Lower Market

In the autumn of 2012 I presented a lecture illustrating the rise and fall of Charleston “wharf wall” or “curtain line,” a massive brick line of fortification stretching nearly 2,600 feet along the colonial town’s Cooper River waterfront. Since that time the Walled City Task Force has located and exposed a small portion of that wall, and I’ve refined my theories about its design and appearance.  Later this month, on February 26th 2014, I’ll continue our monthly series of “Walled City” lectures by presenting an updated history of this important feature of colonial Charleston. In addition to showing the usual array of maps and historical documents, I’ll reveal my latest conceptual drawings of what I think the old “wharf wall” looked like between the 1690s and the 1780s. If you’d like to learn more about this topic—the longest standing and most expensive part of Charleston’s colonial fortifications—please join us for a free lecture at the Charleston County Public Library:

Charleston’s “Wharf Wall”:

Frontline of our Colonial Fortifications”

Time: Wednesday, February 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.

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

The greater part of this hot Monday was spent cleaning profiles, measuring angles, and photographing units. A bit of digging turned up at least one exciting new development. Digging deeper into a square unit just a few feet south of the redan’s apex, the student archaeologists began exploring the muddy soil at the water table. Here in the South Carolina lowcountry we call this watery stuff “pluff mud,” and its distinctive organic odor quickly filled the dig site. This layer soon proved to be rich in cultural artifacts, most probably dating back to the very early 1700s. One large, cylindrical item proved to be tenaciously stuck in the mud, however, and a little extra weight on the shovel caused the fiberglass handle to shatter (see below left)! Upon closer inspection, we realized that it was not a brick or ballast stone or bottle but the top of a wooden pile, and then noticed a second once a few inches to the northeast (see below center). A quick check with the tape measure confirmed my suspicion that these piles were located approximately five feet from the the face of the redan, and that they form a line parallel to the south face of the redan. These characteristics match our records of a legislative discussion in 1702 that mentions a row (or double row) of wooden piles to be placed in front of the sea wall at a distance of five feet, back-filled with oyster shells and mud, to protect the brickwork from storms. The mud surrounding the piles seems to be very interesting, but the students will have a devil of a time screening it. As you can see in the photo below right, this pluff mud is so wet and sticky that it’s nearly impossible to work through the wire mesh of the screens.


(click on the images above to enlarge)

Meanwhile, back at the redan, I spent some time today measuring surfaces and angles in order to create a three-dimensional model of the redan. I must say that there are many physical features here that don’t quite match the documentary evidence we have in the surviving colonial legislative records. We have much puzzling to sort out before we can theorize the “original” dimensions of the redan. I use that term “original” loosely because the documentary evidence tells us that the redan and the brick “curtain line” running on the east side of East Bay Street were repaired, augmented, and substantially rebuilt on several occasions in the eighteenth century. Take for example the large mass of bricks laying in the mud just a few inches from the south face of the redan (see below left and center). Is this a fragment of the upper part of the redan wall, or is it a fragment of the lower part of what was once a pair of thin brick walls forming the back and front of the redan, filled with mud in between? The surviving colonial legislative records mention both of these options, so we may be looking at remnants of the redan from before the destructive hurricane of 1752 and remnants from after that storm.


(click on the images above to enlarge)

To make this matter more confusing, we can now make out two distinctive semicircular mortar patterns on the top of the redan (one of which is pictured above right, looking southwest). What is the significance of this pattern? At this level the fractured surface of the redan is 60 to 62 inches wide, and the diameter of this semicircle, located more or less in the center of the wall, is approximately 30 inches. Hmm . . . more head scratching is required.

Fridays usual afford the archaeologists an opportunity to finish the tasks at hand and review the progress made so far. Today was no exception, and I’m happy to have some great views of the redan to share.

The work of removing the remnants of the 1786 floor of the Lower Market the top of the redan was completed today, allowing us to get a good look at the scars left by the demolition of the upper parts of the wall ca. 1784–1785 (see below left). This work also revealed the inside edge of the redan’s south wall (see below center), which unfortunately abuts the extreme northern limit of our dig site. Just as we found in 2008 while excavating the north wall of this redan, the breadth of the wall at this point is five feet at the top. The original breadth of the upper parts of the wall, which were demolished after the American Revolution, is still somewhat of a mystery, but we have definitely located a large fragment of that upper wall. The photo below right shows Martha Zierden pointing to a large chunk of brickwork that tumbled down from the upper part of the redan when it was demolished. We’ll definitely learn more about this large fragment next week.


(click on the images above to enlarge)

As a result of the students’ hard work, our view of the redan in general is much improved. For those of you not able to visit the site in person, I offer you the following images. The first, below left, is a shot looking down the south flank of the redan from very near the point. The second, below right, is a flawed panoramic view (imperfectly stitching three photos together) showing the top of the exposed redan wall, from the apex at the left toward East Bay Street to the right.


(click on the images above to enlarge)

Another day, another round of new artifacts. The earth is yielding some late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century objects this week, such as this fragment of bowl-form mottled manganese ware (below left). Many pieces of early Delft ware have been found, such as this fragment of a flat, footed plate (below center). The final photo (below right), taken on one of the sifting screens, shows a cache of the sort of early combed and trailed slipware that has been very plentiful at this site. Fabulous stuff!


Today the archaeology students working at the east end of Tradd Street spent a lot of time sketching and recording the profiles at the western end of the exposed redan. After that careful work was completed, they began digging out more soil and removing the paving bricks from the floor of the Lower Market. Those thin paving bricks (see the photo below left, were laid in mortar in 1786 over the remnants of the redan, but after more than two hundred years the low-fired clay of the bricks is now softer than the mortar. Within a few hours of this messy, tedious work, however, they had removed nearly all of the market floor from the redan, providing a much better view of the colonial fortifications (see images below).


(click on the images above to enlarge)

cow_horn_coreFragments of eighteenth century ceramics, glass, and clay pipes continue to appear in the soil excavated from the redan area, but today Martha showed me something different—a couple of interesting bone fragments. The first is the core of a horn of a short-horned cow. At just over three inches in length, this small item (see photo at left) is an important reminder that the flesh of calves and cattle were routinely brought to the Lower Market at this site during the second half of the eighteenth century. knife_handle

A related cultural artifact was also found today: a small mid-eighteenth-century knife handle carved from a piece of cow bone. As you can see in the photo at right, the bone handle itself has darkened considerably with age and exposure to the elements, and the remnants of the steel blade have corroded and rusted away. These are wonderful reminders of cultural activity on the waterfront of early Charleston.

The dig at the east end of Tradd Street had a slightly larger audience today thanks to Robert Behre’s latest article, “Charleston Dig Reveals Tip of History,” in today’s edition of the Post and Courier. Later in the day the local ABC affiliate, WCIV News 4, arrived and interviewed your truly.

Meanwhile, back in the trenches, students continued to excavate the soil adjacent to the south face of the redan. That work is now moving at a slower pace, however, because we’re just above the water table and the soil is becoming increasingly damp. Simultaneously, a few feet to the west, students continued to remove the earth situated above the redan and opened a connection with a separate unit to the west  (see below left). The profiles in that area have now been studied and photographed, so tomorrow they’ll begin removing the remnants of the Lower Market floor and the soil blocking our view of the redan’s south face (see below center). By the end of this week we’ll be able to see a continuous redan wall measuring nearly twenty feet.


(click on the images above to enlarge)

The earth removed from the area adjacent to the redan continues to yield interesting artifacts. One of the most common sights in this soil is broken brick fragments (brick bats) that rained into the mud when the upper parts of the redan were demolished in the mid-1780s. The photograph below left shows a typical collection of this material after it has been removed from the excavation unit.


(click on the images above to enlarge)

Fragments of old ceramics continue to turn up everywhere. At center above is a portion of a brown salt-glazed stoneware vessel found today. Sherds of this distinctive ceramic type have been plentiful this month. Above right is the highlight of the day, and perhaps the oldest artifact yet found during the current excavation. The archaeologists tell me that this fragment, representing part of the base of a large vessel, is an example of North Devon gravel-tempered ware. On close inspection of the cross-section of the sherd, you can see tiny pieces of gravel in the composition of the clay. Manufacture of this type of ceramic began in North Devon, England, in the early seventeenth-century, so it’s possible that this vessel may have been brought to Charleston shortly after the town was settled in the late 1600s.

Work wrapped up at the east end of Tradd Street just minutes before the onset of yet another late afternoon thunderstorm. In spite of the lingering presence of ominous clouds, the student archaeologists working at the site made some significant headway today.

Continuing to excavate the soil on the south side of the colonial redan wall, the students revealed a surprising view of the condition of the “nose” of the redan. As you can see in the photos below, there are a couple of significant voids in the extreme tip of the redan, to the north and to the south of the apex. We don’t know the cause of these voids, but the archaeologists will have to exercise caution when working in the soil around the apex from now on.


(click on the images above to enlarge)

Just a few few to the west, other students were busy removing the soil of another excavation unit in order to reveal more of the 1786 floor of the Lower Market (see the photo above right). As that work continues southward tomorrow, we’ll also begin to see more of the westward continuation of the redan wall.

redan_fragmentOn Day 10 of the dig I mentioned a patch of “mystery” bricks located a few feet to the south of the redan apex. Further exploration of that area has revealed the outline of a large mass of bricks and something resembling concrete (see the photo at right). We suspect that this mass is a large fragment of the upper wall of the redan, similar to parts of the wall embrasure that we saw in 2008 during the South Adger’s Wharf dig. In the next few days, as the students continue to work downward along the south face of the redan, we’ll be dealing with this and other large chunks of the wall that tumbled into the mud when the upper parts of the redan were demolished in late 1784 or early 1785.

polychrome_bowlFinally, I’ll mention a few interesting artifacts unearthed today. While expanding a unit and removing the soil located above the level of the redan, students discovered several fragments of a hand-painted polychrome (multicolor) bowl. The archaeologists tell me that this material, seen in the photo to the left, dates from the era of approximately 1780 to 1820. bottle_and_marbleSimilarly, today’s sifting also revealed a beautiful fragment of an early-nineteenth century medicine bottle, as well as a small glass marble. These two items, pictured at right, represent a later occupation of this site than the colonial-era artifacts found next to the redan, but they are still beautiful reminders of life in earlier generations.

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