I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in today’s digging at the historic east end of Tradd Street. I will always remember this miserably hot, intolerably bright June day as one of the highlights of my life in Charleston. With the skilled assistance of team members from Charleston Water System, the city’s Storm Water Service, and Dr. Eric Poplin‘s intrepid coaxing of the city’s mega-vacuum, we got to the bottom of the redan brickwork, more than eight feet below the top of the redan, and studied its foundation. In short, we traveled back in time to take a brief once-in-a lifetime peek at the handiwork of African and European laborers in Charleston in the late 1690s.

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The bulk of the day was spent scooping and vacuuming out the water, mud, brick bats, pebbles, and ballast stones from an area about ten feet along the south face of the base of the redan’s south wall, extending approximately three feet  southward from the exposed brick (see the photos above). The goal was to find the bottom edge of the brick, to study the foundation for this massive wall of solid brick, and to record its dimensions. By the end of the day, we had the answers that we had been so eagerly awaiting. I took a dozens of photographs and even some video of this activity, but it will take me a few days or weeks to digest and edit this material. For the moment, therefore, I’ll simply summarize the findings and report more at a later date.

IMG_0549The brickwork of this redan extends 101 inches—nearly eight and a half feet—from the exposed top surface, along the outer slope of the wall, down to the bottom of the lowest brick course. If one remembers that prior to 1785 this wall extended a further six feet above their street level, then it is truly impressive to think that this was once a solid mass of bricks approximately fourteen feet high. The photo at left shows College of Charleston students with archaeologist Eric Poplin recording the height and location of the bottom of the wall. Below left is an image of the measuring instrument perched on Eric’s trowel at the base of the wall. Below center and right are probably the my best and last views of the full scale of the redan’s exposed south face.

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At the level where the brickwork ends, approximately eleven to twelve feet below modern street level, we found a line of cypress planks, approximately two inches thick, which appear to run parallel to the edge of the bricks. Since we used a backhoe (a step up from yesterday’s smaller track-hoe) to clear away part of the mud from this area, a few chunks of this cypress plank were brought to the surface (see the photos below). As you can see, it looks as if it had been hewn yesterday.

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We were not surprised to see cypress planks under the brick because architects Albert Simons and Samuel Lapham reported seeing the same when they encountered the foundation of Granville’s Bastion during their expansion of the Missroon House (40 East Bay Street) in 1925. At that time Simons and Lapham also reported seeing, but did not photograph, palmetto lots directly below their cypress planks, so we expected to see palmetto, too. Today, however, we learned that the cypress planks of this redan are resting on a thick nest of small vertical cypress piles.

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The three images above are the first photographs ever taken of a foundation of Charleston’s waterfront fortifications, which commenced building in the late 1690s (see our time line). As you can see, the horizontal cypress planks, which were a little damaged by our excavation, are pressing all the weight of the bricks above them onto a number of vertical, rough-hewn cypress stakes of varying sizes. We saw no signs of palmetto logs below this material. I am ecstatic to have had the privilege of climbing ankle-deep in the mud with Dr. Poplin to see this first hand. I hope our readers are similarly impressed!

Today was the final day of digging. Friday morning the excavated areas will be refilled with fresh dirt, and next week a layer of asphalt will return. Yes, there is talk of designing a permanent “window” of some sort over the redan, but nothing has yet been designed and no money raised for its construction. If you feel inclined to assist in funding such a project I encourage you to contact Katherine Saunders, co-chair of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force and associate director of preservation at the Historic Charleston Foundation, at ksaunders[at] historiccharleston.org, or call her at (843) 723-3646.

Don’t forget about the upcoming program at the Charleston County Public Library on Tuesday, June 30th, at 6:30 p.m. We’ll review the past four weeks of archaeology and talk about all the lessons learned during this great experience. Please come!

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