Vendue House


Everybody loves drama, and so the dig site at the east end of Tradd Street was thick with visitors today—at least with those not fixated on the latest news of South Carolina’s gubernatorial drama. There’s so much to tell about today’s archaeological progress, in fact, that I’m going to break this report into two postings.

heavy_equipmentEarly this morning the track-hoe arrived, courtesy of Charleston Water Systems, followed shortly thereafter by a water spray/vacuum truck, provide by the city’s Storm Water Service team. With the help of their excellent operators, we soon got to the work of digging into the wet pluff mud on the south side of our colonial redan wall. The first priority was to excavate all the soil in the main unit down to the water table. During this operation all of the earth scooped out by the track-hoe was dumped into wheelbarrows and screened by the archaeology students from the College of Charleston. George_RexMost of this material yielded the usual assortment of ceramic and glass fragments—eighteenth-century trash—but at least one item really caught my eye. As you can see in the photo at right, the students discovered a pale brown ceramic fragment that clearly bears the blue-glazed raised initials “GR,” which stands for “George Rex,” the King of England. This sherd dates from sometime after the ascension of George I in August 1714.

spray_and_vacuumUnfortunately we weren’t able to screen too much of the lower, soggy levels of the unit because the water became a big problem. The solution, of course, was to begin vacuuming with the water truck.  Actually, this operation was a combination of a high-pressure spray to loosen the soil and a high-powered vacuum nozzle to pick up the small debris. The soil removed in this manner could not be screened, but the speed at which the dig progressed more than made up for that loss.

redan_Wednesday_afternoonFollowing several rounds of track-hoe digging and water vacuuming, we were left with an unprecedented view of the brickwork of the south face of the Tradd Street redan. Nearly ten vertical feet of this flank is now exposed, which stands as an amazing testimony to the hard-working bricklayers—most probably newly-arrived African slaves—who initiated this work during Charleston’s infant days in the late 1690.

Poplin_probesBut how much more vertical brickwork is there ? We will absolutely know the answer—tomorrow. At the end of Wednesday’s work, archaeologist Eric Poplin climbed down a ladder into the muck next to the redan and probed into the muddy water with a steel rod. After a few minutes of jabbing and wriggling, Eric surmised that the bottom edge of the redan is just a few more brick courses—perhaps a foot or so—below the present water line. First thing tomorrow we’ll get right back to this question.

Mayor_Riley_and Friends

Left to right: Saunders, Zierden, Riley, and Robinson

Today the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force was also pleased to receive a visit from Charleston’s mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., who was enthusiastic about the work and eager to learn about everything that has been unearthed. Mayor Riley, pictured here with Task-Force co-chair Katherine Saunders (Historic Charleston Foundation), Task Force archaeologist Martha Zierden (Charleston Museum), and Kitty Robinson (executive director, Historic Charleston Foundation), stated that he was very pleased with results of the endeavor. To him we—and you, curious readers—owe a very large debt of gratitude for his continued financial support and leadership.

Having said all this, I still haven’t mentioned the big excitement of the day: the track-hoe was able to extract a large brick fragment of the wall and NINE wooden piles that date back at least 300 years. For that topic, I’ll post another story in a few hours.

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At 7:30 this hot morning, a dozen College of Charleston archaeology students began exploring the site of the colonial redan at the east end of Tradd Street in downtown Charleston. Under the tutelage of Barbara Borg, Martha Zierden, and Ron Anthony, these students will spend the next four weeks digging and sifting the soil in an effort to locate and record remnants of the old redan (ca. 1700–1785), the old Lower Market (1750–1800), and perhaps the old Exchange or Vendue House (1722–1772).

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(click on the images to enlarge)

The asphalt of the city-owned parking lot was removed last Thursday, and the archaeologists established a grid for the work site on Friday. Today the students began hand digging the soil, the first two feet (approximately) of which are twentieth-century fill. Given the relatively long duration of this dig, the pace will be slower and the work more meticulous than that done in 2008. The students are digging carefully measured units, and every shovel full of dirt is being screened. A bounty of small eighteenth-century artifacts have already been found, and at least one major architectural feature is now visible: the north wall of Vanderhorst’s North Row.

Last year’s dig in the street known as South Adger’s Wharf uncovered the northern wall of the redan or “salient angle” that stood at the east end of Tradd Street from the late 1690s to the mid-1780s. In addition, we found part of the Lower Market that  stood east of the redan from the early 1750s and was extended over the redan in 1786 before being removed in 1800. After those structures were gone, the City of Charleston sold part of the land in 1804 to Arnoldus Vanderhorst, who soon afterward erected a large three-story brick tenement. That building, known as Vanderhorst’s North Row, was destroyed by the earthquake of 1886, and replaced by a large one-story warehouse that stood until the early twentieth century.

Vanderhorst's North Row (center), from the 1884 Sanborn Insurance Map

Vanderhorst's North Row (center), from the 1884 Sanborn Insurance Map

As you can see in two of the photos above, we seem to have encountered part of the northern wall of Vanderhorst’s North Row, a solid  mass of brick and mortar two feet wide. To what extent does this large architectural feature impact the remnants of the old redan? We’re hoping that the builders two hundred years ago worked around the massive brickwork of the redan, as they are know to have done at the Exchange Building and the Missroon House, which were built nearby with a few decades of each other. For better or for worse, I’m confident we’ll know the answer to this question within a few days.

The public is welcome to visit the site and watch the progress of this dig in person between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. It’s June in Charleston, however, so if the heat is too much for you, stay tuned to this site for continued coverage.