by Nancy Gadzuk
Jim McKee, Site Manager of the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Historic Site, spoke at the September 19, 2016 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. Jim spoke on The Archaeology of Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson.
The Brunswick Town archaeological collection is the largest in the state of North Carolina.
Several conditions contributed to the large number of artifacts. First, Brunswick Town was prosperous and a world-class port. The density of people and cargo passing through the area was conducive to numerous artifacts (defined as anything man-made) being left in the area.
The people of Brunswick Town, and many colonial areas, disposed of their refuse in the streets. The streets were literally paved with refuse. Back in the day, this was called refuse or garbage. Now, this refuse is called historical artifacts.
Brunswick Town had three wharves, and the area immediately surrounding the wharves has been a treasure trove of colonial artifacts. Much of what shipped out of Brunswick was naval stores, products made from pine tar and sap.
Pine tar, river muck, and salt water all combined to make an excellent preservative for anything that fell into that marine environment. Most of the artifacts Jim shared with us were found near Captain William Dry’s wharf.
Archaeologists use the artifacts they find to form a theory of what happened at the time – from the mundane to the outrageous, with reality generally found somewhere between the extremes.
At Captain Dry’s wharf, for example, they found six leather shoes in the muck, a step or two from the edge of the wharf. Each shoe was pointed toe first, suggesting some kind of panic on the wharf, so that sailors jumped, fell, or were pushed into the water.
Also found were a Spanish silver coin stamped by the mint master of Seville and fabric with buttonholes in the style of the Havana garrison uniform. These artifacts supported the belief that Dry was largely responsible for repelling a Spanish invasion in 1748.
Many Brunswick Town inhabitants were wealthy landowners who also had property elsewhere.
One person’s careless discards can, over time, become an important historical record.