Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Artifacts in Focus: A Little Bostwick History as Seen Through a Bullet

Bullets are a common find on archaeological sites, especially in rural or formerly rural areas such as Bladensburg. Their recovery suggests something of how radically the landscape of Bladensburg has changed, from a sparsely occupied hamlet to the urban bustle it is today. Civil War-era bullets are also common. Several were found at the Magruder and Market Master’s house suggesting the likelihood that troops may have camped on the grounds.

While excavating on the grounds of Bostwick this summer we found a bullet unlike others we had seen before. (for more on the Bostwick excavation: http://bladenarch.blogspot.com/2009/06/introducing-bostwick-house.html#links). It was a large-caliber rifle bullet, copper-jacketed and grooved. Its appearance suggested to us that it dated to the late nineteenth century at the earliest. It just so happened that a member of the Bladensburg Police Force, specifically the firearms training officer, came to visit us out in the field that day. We decided to show him the bullet to get his professional opinion as to its origins. His assessment was that it was between .46 and .48 caliber, and belonged to a big game hunting rifle. He estimated its age to the early part of the twentieth century. It turns out that James Kyner, who purchased the house in 1904, was an avid big game hunter. For anyone who has been into Bostwick, the sight of the many large trophy heads on the currently empty walls is not easily forgotten.

The Historic American Buildings Survey report describes Mr. James Kyner as an adventurous man who made his fortune building railroads in the west. He was also a Civil War veteran, losing his leg in the conflict. Bostwick has come to absorb and reflect the aesthetics of its long succession of owners, and Mr. and Mrs. Kyner are no exception in this regard. Besides the trophy heads, the interior walls are decorated with cabinets and wallpapers that were fashionable at the time. A large colonial revival porch was added to the front of the house by the Kyners’. Numerous brick outbuildings were also, at this time, demolished. In 1937 Kyner wrote a biography of his long and fascinating life called “End of Track”. In it he recounts his experiences growing up in the Midwest of the late 19th century, the adventures and difficulties of railroad work and his latter life as a politician. Bladensburg is mentioned very briefly at the end, where he fondly describes the peace of his retirement home:

“…going east with my wife and very young daughter, I bought an old colonial home just outside the District of Columbia, within six miles of the White House. The old house appealed to me in part, perhaps, because the date high up one of its tall chimneys is 1746, which antedates my own arrival in this world by just one hundred years.
Here, with seven acres of garden and orchard and lawn to interest me, I have stood aside for the past thirty years and let the world go by. Busying myself with bees and dogs, with chickens and with a horse or two, modernizing and reconstructing this old, old house of mine, I have played no part that could be felt so very far beyond the pillars at my gate. I have seen, as from a seat in a theater, the drama of the world. Here and there it touches me, of course, but mostly it does not.” (Kyner 1937: 276).

Through his narrative we can understand one of the many ways the landscape of Bladensburg has been conceptualized by its occupants. Here is an amazing photograph of James Kyner I received from Susan Pearl showing Mr. Kyner standing in front of the large hearth at Bostwick:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bladensburg Day/ Mexican Independence Day/ Port Towns Day Celebrations

The Bladensburg Archaeology Project sent representatives to two different community gatherings in the last two weeks to share details of their project and to receive feedback from the community. On the 12th of September project members attended Bladensburg Day/ Mexican Independence Day. It was an excellent opportunity to share information about the project with Bladensburg’s Spanish speaking population. On the 19th of September project members attended the Port Towns Day at the Bladensburg Waterfront. Music, food and conversation were in abundance at both events. Project members distributed information about historic resources in Bladensburg and Prince George’s County and details about the project. A display of artifacts from the Magruder and Market Master’s House excavations were presented. At the Port Town’s day celebration children were given the opportunity to take part in a mock dig. Here are some photos from the events.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Artifacts in Focus: "Home Rule" Pipe Bowl Fragment

For the next few entries we will talk about interesting artifacts we have encountered while cataloging and washing. This first artifact was found at the Market Master's House earlier this summer. Janet Donlin from the CHRS lab writes:

"While washing artifacts in the Center for Heritage Resource Studies lab, we discovered a fragment of a pipe bowl with the words “HOME RULE” and a graphic below the words depicting a Celtic harp with clovers bordering the bottom. This artifact was uncovered from Test Unit 6 on the eastern side of the house and tells us a little bit about the person who might have owned it.

“Home Rule” refers to the Home Rule Movement in Ireland during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This movement was a reaction to the Act of Union, which was enacted in 1801 by the Irish Parliament, uniting the country with Britain. In the 1830’s, an Irish lawyer named Daniel O’Connell began a “Repeal of the Union” movement which inspired the Home Rule movement in later years. In O’Connell’s time, many people argued for a repeal of the Act of Union. The Home Rulers took a lot from the arguments of those who supported repeal, but argued more for a strictly Irish parliament to govern their country and less for a total split from Britain. The Home Rule movement was most active from the 1870’s and on, and eventually led to the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, which created two home rule parliaments in Ireland, one for the North and another for the South.

Finding this slogan on a pipe bowl in America shows that some Americans, many of whom were themselves of Irish birth or descent, were in sympathy with and supported the Home Rule movement in Ireland. University of Maryland Department of Anthropology Professor Stephen Brighton has written a paper about tobacco pipes with Irish-related symbols depicted on them. In his article, entitled “Symbols, Myth-Making, and Identity: The Red Hand of Ulster in Late Nineteenth-Century Paterson, New Jersey”, he tells us that pipe smoking was a popular social activity in the nineteenth century and that often smokers displayed causes they were sympathetic to or things that they supported on their pipes. Whoever owned our piece of pipe, therefore, was in some way connected to the Irish Home Rule movement. Whether they were Irish emigrants, had family or friends in Ireland, or were just a supporter of the cause is all up to conjecture, but little clues like this give archaeologists like us a small piece of insight into the lives of those who passed through the town of Bladensburg."