HCF


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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Looking north along the east face of Granville's Bastion

Looking north along the east face of Granville’s Bastion

Last week I had an opportunity to visit Granville’s Bastion, under the Missroon House (headquarters of the Historic Charleston Foundation) at 40 East Bay Street, with Walled City Task Force co-chair, Katherine Pemberton. With the aid of a couple of shop lights, a tape measure, and a compass, we were able to take a number of photos and measurements that will aid our future efforts to document and re-imagine the former appearance of this late-seventeenth-century structure. As you can see in the photo here, a significant portion of the bastion’s once-mighty walls remain intact under the Missroon House, even after the bastion was razed to street level in 1785. In fact, nearly the entire length of its east face, measuring approximately ninety feet from south to north, still stands approximately four feet above the sand. Using plats and descriptions dating from the 1690s to the 1990s, in conjunction with these physical remains, there is still much to learn about the design and construction of this historic structure.

Want to learn more about Granville’s Bastion, the brick “fortress” that guarded the southeast corner of colonial Charleston? Please join me for a free program at the Charleston County Public Library titled:

“Granville’s Bastion, 1696–1785: Charleston’s First Brick Fortress.”

Time: Wednesday, March 26th 2014 at 6:00 p.m.

Place: Second Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun St., 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

Granvill's Bastion in 1739

Granville’s Bastion as it appeared in 1739

Commissioned in 1696 and dismantled in 1785, Granville’s Bastion was Charleston’s first brick “fortress” and the principal defensive work along the Cooper River waterfront. Here twelve cannon guarded the southeast corner of the town, overlooking a small beach where royal governors and visiting dignitaries were received with pomp and ceremony. Only its foundations remain today, under the present Missroon House, but the surviving materials provide sufficient clues to facilitate a conjectural reconstruction. Please join historian Nic Butler on November 28th for an illustrated review of the history of Granville’s Bastion, and learn how new technology can be used to render a 3D model of this once-formidable structure.

Granville’s Bastion: Charleston’s First Brick Fortress

Place: Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom

Time: Wednesday, November 28th 2012, at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Dr. Nic Butler 843-805-6968 or at butlern[at]ccpl.org.

The Mayor’s Walled City Task Force is very pleased to announce that the long-awaited interpretive signage has been installed at the intersection of East Bay Street and South Adger’s Wharf, where archaeological digs in January 2008 and June 2009 uncovered the remnants of the colonial-era redan (or salient angle) that stood at the east end of Tradd Street. The signage consists of two handsome, illustrated text panels, created by the History Workshop, which offer a brief overview of Charleston’s colonial fortifications and also explain the mission of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force. More importantly, these panels summarize the recent archaeology at South Adger’s Wharf, and serve to mark the site of that important exploration of our city’s colonial fabric. Note also that between the signs stands a small fragment of the parapet (uppermost part of the wall) of the Tradd Street redan that was unearthed from this site during our excavations.  For more information about these panels, take a look at the the following images, or take a stroll down East Bay Street and see them yourself!

Looking northeast from the east end of Tradd Street

Looking southeast from the east end of Tradd Street

Click the image above to enlarge

Click the image above to enlarge

Missroon House (center)

On 21 December 2009, a City of Charleston’s stormwater drainage crew parked next to the Missroon House, No. 40 East Bay Street, to address a routine problem. Their equipment had detected a subterranean leak in the main drain running down the center of East Bay Street, near the point where East Bay Street becomes East Battery Street. After opening a small hole in the asphalt road surface, the work crew dug a few feet down and found the leak in the old nineteenth-century brick arched drain. In the process, they also uncovered a small portion of the south wall of Granville Bastion.


Walled City Task Force co-chair Katherine Saunders was right on the spot since the Missroon House, the home of the Historic Charleston Foundation, literally sits directly on top of the eastern portion of Granville Bastion. With her iPhone, she snapped a few photographs to document both the location and the materials. As you can see in the photos below, the nineteenth-century drain, constructed of grayish bricks on the right, intersects the bright reddish-orange bricks of the colonial bastion. The Task Force encountered a very similar phenomenon while digging at South Adger’s Wharf in January 2008. In both cases, the colonial brickwork was excised just enough to make room for the drain

Granville Bastion was the first and the largest of Charleston’s brick bastions, commissioned by an act of the legislature in late 1696. During the early years of the eighteenth century it was frequently called simply “the Fort” because of its size and its importance to the town’s waterfront defenses. It was here that each of the colonial governors was formally welcomed, and the birthdays of the king and queen of England were publicly toasted.

While this brief sighting on 21 December 2009 did not include any exploratory digging or archaeological investigation, it did provide valuable confirmation that substantial remnants of Granville Bastion survive under the roadbed of modern East Bay Street. A substantial portion of southeast corner of Granville Bastion is exposed under the foundation of the Missroon House, several yards east of the street, but that area is not easily accessible and is not open to the public. For the time being, the remnants of Charleston’s first brick “fort” lie safely hidden beneath the modern hardscape, invisible to the throngs of tourists walking along the High Battery along Charleston’s picturesque waterfront.

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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(click the images above to enlarge)

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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(click the images above to enlarge)

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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(click the images above to enlarge)

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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(click the images above to enlarge)

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!

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!

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