Syphilis, Small Pox, and Scurvy! Oh My!

Featured Fragment – Riverfront Bottle

By Kerry González 

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Hand-finished bottle recovered by the Dovetail team

Dovetail Cultural Resource Group recovered this hand-finished bottle from a Civil War context (shown to the left) during an excavation in October 2015. The site, 44SP0069-0001, is located in the City of Fredericksburg and dates to the mid-eighteenth through early-twentieth century. The finish on this bottle is hand tooled, and the bottle itself was mouth blown into a dip mold and displays an intact cork. As part of the laboratory process, Dovetail x-rayed the bottle (shown below), which revealed the presence of residue of the original concoction within the bottle. Ruth Armitage of Eastern Michigan University’s chemistry department then analyzed the contents of this artifact along with student, Mishka Repaska. They found traces of turpentine, mercury, and possibly animal fat within the sealed bottle. Given the presence of mercury, along with the shape of the bottle, it is believed to be representative of a patent medicine.

This is not an uncommon find on an archaeological site as patent medicines were prolific throughout the nineteenth century. During this time most recipes were not patented and were usually nothing more than a couple of extracts with high doses of alcohol (Hagley 2016). Producing and selling these medicines was a major industry in America during the nineteenth century, all claiming to cure numerous kinds of ailments (Hagley 2016). Although the exact use of this particular medicine is not known, Civil War soldiers often carried similar bottles with them to cure a variety of ailments such as syphilis, diarrhea, small pox and scurvy.

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X-rayed bottle revealing residue

 

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Image capturing the devastating effect of syphilis during the Civil War. Lowry 1994

 

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Image capturing the devastating effect of syphilis during the Civil War. Lowry 1994

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Informative Links:
http://www.hagley.org/online_exhibits/patentmed/history//history.html 

Image(s) Source:
Lowry, Thomas P.
The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994.

A Toast to the King!

Featured Fragment–Fall Hill Avenue Finds

By Kerry S. González

During Phase III excavations for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fall Hill Avenue Expansion Project in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a small family-sized punch bowl with evidence of ceramic mending was recovered. Punch was widely popular during the eighteenth century as the act of punch drinking bordered on the ceremonial. Punch drinking was a social event which often reinforced feelings of hospitality among the drinkers. This was often accompanied by toasts to the hosts, guests and even the king. Although inventories from 1645 to 1800 in York County, Virginia examined by Eleanor Breen shows only six out of 100 persons owned a punch bowl during that period, archaeological evidence suggests the number is much higher. An analysis of the ceramic assemblage from the Phase II and III excavations at the site determined that two tin glazed punch bowls were present in the collection. One of which showed evidence of repair.

It appears that the mended punch bowl likely functioned post-repair. The mend holes are near the rim and would likely have allowed for continued use. Furthermore, the punchbowl displayed an upside-down Chinoiserie motif on the exterior as well as a decorated interior. The upside-down motif is a result of the Georgian social habit of storing vessels upside down in a cupboard or shelf. This allowed the pattern to be more visible when on display, but consequently concealed when used. Taken together (the mending and the upside-down motif), it appears that the punch bowl primarily served as a show piece indicating that the occupants of the site were well aware of, and participated in, contemporary practices of displaying social status.

Close up of mend holes on tin-glazed punch bowl recovered from Fall Hill excavations.

Mended tin-glazed punch bowl fragments recovered from Fall Hill excavations.

Complete tin-glazed punch bowl showing upside down motif similar pattern on fragments recovered from Fall Hill excavations.

 

 

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A Community Comes Together

Featured Fragment–The Marshall-Bell Kiln Site

It started with a frantic phone call from an employee with the City of Fredericksburg: a construction crew downtown had uncovered a mass of stoneware fragments. The Marshall-Bell site, named after the known potters of this 1830s kiln, not only produced an abundance of artifacts and information on early-nineteenth century urban kilns, but its emergency excavation rallied a group effort of immeasurable proportions. This pro-bono salvage effort conducted by Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and their non-profit partner, the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. (HFFI), brought together city residents, cultural resource management firms, City employees, state historic preservation office representatives, developers, and non-profits like George Washington’s Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, to complete the field work and laboratory analysis. Work on the site resulted in the discovery of wasters from the kiln production as well as the foundations of several nearby dwellings. The nearly 20,000 recovered artifacts were washed and sorted by volunteers who came into the Dovetail lab in a steady stream. The work continues to this day with the help of volunteers to complete the final artifact preparation for curation/ labeling prior to the majority of the collection being curated with the City of Fredericksburg.

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The Marshall-Bell salvage project is a great example of how a community, non-profits, businesses, and professional and avocational archaeologists can work together on a site to produce a final product that can benefit not only the archaeological community but the region as well. Without the help and cooperation of the various private, local, regional, and state stakeholders this project would not be possible, and Dovetail is eternally grateful for everyone’s help and continued interest in the site. In March 2015 Dovetail will be honored with HFFI’s Executive Director’s Special Recognition Award for their generous support of archaeological research at the Marshall-Bell Kiln site. While Dovetail is greatly appreciative with this recognition, the work was truly a cumulative effort and could not have been completed without the help of all those involved. We hope in the months to come that we can put our plan into action and get the Marshall-Bell type collections in the hands of those interested. Maybe one day future researchers will be able to identify complete forms of the pottery made at the Marshall-Bell kiln site.

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.