlers in most of the East Coast of North American, they stripped the land of wood for barrels which were the basic shipping containers of the time.
Ms. Griswold was determined to introduce herself to Andrew and Alice Fiske, the lord and lady of the Manor, which she eventually did. And, though a circuitous route, she finally brought Mrs. Fiske -- Mr. Fiske had now died -- together with Dr. Steve Mrozowski of the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Sylvester Manor is every archaeologist's dream. And for Dr. Mrozowski, it is a dream come true. His dig at the Manor is now in its third year. "Itís going to take at least a decade," he exclaims with glee. Probably longer.
During the summer in 1998, he and a small team of his graduate students spent a few weeks creating test holes. They found some interesting stone formations which were obviously man made for building foundations. In 1999, they concentrated on an excavation in the driveway island in front of the house. They found some really interesting formations as well as 17th century jewelry, coins, buttons and a curious key. The most precious was a silver fleur de lys stick pin.
They know there was an original house, barns, cattle enclosures, gardens, and servant and slave quarters... in fact all the accouterments of a thriving plantation. Dr. Mrozowski must decide where to efficiently search to understand the site. The year 2000 dig has very specific goals: to map the site and to set priorities for the next decade and beyond.
Members of last year's crew arrived on June 1 and immediately set out to clean up the site from the ravages of an 11 month absence. The following Monday, the rest of Dr. Mrozowskiís crew arrived. Most are university students and most are women. The oldest is Gene Trainor, pushing 72, who is working on his second Masters since he retired. The others say he is a real trooper. All are bright and curious, but they are facing a challenge of hard physical work sometimes in unrelenting heat and uncomfortable living quarters. (There are always a few who never understood the requirements of the job and will hate archaeology by the end of the month, but there will be at least two who with leave with a new passion.) The group totals about 20 -- most are novices.
Also on Monday, Ken Kvamme from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, his wife Joanne and their children Emmy and Charlie with an assistant Rich Allan arrived to map the site with the most advanced technology available to archaeologists. They will cover about 2 1/2 acres in the next two weeks.
Monday was a day to get oriented. Not much digging took place. But, Dr. Kvamme and his team mapped an entire quadrant in the afternoon. They stretch ropes marked at one meter intervals into two meter squares and then use two instruments from Geoscan Research, the Fluxgate Gradiometer and the Resistance Meter, to scan the soil. These machines, only made in Great Britain, "read" the soil below. After the maps reveal certain features, they will use radar.
The site is
rich with artifacts; it is compelling and frightening at the same time.
Organization is the demand of the day. That, of course, is Dr. Mrozowskiís
job. The job is to figure out how to manage the wealth of opportunities.
At lunchtime on Thursday, the issue was food. Dr. Mrozowski is directing a small army, and armies march on their stomachs,. So it is no surprise that lunchtime conversations are about food. Wednesday's lunch time was filled with conversation about breakfast smells. These twenty folks live in very close quarters. Sizzling bacon an imperative for some makes others queasy.
Thursdays conversation was about Dr. Mrozowski's upcoming purchases at Price Club in Rhodes Island on his return on Monday, and the volumes required. It is obvious that Shelter Island prices are prohibitive to this army. Dr. Mrozowski was pleased to learn that there is a BJ's in Riverhead. Buying in bulk requires two refrigerators. They have only one. They are consuming a gallon of milk a day. Did he get enough yogurt last week? No. Can they switch the beer to a cooler? One person suggested that they grill. It requires less dishes to wash. Many digs have a cook, this one does not.
Kat Howlett and Kate Looman, both old timers from last year and working on Masters degrees at the University of Massachusetts, spent Thursday morning trying to find the test holes they dug last year in another area of the site. The ground had been cleared over the winter and their markings disturbed. After hours of frustrating search, they found the holes. Immediately after lunch they used the transit to plot a course so the holes will never be lost again. This is an important part of the dig because it seems to be an encampment of American Indians not far from the 1652 plantation. Does it predate the arrival of the Europeans?
Dr. Mrozowski has a dilemma. A happy one, but... He doesn't have enough people to do all that needs to be done. He now has four active areas. The test holes in the possible Indian encampment, the ash pit west of the driveway circle, the disturbances just west of last year's pit that Dr. Kvamme found on Monday, and a new area found today between the driveway and the garden. Andrew Fiske always said the original plantation house had been there. When they dug last year, they only found sand. But, the resistance meter found abrupt changes from resistance 400 to resistance of 200 in a very deliberate rectangle pattern. Joanne suggested that when a structure is replaced, the materials are often deliberately carted away to be reused for another structure. Maybe that is what they did and replaced the materials with less valuable materials, like sand. Or, maybe, as others suggest, it is a garden feature.
Within an hour after lunch, teams were dispatched and hard at work, each with specific instructions for each area. Four excavations will go on at once. Dr. Mrozowski kept two of his novice team members with him at the ash pit, one to collect dirt and the other to screen. He was on his hands and knees scrapping with his trowel. "Sometimes I have to pull rank. I want to get this done because I have to know what is here."
By Friday noon, it was scorching hot and humid. The team languished under the shade of a tree at lunch, and it was clear that energies had been sapped by a week of physical work and adrenaline rushes.
The ash pit was providing dozens of small pieces of ceramics as was the new area west of last year's dig in the circle of the driveway. There were still lots more questions than answers about the area between the driveway and the garden (where the sand had been found last year), and the Indian encampment was still active when the Europeans had settled because ceramics of European manufacture have been found there as well.
Dr. Kvamme and his team have now covered half of the area they intend to map, and he has a lot of analyzing to do. With the radar, they found an incredible amount of metal in the front yard; it turned out to be the cables used to steady new trees in the early 1950ís and the pipe to the cistern.
Alice Fiske is 83 and is active in the dig. She visits first thing in the morning, just before lunch, and again in the evening. It brings her tremendous satisfaction that her home will eventually tell a meaningful story about life on a plantation where three cultures -- American Indian, African slave, and European businessmen -- came together to start forming a new society.
On Monday, June 12, the weather was cold and wet. Kat said that the day was bringing "new levels of frustration." It was much too muddy and you can't see the stuff in the screen. They had to completely abandon the pre-historical area for the day.
The area in front of the house in the driveway circle is much drier. They are getting work done there, but quite high up are finding 19th century debris. It seems to be building rubble. This is the only place they are working today and have three screens going.
Screening actually is the slowest part of a tedious and slow operation, which is all done very carefully. It is "planned destruction." You have to get it right the first time. Speed is determined by tree roots, artifacts, type of dirt, weather and morale. Everything is mapped meter by meter, both by plan and profile.
The problem at this site is that there are too many things to look at. This is a happy problem, but it does affect decisions about priorities.
Lee Priddy says that they are getting some work done in the vault trying to transcribe various wills and earlier documents. This is Lee's third year on the site.
Others who have worked on this site for the full three years include Anne Hancock who says that "it is always a new experience," and Paolo DiGregorio. Mary Letourneau is here for a second year.
All of the others are new to this site. Last year, Cindy Norum worked at a dig in Burren County Claire, a neolithic farming community. Jessica Geislor, worked last year at a site off the coast of Ireland excavating a 12th century monastic site. The most exciting find was a stick pin with a Celtic design. Maddalena Romano, who worked on a site in Brooklyn last summer is the only member of the team who does not attend the University of Massachusetts; she is working on his Masters in Anthropology at Hunter College in New York. This is a first dig for Sarah Sportman, Liz Kiniry, Jessica Avery, Dermot Murphy, John Engdahl, Dermot Murphy, and Francesco Garcia who hails from Guatemala. All are working on Masters degrees except for Dermot, John, and Francesco who are all candidates for Bachelors degrees in Anthropology.
Kate has returned to Boston to map the site on the computer from the information they collected last week using the transit. This with the material from Ken Kvamme will give a very clear map of the entire site.
They do not plan to dig in the garden area, which is extensive, because there is enough to do without invading it. However, they will take soil cores and do botanical analysis.
The Kvammes are beginning to feel pressured as they feel there is too much to do before they depart on Thursday morning.
Today is not a good day for morale. The weather is not cooperating. The workers are cold and wet. They are not finding anything really precious. The leader has not returned from a weekend in Boston. I am sure that there are patterns in adjustment for the team as with any other, to living with strangers in close quarter, no privacy, having to deal with personalities that are as yet unreadable, and not always friendly. It was all fun at first, but the glow is coming off for some. One member was obviously ambivalent about her adventure.
June 13 is another cloudy day. But, it is not cold, and the ground is a lot drier.
Why are they looking for an Indian village? Kat says that a visitor to the Manor at the end of the 19th century by the name of Cushing said that there was evidence of a large Indian village. Last year they looked and agreed that it would be ideal for a camp site. So, based on folklore, they did a number of test pits 10 meters apart and found some interesting artifacts. So, this year they have two units two meters by two meters under excavation. The first has very rich dark soil. They are finding quartz chips, pipe stems segments ... a historic as opposed to prehistoric finding. It is clear that these are Indians but that Europeans had arrived. The second unit has yielded a low level of materials and there may be nothing more.
In the driveway circle, they have a number of new units under excavation. Here they are finding glass, nails, pipe bits, American pottery, and quartz. No jewelry as yet. Most interesting, is that the area is filled with man made rock formations.
I asked about the amount of pipe remains. Were they constantly smoking. Kat said that pipe stems were very long, and they would keep breaking off the stem until there was none left for smoking. Pipes were quite disposable, but it took a lot of little pieces before one was thrown away completely.
How did they dispose of stuff, I asked. Like we do, I was told. They would just throw things out the window, and when they cleaned up, they would dig a hole and throw it all in the pit. That certainly explains why one would find lots of little pieces of things like nails, glass, ceramics, and pipe bits around an area with stone structures that are man made. They threw broken stuff out the window, and in a general cleanup would leave the little stuff in the dirt. Three hundred years later, archaeologists screening the dirt are finding those little reminders of domestic trash.
Last year Isabelle ____________, who is not here this year, found a trash pit. It was rich with material, including a silver spoon handle right on top.
The digging is done very precisely by measurement. The tools for actual digging consist of a small spade, a wisp broom and dust pan, a screen, and hands combing through the debris.
Thane Harpole, a graduate student has joined the group this week.
Food remains an important topic of conversation. I am told that Francesco is a great cook, and they generally let him at it. __________ bakes and actually enjoys it, so they let her.
There is a small TV at the house where they are living, but no one watches it. They have one telephone line, so everyone has access to their e-mail, but no one stays on long as they all have to get a chance each evening.
June 14, the weather is still cool and cloudy, but lots has been accomplished. At the Indian site, where Kat and Lee have been working with some others, they have found lots of Indian ceramics, some quite large. There are lots of questions about the different characteristics. Dr. Mrozowski suggests that the understanding about Woodlands Indian pottery is that first known examples are quite thick, and before ìcontactî (with Europeans) it had become finer and thinner. Perhaps at first they put the pots directly on a fire, but later they would hang them over the fire and therefore could be less dense. However, after ìcontactî, pottery regressed into a thicker consistency.
Dr. Mrozowski reminded the group that after the Romans left Britain, the population there didnít make pottery for over 100 years, perhaps because they had forgotten how, having gotten their pottery from the Romans for generations. Something may have happened to the American Indians, but no one yet knows what or why.
Woodlands Indians also relied a great deal on baskets and wooden implements, which, of course, they would find no signs of because they would have rotted long ago.
Just at the end of the day, in a unit in the Indian settlement area, they found, at about 45 centimeters down, a late 17th or early 18th Century buckle for shoes or clothing. This is definitely European. And, totally unexpected, as they were ready to say that nothing more will be found in this location. Paolo suggested that there are a number of reasons why it might have ended up there, such as rodent activity. But, none-the-less, they will have to go deeper in this unit before they move on from it.
Kat is finding it fascinating that they have seen no signs of shell or wampum in the Indian encampment area. A very good point, Mr. Mrozowski agrees. They may have had a shell midden: a hole where they threw and buried their shells. And, maybe wampum was not being produced there.
Dr. Mrozowski reminds us, however, that the absence of material in a unit or series of units does not mean it is not there!
Unlike the area they dug last year which revealed signs of structures, but not much material, the units they are developing in the driveway circle this year are yielding a great deal of domestic material, certainly pieces of European ceramics.
One can only feel respect when one of the diggers will announce it is German or Dutch, or whatever. These pieces are really quite beautiful with marvelous colors. They have found more recent disturbances, for instance a tree hole and a large water pipe.
In another unit, they have found signs of a trench and two posts. Maybe also a burn area or a sill. A sill is the wooden base of a building that they may have laid directly on the ground where it would eventually rot.
Work in this unit will continue tomorrow, and two new areas will be started. One on the west peninsula where Dr. Kvammeís equipment has found an interesting aberration, and in the area between the house and the quay where there are signs of a great deal of activity, perhaps a large warehouse or a series of smaller ones with paths between ... at least real signs of a 17th century work area, which would be appropriate to the area near the quay.
Dr. Kvamme is packing up tonight and he and his family will be off to North Dakota tomorrow. He has done some very exciting work and expects to return next year.
Anne is leaving as well to return to Massachusetts.
On Thursday. June 15, the sun finally emerged in the late afternoon.
Dr. Mrozowski explained that archaeology is a day to day process in which we change our minds because we learn something new each day. Over breakfast with Mac Griswold, they discussed the fact that they have only one contemporary witness to the landscape of the 17th century manor house. George Fox, a Quaker minister, talked about sermonizing to local Indians from Grissel's "door yard." What could that have looked like? In Britain at the time, it would have had a cobbled surface as cobbles were the main paving material of the time. There is an area which they had identified before as cobbled which was confirmed by Dr. Kvamme. At first this was thought this to be a work area, but they are going to investigate it again as the potential door yard.
What will the cobble surface tell us about the function of the area? If there are ruts, wagons passed over. We might find evidence of horses hoofs. If it is the door yard, we will not see much activity. Botanical pores might tell us about flowers.
In another part of the site they have found a rich deposit of ceramic, from prehistoric times to well after the Indian culture started mixing with the European and African cultures. This will provide a valuable insight into the evolution of Indian ceramics.
In the unit west of the main site, they have found small amounts of European and Indian artifacts, and that is going well.
In the new units in the driveway circle, the digging has revealed a good model of what Dr. Kvamme saw with his equipment. It is a good example of what we can expect his results to produce. We are probably seeing the continuation of the support wall in last yearís dig which ends in a corner with some posts. It is probably linked to a fence line.
The stones in the new units are obviously a foundation, probably not of a house, but possibly of a more casual structure, such as a kitchen or smoke house. The material culture may help us figure it out.
It is not a house because the foundation would have been more substantial for a house that was expected to last for a long while and in which heat retention would be a factor.
An archaeologist needs to constantly ask, what can I expect to see? But, never hold to any one interpretation. In every moment of investigation, one needs to include ambiguity. You donít know what you find when you find it.
Also at the site today are a team of conservators from the University of Massachusetts working to conserve the cannon. They include Dennis Piechota, chief conservator, and Melody Henkel, the Lab manager. With them is Leslie Driscoll, managing director of the project. They are coating the cannon with tannic acid which will combine with the iron and protect it from further erosion. The tannic acid goes on brown but with the chemical reaction the cannon will turn black.
The dig has passed its half way mark, and Dr. Mrozowski feels pleased with the progress so far. He expressed great pleasure with the work his team has achieved so far.
Friday, June 16 was a beautiful, sunny and humid day. The crew finished the day feeling that the week had been rewarding.
The Sylvester family was in an international business. Supplies from this plantation travelednot only to the family plantation in Barbados but also to Europe. Supplies arrived from Europe which came from other parts of the world, including the near east where the very fashionable "Turkey carpets" came from. This family was not in the shipping business, but they shipped their products and needed a place to store them until they were shipped. Therefore, the large area of soil disturbance that Dr. Kvamme has found near the quay makes sense and will reveal this use. There is great confidence about this.
There are three spoken ancillary goals of the dig: to find the original manor house, to find Nathaniel Sylvesterís grave, and to find the other cannon. With each new unit, there has been the question, Will this lead us to the house?
Today, an important change in philosophy took root in the project. Let the site tell us what it wants to tell us. Let us let it develop. What does this site want to tell us about the environment in the 1650s and throughout the next half century? Set those other things aside for the moment, and just work to let the speak.
This was an important moment. The site today is not very much different from the time the present manor house was built in 1734. By then, the family business had changed, and the Georgian structure reflects the home of a wealthy gentleman farmer. When this house was built the hard scrabble life of a supply plantation for the family business was over, the work buildings had been abandoned and probably removed, and the remains of the old living quarters of the slaves and master were covered over to create a grand entrance. This is where they are digging, and they are finding those remains. Let them speak.
At the same time, a new unit was opened up to reveal the cobblestones that had been found in a test hole three summers ago and confirmed in Dr. Kvammeís scanning. This may be the door yard, or there may have been other important uses for a cobblestone area.
On the subject of Nathaniel Sylvesterís house, would he want to live on top of the slaves? Would he want his wife and eleven children so close? Or, maybe since he was a tough businessman, he would want proximity so that he could keep constant watch on his workers.
It was a huge house for the time. Most houses were two rooms, Large houses were no more than four rooms. However, there is written evidence that there were as many as seven or eight rooms in this house. When the site is ready to reveal the house, it will.
Monday, June 19 has been an overcast day. But, as far as the dig is concerned it has been a very exciting one. Work continued on the cobblestone area, expanding it, and the find was a revelation. It has an obvious pattern: squares. Is this ornamental or was it done this way to avoid shifting? Mac Griswold will Emil colleagues in Wales who are working on a contemporary site and have some expertise in cobblestones.
unit with the cobblestones was found a fork.
are the cobblestones doing so close to what appears to be a work area?
The cobblestones are contemporaneous with the midden not far away found last year.
Dr. Kvamme's maps show cobblestones on the west side of the driveway circle and so the next step will be to dig down to those as well. Will they show the same pattern, or will they be less ornamental? There are possibly two cobblestone area in close proximity. What might that tell us?
The whole area was demolished and covered rapidly. Dr. Mrozowski says that most of the archaeological record is rapid events. Like a earthquake, volcano, or a dramatic change in the purpose of a site which is what happened here.
Tuesday, June 20 was a hot day with no breeze. To some a number 10 in beauty, but dehydrating to archaeologists digging in the sun. Dr. Mrozowski says that some days you find a lot, some days not. Today was a "Not" day.
They opened up a few tests pits on the west side of the driveway circle and found a very thin cobblestone lens which had a similar signature on Dr. Kvammeís maps to the cobblestones on the east end of the driveway circle,but seems more recent.
They reopened the midden found last year and it is producing producing a lot of material.
They are finishing up the four units they started when Dr. Kvamme pointed out a foundation. Dr. Mrozowski reminded his team of how important it is to finish a unit carefully and slowly. He explained that when they return to Boston to analyze what has been produced here they are suddenly dealing with an abstraction which was so clear here. The most important part of the dig at this point is to organize their notes and thoughts carefully.
Lee has a rather terrifying probing tool, and she used it today and discovered an area just west of the circle where there was a precipitous drop, like a step. They may open up that area tomorrow.
Out in the area where the
warehouse probably stood, a unit was opened up. As expected they have started
to find large stones, such as for a foundation, but not a whole lot yet.
There they did find the largest piece of delph found yet on the entire
site. It is perhaps part of a saucer.
Mac Griswold said that her e-mail correspondence with
her colleagues in Wales suggest that the facade of a house, in the Renaissance
style of the time of this plantation, should fit into the fore court (door
yard). If the cobblestone area is as large as it appears on Dr. Kvammeís
maps, the house would have been large indeed. It is described as having
6 to 7 rooms, which was an extraordinarily large house for the time and
The cobblestone design is best described as diamonds not squares. It is called "diapering:" a diagonal series of points. It was used, in the Renaissance on pottery, textiles, windows, cobblestone ... in hundreds of different ways.
A very special guest to
the site yesterday was Jamaica Kincaid, a famous author from the West Indies.
She had been in the area to speak at the Parrish Museum on Saturday to
speak about African American landscapes, and was passing through on the
return to Boston where she taught a course on Thomas Jefferson this past
year. Watching one of the diggers working on the cobblestones with a dental
pick, she commented on the number of "domestic implements" they use. So
Wednesday, June 21 was a warm and very sunny day which is a problem at a dig. Dry soil has a dusty appearance and it is often difficult to distinguish disturbed soil from soil from the beginning of time. That is making the new unit in the area where the warehouses probably were located difficult. Also, that unit is on the edge of the area identified by Dr. Kvamme, and may be just slightly too far afield.
The Suffolk County Archaeological Society was at the site today with a filming crew. Their timing was excellent, as lots of material was found today.
At the cobblestone site, the extended unit revealed that the cobblestones ended, just as was presumed from Dr. Kvammeís maps. Tomorrow will reveal whether the ending is purposeful or was blown out from later activity. It did produce some material including what appears to be part of an iron pipe, about eight inches long.
The newest unit next to last yearís dig is exposing some very interesting material such as a rubble of building materials, including plaster and bricks. There is a great deal of coral which suggests trading with tropical destinations. Since this was a provisioning plantation, it may have been used as ballast. The unit is also producing ceramics and glassware. A small stick pin was found there today.
Work continues in the main unit to the north-west of last yearís dig, and today holes for two very large house posts were revealed. They were used to support the sill wall plate of a substantial structure. A house? The stones may be the base of a substantial chimney -- perhaps a central chimney.
Speculation about what the formations and soil disruption are revealing are continuous, but not enough is known yet to know with any confidence. The siteís signals are confusing and the mystery continues.
It was overcast through much of the day on Thursday, June 22: a perfect day for seeing variations in soil, the disturbed versus the undisturbed, as well as for taking pictures.
Dr. Mrozowski reminded the group that the field school will end on Wednesday of next week. So, they are in the end stretch. At this point, with four days left, they have to decide what to pursue and what not to pursue. Will they open up new units? Probably not, except in the paving area. It takes one and a half days to get down to the proper level. With so many features, they will have just enough time to close up the site properly.
They think that the paving was broken up by the laying of a pipe trench. But, it does continue across the driveway. The speculation is that it is related to the house, so the house could be north, east or south of the paving.
The paving is truly a wonderful find: A central part of the landscape. We would never find something like that in Boston. The archaeology of the 17th and 18th centuries in any city was destroyed in the late 19th and 20th centuries. But, in towns like Newport and Annapolis which were occupied and damaged during the Revolutionary War and never really recovered, much of their architecture and archaeology remains. As is said, poverty preserves.
In the midden, they have come just about to the end of the layers of brick, coral, and plaster. They are beginning to find some new features, so they will want to continue there.
In the Indian encampment, they are almost finished, but they want to be sure that there is not an earlier record there, for a period before the Europeans arrived.
In the first unit they dug last year at the back of the house, they found signs of natives, and Dutch and English debris. That is exactly what they are finding in the adjacent unit opened this week in what has been referred to as the warehouse area.
The amount of material
coming out of the site is significant. In the Indian encampment, they found
pounds and pounds of ceramic, both native and European. In the midden they
are presently working on, the amount of coral, brick and plaster is significant.
Today, I arrived early for the 4 o'clock briefing and the students were
lugging dozens of plastic bags of materials to the storage locker. It has
been like that nearly daily.
Dr. Mrozowski is gratified that everything does not have to be rushed. No highway or building is coming through. They can do this site properly. They certainly have a clearer view of the 17th Century context of the plantation at Sylvester Manor.
With only a few more days left of this year's field school at Sylvester Manor, Friday, June 23 was spent finishing up units. Bags of material are being sifted out of the soil all of which will be returned to Boston to be analyzed there.
On top of the cobblestones
they found a horse shoe. Proof that they had horses on Shelter Island in
Possibly the most exciting discovery today is the continuation of the cobblestones. And, the realization that the end line found in the second unit was confirmed by the new third unit which they dug quickly and will be finished up on Monday.
The warehouse area has not revealed much. It is often as significant when no features are found as when they are.
Monday, June 26 is a hot and humid day and the beginning of the end of this year's field school at Sylvester Manor. Dr. Mrozowski will depart at the end of the work day today, and the students will clean up and clear out by Wednesday. The TAs will stay until Friday to complete measuring and mapping the site.
The third unit at the cobblestone area shows a remarkable edge to what is presently presumed to be the door yard.
The unit east of
the driveway is not presently revealing a continuation of the door yard,
but a pile of rubble that seems to have been used to fill up a hole.
Mac Griswold who, as a garden historian of note, is collaborating with Dr. Mrozowski on exploring the site for explanation of how life was lived on this plantation in the 1600s is collecting and interpreting the documents associated with the period. She shared the Articles of Agreement between Nathaniel Sylvester, his brother Constant, Captain Thos. Middleton, and Ensign John Booth.
Nathaniel is the only one of the four who does not sign the agreement and must have not been in their company, perhaps away in England.
Article 8 states that trade by any of the partners must be kept by separate accounting. It mentions trade with the English, Dutch, Swedes and Indians.
It was previously thought that the house was standing when Grissel arrived; but, Article 10 details the character of housing to be built as to be modest, no more than 6 or 7 rooms. Housekeeping was also to be modest.
Nothing in the agreement anticipates the cutting of timber or the making of barrel staves. This is interesting because the modern legend is that was a principal purpose of the Island: wood for barrels.
In the care of livestock,
the partners were to participate equally in the stocking of both Shelter
Island and Robert's Island (which they also owned. (It is now called Robin's
Island.) No livestock was to be sold or slaughtered (except for housekeeping
purposes) for six years, presumably to insure that the numbers increased
appropriately before harvesting would begin.
Considering the landscape and the forces which would have impacted the layout of the plantation, Ms. Griswold is fascinated by the various forces which would have impacted a traditional English or Dutch model. In both England and Holland at the time there was a detailed and practical literate on the subject along with local example and experience which would have been the basis of design for a gentry level household which the Sylvesters' presumably was. Such a plantation was required to serve many functions, including commerce, leisure, house keeping, food (vegetables and livestock) religious practices, and a symbolic landscape for beauty as well.
The plantation design would have been impacted by the close proximity of a Native American community as well as the inclusion of African slaves. She states, "If creolization means the alteration of culture doe to interaction with other ethnicities, then creolization must have taken place at Sylvester Manor in the design and siting of the dwelling and the immediate manor house landscape."
The plantation was quite unique in its multifaceted purposes. Its major purpose was to serve as a "provisioning" business for the partners' major investment in plantations in Barbados which grew sugar cane on every inch of land. Provisioning would require not only extensive gardens for food stuffs, but storage warehouses for grain and pens for livestock, as required of a major trading post.
The Sylvesters would be cognizant of what was required for the accommodation and feeding of slaves, and that would have been different from the traditional English or Dutch work farm environment. One such alteration was the so-called Negro Garden, located by means of stumps and living remnants of a traditional quick-set hawthorne hedge adjacent to one of the prehistoric sites. A Negro Garden in Barbados was a considerable area set aside where slaves could grow their own food. The garden can be documented tentatively through archaeology as in continuous use by the finding of a 17th century ceramic colander and through an 1850s account book which describes "planting the Negro Garden."
June 26, 2000