Archaeology News: UMass search for the Original Village at Plymouth

Many visitors to  Plymouth Plantation do not realize that this recreation of the pilgrims’ first village lies about three miles from its actual site in what is now downtown Plymouth. An archaeology team from UMass Boston is currently searching for evidence of the wooden palisade that surrounded the fort and the houses that surrounded it. Although most of the evidence unearthed so far dates from the 19th century, the hope is that some 17th century artifacts will turn up. But the main goal is to find the remnants of  the first houses and of the post holes the supported the walls built around them to protect the settlers. According to the article in the June 21 issue of the Boston Globe, the dig is part of a multi-year site survey and excavation leading up to the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing. The map posted here is from the same article, which can be found in its entirety here .

History News: Two New Portraits of Shakespeare

Discovery News writer Rosella Lorenzi has posted an exciting article about the two portraits shown above. According to Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, a professor of English at Mainz University, Germany, the one on the left shows Shakespeare as he was experiencing his first successes on the London stage, around 1594. The one on the right depicts him around the age of 50,  relaxing at home in Stratford. These two newly authenticated discoveries increase the number of known likenesses of the Bard to six. For more information, see the original article here, where you can also find images of the other known portraits.

 

Civil War News: 16th Maine Gettysburg Flag

by Paul Carrier, Morning Sentinel, 12/12/07

AUGUSTA — A small but invaluable piece of the state’s history came home Monday when the Maine State Museum acquired a remnant of a Civil War flag that the 16th Maine Regiment carried into battle at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The ragged bit of dark blue silk, emblazoned with a lone golden star, is less than 5 inches long. It was once part of a flag that, at 6 feet, may well have been taller than many of the soldiers who fought under it. But the size of the seemingly unimposing scrap of cloth does not detract from its value. Quite the opposite: The fragment is valuable precisely because it is just that.With their capture imminent on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the men of the 16th Maine tore up their “colors,” as Civil War flags were known. They hid the pieces of two flags in their clothing to prevent advancing Confederates from capturing the banners. The state museum had three of those remnants in its collection until Monday, when a piece that the museum bought at auction last month finally arrived.

Carefully preserved in a glass-covered wooden frame, the remnant has a handwritten note attached to it that says John Palmer of Winslow, a soldier in the 16th Maine, gave it to his father. John Palmer is believed to have been captured at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, and imprisoned in Richmond, Va. He apparently was released from prison, and either sent or delivered the fragment to his father before being killed in battle in February 1865. The note that accompanied the fragment, written in a flowing script on paper that is now faded and torn, reads: “A piece of the flag of the Sixteen Maine Regiment. Tore up on the field of Gettysburg to keep it from the hands of the rebels. Presented to Ambrose H. Palmer by his son John Palmer after his liberation from Richmond.”

What happened to the fragment in the years that followed is unclear, but the state museum bought it and three related Civil War artifacts for $3,680 an auction firm in Cincinnati. The collection includes a black felt hat and an off-white cotton belt, both bearing the insignia of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans group. It also includes a photograph of an elderly man in a three-piece suit wearing what appears to be the hat from the auction lot. The man in the photo is believed to be Ambrose Palmer Jr., John Palmer’s older brother and a fellow member of Company B in the 16th Maine Regiment. Unlike John Palmer, Ambrose Palmer Jr. survived the war and, judging by his photograph, lived a long life.

The 16th Maine fell to the Confederates on the battlefield when it was attacked from two sides. Historians say the 16th Maine fought valiantly but its soldiers turned their attention to saving their beloved flags when they realized that defeat was inevitable. Like other Union regiments, the 16th Maine carried an American flag and a regimental flag, known collectively as “the colors.””For a few last moments our little regiment defended angrily its hopeless challenge, but it was useless to fight longer,” Abner Small of the 16th Maine wrote after the battle. “We looked at our colors, and our faces burned. We must not surrender those symbols of our pride and our faith.” The regiment’s color bearers “appealed to the colonel,” Small wrote, “and with his consent they tore the flags from the staves and ripped the silk into shreds; and our officers and men that were near took each a shred.” No one knows how many pieces of either flag remain, and museum officials aren’t sure which flag included the remnant they received on Monday.

That was the 16th Maine’s “greatest day,” wrote Earl Hess, a history professor at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, in an introduction to a collection of Small’s Civil War letters published in 2000. Hess said Tuesday that the 16th Maine’s actions show that battle flags carried “very, very deep symbolism for Civil War soldiers,” representing the “esprit de corps” of a regiment and “a larger entity – the country, the cause.””It was such an important battle and this is a very compelling story within that battle,” LaBar said. “Having two Maine regiments involved in very different ways at Gettysburg sort of bookends the whole war for me.” The 20th Maine Regiment “turned the tide” at Gettysburg, LaBar said, but the 16th Maine’s determination to keep its cherished banners out of enemy hands “is every bit as important as Little Round Top in helping us understand the Civil War.

Revised and reposted 7/23/13

History News: Abigail Adams’s Birthplace Reopens

Abigail Smith Adams, one of our most famous first ladies,  was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1744, to the Reverend William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy. The house in which she grew up and married has also had quite a history. Originally built on the corner of North and East Streets in 1685, it was enlarged in 1762, sold in 1788, torn down in 1838, and relocated and reconstructed twice. Today it stands again on North Street, close to its original location. Owned and operated by the Abigail Adams Historical Society, the building’s current restoration, and two year endeavor, is complete, and is set to reopen with a ribbon cutting on  June 29th. It will open to the public the following day from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Unusually for a house museum, this Birthplace is fully heated and air conditioned, which helps enormously with artifact preservation, and enables year-round programming.

For more information, visit the historical society’s newly designed website. 

Archaeology News: How They Finally Found Washington’s Boyhood Home

George Washington famously owned and lived at the plantation called Mount Vernon, which is located on the banks of the Potomac River, about 16 miles south of the eponymous US capitol. But he resided in many other locations before inheriting that estate from his brother’s widow. Washington was born in 1732, on his father’s tobacco farm along Pope’s Creek in Westmoreland County, VA. The house burned down centuries ago, and today the site is a National Monument ( link. )

Artist’s rendering by L. H. Barker © 2008

The family relocated when he was six years old, to the 600 acre Stafford County estate  known then as Washington Farm, and it was here that George Washington grew up. The  legends about cutting down a cherry tree and throwing a silver dollar across the Rappahannock are set here, across the river from Fredericksburg, but they are only myths. (If you’d like to try the coin trick yourself, a contest is held every year on Washington’s Birthday. Only one person has done it so far.) Less remarkable but true is the fact that he often swam in the river. He also took the ferry (not owned by the Washingtons) to Fredericksburg on many occasions, and gradually the site became known, as it is today, as Ferry Farm. George Washington became its owner in 1743, upon the death of his father Augustine, and maintained his home there until he was nearly twenty. His mother, Mary, remained there until moving to Fredericksburg in 1772, after which  Hugh Mercer purchased the property.

Ownership of Ferry Farm passed through many hands over the centuries, and it was not until 1993 that serious interest in preserving the property took root. Maintained by the George Washington Foundation,  the site became a National Historic Landmark, and commenced archaeological studies to discover the location of the Washingtons’ house, which had disappeared completely more than 170 years ago.

The efforts of eight seasons of digging finally bore fruit. In July, 2008, Ferry Farm’s chief archeologist, Dave Muraca, gave a lecture about the clues that eventually led to the uncovering of the foundations. One of the  most useful was a painting, “The View From the Old Mansion House of the Washington Family Near Fredericksburg, Virginia,”  by John Gadsby Chapman, which enabled researchers to narrow down the possibilities of the house’s location. Also crucial was the house inventory done in 1743 upon the death of Washington’s father, which permitted specific identification of  artifacts that matched those in the listing. Among these were numerous pieces of tea sets that belonged to his mother, with patterns that were easily identified and dated. When the foundation stones were finally uncovered, the “footprint” matched the layout as specified  in Augustine’s will. Mystery solved.  The dimensions of the house: 53 feet, 8-1/2 inches by 28 feet, 4 inches. The  family’s kitchen and slave quarters have also been found, and the team is searching for other Washington era structures. Another historical era is also well represented. Union soldiers used the grounds as a staging area at the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg, and such relics as buttons and pieces of armament turn up frequently. The dark line cutting through the house diagram at left is a defensive trench from that war.

One of the more curious of the artifacts is a pipe bowl bearing Masonic symbols; it is well down that Washington himself was a Mason. (No little hatchets, silver dollars, or false teeth (wooden or otherwise) have been excavated to date!)

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Sources and related links:

Fredericksburg.com: news article

George Washington Foundation

National Geographic:  press release

History News: Roger Williams’s Secret Code Cracked

“It’s like something out of Harry Potter, but Harry Potter set in Rhode Island”, according to Ted Wilmer, director of the library at Brown University. Wilmer was referring to a book owned by religious dissident Roger Williams, the man who founded Rhode Island Colony in the 1600’s. The library possesses a book, entitled An Essay Towards the Reconciling of Differences Among Christians, in which Williams painstakingly transcribed the text of two other books, but in code.  He also added personal notes having to do with his theological philosophy. Last spring, a group of Brown undergrads under took a project to crack this code, and Eureka!,  the Providence Journal now reports that they’ve done it. Exciting news indeed: “To have a major new source, a major new document, from Roger Williams is a big deal.” For further details, refer to the article here.

Congratulations to the intrepid team of students who accomplished this daunting task. History never was and never will be set in stone!

History News: Burial Plans for Richard III

A new article from the BBC describes tentative plans for burying the skeleton exhumed from a parking lot near Bosworth, where King Richard III met his violent end in battle. Examination of the bones has yielded evidence of injuries consistent with those known to have caused his death. The spine reveals scoliosis, which may explain the claim that Richard was “hunchbacked”. Current plans, if DNA testing confirms that the skeleton is Richard’s, call for re-interring him in Leicester Cathedral, close to the place he died. Some are criticizing that idea, however, because the king had expressed his wish to be buried at York Minster.

I favor York, myself…. I know they’ll take that into consideration.

Full article: BBC News – Richard III dig: Leicester Cathedral burial confirmed.