Urban Archaeology: Evidence Emerges of Enslaved and Servant Home Life

by Director of Preservation Jessica Zullinger

After uncovering what first looked like a simple builder’s trench
(upper left unit), archaeologists opened  a second (lower right)
to determine the extent and distribution of artifacts. What they
found was not a builder’s trench at all!

Week two of excavations in and around the north garden “Tennis Lawn” at Tudor Place continues to produce remarkable archaeological findings. Last week, contractor Dovetail Cultural Resources uncovered what appeared to be the edge of a builder’s trench in one of the Orchard “units” (spade-dug pits). To follow up, Dovetail opened a second, adjacent unit to try to determine the trench’s size and extent.

What they discovered was not, in the end, a trench. At the level where they expected to find back-filled dirt in a narrow channel built to hold a foundation wall, the archaeologists instead found mounds of debris indicative of a domestic feature: Rather than a trench, they were digging in the feature itself, and coming across good-sized fragments of bone, ceramic sherds, buttons, a piece of pipe bowl, nails, and oyster shells, among other materials.

Artifacts removed from the dwelling feature include rough,
handmade pottery (left), ceramic sherds (center top)
and buttons (lower left).

The type and distribution of artifacts accords with what is typically associated with domestic dwellings inhabited by servants, and specifically enslaved servants. Equally exciting, from a reseearch perspective, are the nature of some of the ceramic sherds. These rough, hand-made pottery pieces suggest the type of vessels known to have been made by enslaved African Americans and primarily found in the Chesapeake and Carolina low-country regions. For Tudor Place, this remarkable discovery will be a huge step toward understanding and interpreting the lives of enslaved workers on this property and in nearby urban settings.

While this phase of archaeological investigation is coming to a close, we will continue to learn more about the project findings as the Dovetail team dates and analyzes the artifacts and their distribution pattern.  Stay tuned to the blog for more details in the months to come!

Soil removed from the unit and awaiting screening to separate artifacts
from soil. Large pieces of bone and bits of shell are visible in the bucket.

Things They Left Behind: Exploring Domestic Life Through Archaeology

by Director of Preservation Jessica Zullinger

December 2010: The comprehensive
Phase I archaeological survey begins.


There was excitement in the air Monday morning, despite the chilling wind, as the staff of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group arrived at Tudor Place to being a much anticipated Phase II archaeological project aimed at uncovering information about servant life at Tudor Place. Dovetail completed a comprehensive Phase I archaeological survey of the property in 2011. It entailed digging carefully mapped test pits at close intervals around the 5.5-acre property — exploratory archaeological work that uncovered fascinating fragments of domestic life, including ceramics, personal items such as buttons, and architectural debris.

These tantalizing hints from the Phase I study confirmed that the Tudor Place grounds are rich in archaeological resources and offered several intriguing possibilities for further study. Test pits in and west of the Tennis Lawn, to the house’s northeast, yielded a high concentration of domestic artifacts in a relatively small area, suggesting a possible connection to servant life at Tudor Place. This evidence of consistent activity over time, along with an 1863 map suggesting the location of an outbuilding in this area, prompted its selection for further study as part of the Phase II investigation, generously supported by The Marpat Foundation.

1863 Boschke Map showing location of outbuildings in north yard.
The current dig is targeting a possible structure in the eastern rear yard. 

Results came quickly: By 11:00 a.m. Monday, less than two hours after the dig started, several exciting ceramic fragments had turned up in the upper layers of the Tennis Lawn test pit. Among them was a lovely fragment of Rockingham ware, a type of refined earthenware produced in North American ca.1830-1930 and distinguished by the presence of a brownish glaze with a dripped or mottled effect over a yellow base.

Rockingham ware fragment found in the Tennis Lawn test pit
soon after the dig began, Monday, March 4.

Archaeologists dig test pits in layers, with the color of the soil or a change in texture and composition signifying the end of one layer and start of the next. In this way, artifacts can be understood in the context of the property’s history according to where they fall in the stratigraphy of the pit.

The topsoil has been removed from this test
pit just west of the Tennis Lawn. Archaeologist
Joe Blondino is beginning to dig into
the next layer of soil.
This test pit in the Tennis Lawn revealed flecks of brick
and charcoal in the layer just under the topsoil.

Throughout the week (when it isn’t snowing!) the archaeology team will continue digging up to seven test pits in hopes of uncovering more information about domestic life at Tudor Place, and particularly the lives of free and enslaved servants.

If you are interested in archaeology, or just curious to see how a dig operates, what a great time to visit Tudor Place and observe this exciting work in progress!