Featured Fragment – Nineteenth-Century Table Settings

By D. Brad Hatch, Ph.D. and Kerry S. González

This month’s blog continues our series highlighting the artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site in Randolph County, North Carolina. On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at the site, guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

The grouping of artifacts highlighted in Photo 1 were chosen to reflect ceramic consumption patterns at the site. While analyzing and processing the assemblage Dovetail staff decided to do a mock-up of a nineteenth-century table setting, mostly with artifacts recovered from the site. [Note: The kerosene lamp is a reproduction however several pieces of glass from the chimney of a similar lamp were recovered at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site.] The photograph below was taken in the basement of Belle Grove Plantation, birthplace of President James Madison, which provided a historically accurate setting for our recreation.

Photo 1: Nineteenth-Century Table Setting Recreated with Artifacts Recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site. Note blue-edged plates.


The primary purpose of staging this photograph was to highlight that matched sets in a table setting, like we have today, were not always the norm. What we learned from analyzing the collection was that the inhabitants of the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site appear to have chosen decorated refined earthenwares from various decorative categories (transfer printed, hand painted, and dipt/edged wares) (Photo 2). The assemblage illustrated that there was a stronger preference for the less-expensive decorative types (edged wares) which was mixed with a lower density of more expensive ceramics that were transfer printed.

Perhaps the most important factor influencing ceramic use at the site was socioeconomic status. Based on historical and archaeological evidence, the inhabitants of the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site appear to have been lower-middling to middling in terms of their status. In a general sense, the known status of the site occupants appears to correlate well with their respective decorative ceramic assemblages.

Photo 2: Sample of Various Decorative Motifs Recovered From Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site. From left: brown transfer print, hand painted, and dipt.


The fact that many of the transfer printed vessels from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site were mismatched underscores the economic constraints of the site inhabitants, since they were unable to make the large capital outlays necessary to purchase full sets of these costly wares. While the majority of the transfer printed ware in the assemblage were decorated with blue ink, suggesting at least an attempt to match the color palette, there were also black, red, and brown printed vessels. Residents at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site do appear to have possessed matching, or at least almost matched, place settings of blue-edged wares. These cheaper wares would have been less of a financial burden, but still would have allowed the site occupants to display their knowledge of fashionable dining practices.

Keep this in mind the next time you are out shopping for new dishes. Perhaps you don’t need to worry about everything matching and instead just keep with a similar color palette. In fact, there are several articles available online that give a step by step guide on how to mismatch your tables wares which suggest picking a color or playing with different shapes.


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Overton, Brian
2014    Archaeological Data Recovery Plan: Site 31Rd1426, Randolph County, North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Transportation Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.