Charleston Museum


The dig site at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets in Charleston.

The dig site at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets in Charleston.

This morning the Walled City Task Force began a brief exploratory dig at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets, and we found some interesting materials. Did we find physical evidence to confirm the existence of the 1769 sea wall built of Bermuda stone and brick? Well, maybe. It’s a long story, and it’s going to take us a while to sort out the evidence and draw conclusions.

Part of the exposed brickwork at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets.

Part of the exposed brickwork at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets.

If you recall the earlier posting about this topic, we’re seeking to identify the line of bricks and stones that is visible along much of the northern edge of White Point Garden (see the photo below). This line doesn’t seem to be related to either the boundary of the park or the curb of South Battery Street, and so we suspect it is a vestige of a wall constructed in the summer of 1769 as a sea wall to protect the extensive and expensive fortifications that once stood at White Point. There is no documentary evidence to suggest that this wall was ever dismantled, and thus it would have stood as a visible, useful barrier for the neighborhood until a new wall was built around the western extension of White Point Garden ca. 1850.

Most of the early records of the City of Charleston were lost or destroyed during the chaos of the spring of 1865, however, so there is a big blind spot in our historical understanding of this site.  We know from newspaper advertisements that there was some sort of repair or refashioning of this 1769 sea wall during the early years of the nineteenth century, but the extent of that work is unclear. In October of 1811, for example, the city advertised that it needed large “building stone” for construction of the East Battery sea wall (still standing today), and also “building stone of a smaller size from fifty to two hundred weight for South-Bay-street.” In October 1812, and again as late as April 1831, the city advertised its desire to contract with someone to repair “the stone wall on South Bay.” Based on what we found today, it appears that much (but perhaps not all) of the 1769 brick sea wall was rebuilt with granite stones in the early 1800s.

The first hole revealed a bonanza of rubble fill material, including large fragments of Bermuda stone.

The first hole revealed a bonanza of rubble fill material, including large fragments of Bermuda stone.

Using a small backhoe and shovels, we dug (and later re-filled) three holes today. The first hole was on the north side (the land side) of the wall in question, approximately 100 feet east of King Street. Just a few inches below the surface, we encountered a bonanza of ballast stone, brick bats, and large chunks of Bermuda stone. The wall appears to be constructed solely of stones, and back-filled with dense rubble containing almost no artifacts. That description doesn’t match what we’re looking for, but the presence of the Bermuda stone fragments was a pleasant surprise. Charleston’s senior archaeologist, Martha Zierden of the Charleston Museum, says its very unusual to find such a concentration of Bermuda stone, even fragments of it, in Charleston. If this section of the 1769 wall was rebuilt with quarried stone ca. 1811, it would make sense that workers would excavate the surviving Bermuda stone and brick and recycle it as fill material.

The second hole, on the south side of the wall, showing nineteenth-century stone repairs and a late 20th century utility obstruction.

The second hole, on the south side of the wall, showing nineteenth-century stone repairs and a late 20th century utility obstruction.

The second hole was dug on the south side (the water side) of the wall, approximately fifteen feet west of the first hole. Here we found the relatively clean face of a granite stone wall with a slight batter or slope from top to bottom. The soil in front of the wall was completely sterile and new, because sometime in the late twentieth century the power utility company built an extensive concrete chase that runs nearly the width of the park, parallel to the wall we’re investigating. After digging down approximately three feet, that utility line prevented us from exploring this side of the wall any further. As you can see in my photograph, it appears that this section of the 1769 sea wall was also rebuilt with stone in 1811.

Martha Zierden places a photographic scale on the brick wall exposed in our third hole of the day.

Martha Zierden places a photographic scale on the brick wall exposed in our third hole of the day.

The third and final hole of the day was located just a few feet east of the corner of King and South Battery, next to the clearly exposed line of brick. After just a few seconds of breaking the surface on the north side (land side) of the wall, we began seeing fragments of ceramics and glass. Martha Zierden dated them to the first half of the nineteenth-century. We were able to remove enough fill to expose fifteen courses of brick before water began to seep into the hole (remember the Ashley River is just a stone’s throw away). Although we were pleased to finally see some intact, old brickwork, the appearance of the brick was not quite what we were expecting. We found many fragments of colonial-era brick in the fill behind the wall, but as you can see in the photo below, the bond or pattern of the layout of the brick is more reminiscent of post-colonial-era work.

The brickwork of uncertain vintage, exposed in the day's third hole.

The brickwork of uncertain vintage, exposed in the day’s third hole.

Could it be that this section of the 1769 brick sea wall was also rebuilt ca. 1811, but with brick rather than stone? The determining factor in this question might be the presence or absence of Bermuda stone at the base of the brick work. Since the bottom course of bricks was actually below the water level, we couldn’t see what was there. A tactile investigation (that is, reaching into the mud) found only coarse silt and vague fragments, which might actually represent the remnants of degraded Bermuda stone (which is soft when under water and hardens only when exposed to dry air). In short, we’re not sure of the date of this construction.

Looking west toward the intersection of King and South Battery Streets.

Looking west toward the intersection of King and South Battery Streets.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day of archaeology, despite the high temperature of only 48. We’ll return to the scene tomorrow and try to find further evidence to help us understand the construction history of this mysterious wall. Thursday should be a warmer day, so please drop by and have a look if you’re in the neighborhood. Remember, also, that there will be a public program in late March including recap the history of the 1768-1769 sea wall and a summary of the findings from this dig.

 

A small fragment of Bermuda stone excavated today.

A small fragment of Bermuda stone excavated today.

Oh–and of course I have to include a photo of a Bermuda stone fragment recovered from this morning first dig. This material would have been sawed into a rectangular block originally, but as you can see now it’s quite degraded.

 

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Following the 2008 and 2009 excavations of the colonial-era redan at the east end of Tradd Street (now South Adger’s Wharf), the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force began planning with the City of Charleston to depict the outline of the redan’s foundation on the present landscape. After considering and dismissing several methods and materials for accomplishing this goal, Mayor Joseph P. Riley insisted that brick should be used in order to render the outline as visible and as durable as possible. Some months ago Charleston Museum’s archaeologist Martha Zierden used spray-paint to touch up the series of pink dots on the road surface that indicate the outline of the redan’s inner and outer faces. This morning workers used masonry saws to connect those dots, and removed the asphalt and cobblestones between the inscribed lines. In the coming days, we’ll see the finished effect–a handsome brick pathway that follows the precise outline of the redan’s walls, which remain standing just two feet below the modern surface. The public is invited to visit South Adger’s Wharf and view the new work. If you can’t make it down to the site, enjoy these photos taken by task force co-chair, Katherine Saunders Pemberton, earlier today.  480822_10151683727331264_1591341619_n943555_10151683729741264_2075123487_n

Yesterday I neglected to thank Robert Behre, columnist with the Charleston Post and Courier, for his good article (and video) of the “buried treasure” that has been uncovered at the east end of Tradd Street this month. Over the past several weeks his three articles about this dig have definitely enhanced our visibility, and we appreciate the public attention given to this educational venture.

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Bags of artifacts ready for the lab at the Charleston Museum

Since the digging finished yesterday, the dozen College of Charleston archaeology students helped Martha Zierden of the Charleston Museum to sort the labeled bags of artifacts accumulated during the past four weeks. Martha says the total number of ceramic sherds, bottle fragments, bone, and other items is still unclear, but it’s definitely in the thousands. The task of processing and preserving this material begins now and will continue for many months. This long and laborious project costs money, too, so we ask everyone to please consider donating to the Walled City Task Force or directly to the Charleston Museum in order to help Martha with this important work.

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Striking the set on on the final day of the dig

This plan for this dig was hatched by the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force many, many months ago, but it was conducted this month as a “field school” course through the College of Charleston. The students laboring here in the sun and rain over the past four weeks  are receiving course credit for their work, and this morning they had their final exam. Following that somber ritual, the students and and their course leaders, Martha Zierden and Barbara Borg, gathered all the tools, equipment, supplies, and artifacts and began packing up the Museum’s old field truck. Like the end a theatrical run, the actors on this archaeological stage pitched in to strike the set and say a bittersweet goodbye to the experience.

The only task remaining was to re-cover the redan that they have worked so hard to unearth. Compared to the past four weeks of painstaking, meticulous digging and study, the process of filling the excavation units went by in the blink of an eye. For this task we turned over the stage to two familiar faces, James “Tiny” Bonnett and Leroy Young of Charleston Water System, who so ably assisted us with heavy equipment in January 2008 and again this week. Leroy brought in fresh fill dirt to cover the redan, and James gingerly directed the backhoe to move the dirt into position and tamped it down. Below are a few photos of this “finale.”

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The fence and signage at the dig site will remain for a few more days, and next week the city will repave the portion of asphalt parking lot disturbed by this project.

Many visitors to the dig site have expressed dismay that we planned to fill the excavation at the end of June. Exposed to the elements, especially direct sunlight, however, the old brick and wood that we’ve been studying would rapidly begin to decay and crumble. It’s in everyone’s best interest to protect this historic site, and re-covering it offers the best short-term solution. Until such time as there is a plan for a safe and secure method of displaying or viewing the remnants of the old redan, we’ll just let it rest. Once a plan has been designed and approved, then the money must be secured to bring the plan to fruition. In the near future we’ll definitely be beating the drum to raise funds for this purpose, and we hope members of the community will express their enthusiasm for creating a window into the past by lending a hand. 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!

The front page of today’s edition of the Charleston Post and Courier included a very good article about the dig, written by architectural columnist, Robert Behre. A lot of Charlestonians and tourists read the article, Wall to Wall Dig, and visited the site to have a look at the work. While there may not be much to see yet, the crew is very pleased with the results so far. After two days of hand digging, the College of Charleston students have excavated three square units to a depth of nearly three feet, and have reached what appears to be the top of the remnants of the colonial-era redan and the floor of the Lower Market.

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(click on the images to enlarge)

At a depth of approximately 2.5 feet, they found a number of relatively thin red brick pavers, identical to ones seen in last year’s dig, which represent the floor of the Lower Market after it was extended over the remains of the redan in 1786. Many of the pavers were disturbed during some construction two centuries ago, but some can be seen in their original horizontal position. Immediately below those brick pavers is the top of the redan wall. In the photographs above, the redan surface is the field of whitish mortar below the flat red bricks of the market floor. Because of the relatively small size of the present excavated units, it’s rather difficult to convey a sense of the location of these features. Not to worry, however, because tomorrow and in the coming days the crew will open further units and improve the view. The next few days should be very exciting.

Every bit of dirt excavated from the controlled units is being screened, and the College of Charleston students are getting some valuable field experience in identifying fragments of animal bones, glassware, and a wide range of eighteenth-century ceramics. The prize find of the day, however, was a small remnant of a teapot lid, dating from the era 1760–1800. It’s made of unglazed (stained) black basalt ware, and as you can see in the photograph above, it appears to be a spaniel measuring just a few centimeters in length and height. All of the artifacts from this dig will be taken to the Charletson Museum for curation.

Beginning Monday, June 1st 2009, the ground will again be opened near South Adger’s Wharf in downtown Charleston in search of the city’s colonial fortifications. Charleston Musuem Archaeologist Martha Zierden will be leading a “field school” for archaeology students who will excavate the site over four weeks in the month of June. Like all efforts of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force, this project is a cooperative venture involving a number of agencies, including the City of Charleston, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Charleston Museum, and the College of Charleston.

The dig site at the southeast corner of East Bay Street and South Adger's Wharf

The dig site at the southeast corner of East Bay Street and South Adger's Wharf

The upcoming work represents a continuation of the productive dig at South Adger’s Wharf in January 2008. During that ten-day excavation, the Walled City Task Force uncovered approximately 24 feet of the northern wall of the old redan at the east end of Tradd Street (see the images elsewhere on this blog). The June 2009 dig will explore the southern portion of the redan, which is under a city-owned asphalt parking lot adjacent to last year’s dig site. We hope to uncover the apex and a significant portion of the southern wall of the redan, and to explore the foundations of these brick fortifications that were begun in the late 1690s and leveled in the mid-1780s.

The asphalt surface of the parking lot was removed on 28 May 2009

The asphalt surface of the parking lot was removed on 28 May 2009

The public is invited to come view the work in progress on weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Educational posters will be displayed at the dig site for the duration, and volunteer will be on hand to answer questions during work hours. In addition, I will be blogging about the excavation as it unflolds, and hosting a wrap-up program at the Charleston County Public Library on Tuesday, June 30th, at 6:30 p.m. Stay tuned for information about the latest discoveries!

riley_visit_last_day.jpgWednesday was an overcast, chilly day at South Adger’s Wharf, and in the late afternoon we all said a bittersweet goodbye to the redan wall that we’ve come to know so well over the past two weeks. Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. paid another visit to the site today and expressed to Katherine Saunders his great satisfaction with our discoveries and the enthusiastic public attention the dig has garnered. Beyond this executive visit, most of the day was spent wrapping up loose ends—measuring, surveying, sketching, and photographing. Nevertheless, we still managed to make a few very exciting discoveries.

redan_transition_1.jpgredan_transition_2.jpgredan_transition_3.jpg Several of us took turns shoveling out the slurry of mud in front of the redan’s northeastern face. Despite working right at the water table, we were determined to get a better view of the point where the outer face of the wall makes a transition from five feet wide with a sloped face to three and a half feet wide with no slope. After a couple of hours, we had removed enough of the ballast stones and brick rubble to reveal the outline of the transition, which you can clearly see in the photos here. Although the grey brick drain slices right through the middle of our exposed redan wall, you can see that the five-foot wide wall makes a ninety degree turn, then goes west for 1.5 feet, then makes another ninety degree turn towards the northwest. The lowest courses of this brick transition are still present, but unfortunately the upper courses have been demolished. Although it’s not visible here, the wall continues downward, with an outward slope, for several more feet below the water line in these photos. We weren’t able to get all the way to the foundation, but we have enough data to create some good three-dimensional images in the future.

redan_fragment_removal.jpgThanks to the well-skilled backhoe crew from Charleston Water System, several large fragments of the redan’s uppermost or parapet walls were pulled out of the dirt for safekeeping. These fragments, which were knocked into the mud during the redan’s demolition ca. 1785, can be useful teaching tools in the future, and they will certainly help us to create a visual reconstruction of Charleston colonial fortifications. The Charleston Museum will receive one or two large pieces for potential display, and one will be at the Historic Charleston Foundation.

Until today, two of the large fragments of the redan wall were lodged in the earth just in front of the redan’s northern flank, blocking our view of that five-feet-wide sloping face. Once they were removed, however, we finally had a chance to trowel away the dirt from the exposed brick face. mortise_in_redan.jpgWithin a few minutes, we discovered another small square cavity in the outer face, almost identical to the two cavities found earlier in the northwestern-most part of the exposed redan. Doug Scott, a master mason visiting the site, said he’s encountered these sorts of cavities in other colonial-era buildings in Charleston. He confirmed what we’ve suspected all along–that these cavities are mortises for wooden scaffolding used by bricklayers during the construction of the redan’s upper walls. After their completion, the wooden timbers inserted into the cavities would have been sawed off flush with the surface of the wall. Suspecting, then, that we might find another square cavity at the extreme southern edge of the exposed redan, we dug for a few minutes and found a fourth cavity in the wall’s outer face. The exposed portion of the redan is so small in that corner, however, that I couldn’t get a good photograph. poplin_total_station.jpgMeasuring along the exposed outer face of the redan, these square mortises are almost exactly six feet apart and roughly on the same horizontal level. The crew from Brockington and Associates recorded this and other data for their “total station” digital mapping of the site, which will help us create three-dimensional representations of all of these features in the future.

refilling_trenches_1.jpg As the winter sun sank in the sky, the call came to cease work and evacuate the trenches. The shovels and other equipment were gathered up and the crew stood back to take one last admiring look at the results of our two-week dig. refilling_trenches_2.jpgMoments later, the backhoe lurched into action and began pushing recently-removed soil back into the trenches. In what seemed like an instant (but really more like a bone-chilling couple of hours), the western end of South Adger’s Wharf began to resemble the street on which we first gathered on January 3d. The old redan is now out of sight, but for those of us who had the opportunity to witness its brief appearance, it will never be out of mind.

Fear not, the work of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force—and this blog—will continue into the future. If you’d like to volunteer at a future event, or to contribute towards sustaining the work of the Task Force, please contact Katherine Saunders at (843) 723-3646, or email her at ksaunders[at]historiccharleston.org.

It was picture day at South Adger’s Wharf today. That is, the archaeologists did their best trowel and brush work this morning to make the exposed brickwork look as neat as possible for their “official” photographic record. This careful, detail-oriented work took most of the day, and despite deep shadows created by the low winter sun, they got some good images. My photos here aren’t the greatest, but I spent most of the day swinging a shovel and trying to stay out of their way!

redan_face_looking_southeast.jpg This is my favorite shot—a view of the outer face of the north flank of the brick redan, looking southeast. In the foreground you see the exposed brickwork (facing the Cooper River) with a small square cavity, the purpose of which is yet unknown. In the mid-ground you see the mid-nineteenth-century arched brick drain running east-west through the remnants of the redan. redan_vs_drain.jpg Also in the mid-ground, and continuing into the background, you see the face of the redan make a curving transition to a wider and sloping dimension just before the drain, a profile that is more clearly seen on the far side of the drain. The intersection of the 300-year-old redan and the 150-year-old drain is complicated, but here’s another photo of the cleaned-up intersection of those two features, looking in the opposite or northwest direction, that may help clarify their juncture.

second_cavity.jpgagha_and_2d_cavity.jpgWhile troweling a newly-exposed part of the outer face of the redan, at the northernmost edge of Trench 3, Ron Anthony discovered another small, shallow, square cavity in the face of the wall. This one closely resembles the cavity described a few days ago (and pictured above), but is almost exactly six feet on center to the northwest of the first cavity. I reported the other day that the first cavity appears to have been chiseled out of the brick, but the base of this second cavity appears to have been purposely left open when the bricks were laid. Like the first cavity, the northern or right face of the second is angled so as to make the void wider in the back than the front. You’ll notice in these pictures that the bricks above the once-square cavity have been cut out, leaving a cone-shaped void. This work was probably done ca. 1786, when the Lower Market, a shed structure with wooden piers, was extended over the remnants of the old redan.

jackson_and_zierden.jpg Damon Jackson of Brockington and Associates continued the careful excavation of Unit 4, at the easternmost end of Trench 2. Damon was also on site most of yesterday, too, when he did most of the “total station” mapping for the entire dig site. This careful surveying of the site and its historical features will later be compiled into a comprehensive map of the site that will be invaluable once the redan is covered over.

scott_masonry_expert.jpgDoug Scott, a masonry expert from the American College of the Building Arts, visited the site today and offered some very interesting insight into the redan brickwork. He noticed that there is sand impregnated deep into the mortar of the lowest exposed courses of brickwork on the back (land side) of the redan, suggesting that this area was being backfilled almost immediately after the bricks were laid some three hundred years ago. We’re definitely going to be picking Doug’s brain further about this historical brickwork!

embrasure_fragment.jpg Last but not least, here’s a photo of a brick fragment of the redan wall that I dug out of the backhoe fill today. I noticed that it appears to have two finished faces, forming about a 100-degree angle, as you can see in the photo at left. I suspect that this is part of one of the embrasures from the redan—that is, one of the openings in the redan wall through which the cannon protruded. In this photo, the outer face of the brick is face down in the wheelbarrow, and the inside of the embrasure is at the far left. Imagine that a cannon might have once pointed from the top left of this picture towards the bottom left.

This fragment of the redan (a remnant of the 1785 demolition) is headed to the Charleston Museum, where it will hopefully be on display one day. The cleaning, curating, and interpreting of these and other artifacts requires money, of course. Your tax-deductible contributions for this project can directed to the Historic Charleston Foundation, with the specification that the funds are to be applied to the Walled City Task Force. For more information, please contact Katherine Saunders at (843) 723-3646, or email her at ksaunders[at]historiccharleston.org.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the last full day of work on this dig. Stay tuned for more details!

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