Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ecology, Commerce, Conflict and Transportation along the Anacostia River, Part V, Transportation and Conclusion

This paper was co-authored by Mike Roller and Julie Schablitsky and presented at the 2010 Conference for the Society for Historical Archaeology. It is based upon their work in Bladensburg. Here is part V:

While excavating at Bostwick we encountered an artifact that led us to research one of the more interesting occupants of the house. Archaeologists excavating on the terraced side-gardens to the southeast of the house found an unusual looking bullet. Bullets are a common find in rural or formally- rural areas, though this one was unusually large. Later that afternoon a member of the Bladensburg police force dropped by to see how the excavation was progressing. As we usually do when the public visits our excavations, we showed him what we were finding, and asked him what he thought about them. It turns out that the officer was the firearms- training expert for the police force. He was excited to see the bullet. He carefully examined it, compared it with the bullets in his belt, measured it, and concluded that it most likely came from a big game hunting rifle from the turn of the century.

Later, we found that Bostwick, unoccupied since the 1990s, is furnished almost exclusively with taxidermied big game trophies from the occupants of the house between 1904 and about 1930. James and Hettie Kyner moved to Bladensburg when it was a sleepy rural exurbia reachable from Washington D.C. by trolley. James Kyner, a Civil War veteran, politician and railroad contractor had retired to Bladensburg after a long career building transcontinental rail lines in the West. It was here that he acquired the many big game heads that grace the walls of the house.

Before his career in the railroad industry Kyner served two terms in the state legislature of Nebraska. As a politician he was an ardent advocate for the railroad industry, opposing all measures to regulate it, at a time when this was a pressing issue in the country. For the aid he delivered to the industry he received his first contract constructing a branch line for Union Pacific for settlers in Nebraska in 1881. After more than twenty years in the business the Kyners moved east to a quiet town in the hinterlands of Washington D.C. (Kyner 1937)
In 1937 Kyner wrote an autobiography of his long and fascinating life called End of Track. 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... 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."

Ironically, it is the congestion of unbridled growth that began in the late 19th century that would eventually overtake the Bladensburg that Kyner hid from in his house on the hill. Today, the historic core of the town is crisscrossed by the commercial developments and transportation routes that snake along major commuting arteries leading in and out of Washington D.C. It was these transportation routes that had brought people to Bladensburg throughout the years, by river, by road, by rail, by trolley, each leaving a bit of themselves behind in the archaeological record. For the public, the obliteration of the historical landscape is one of the major concerns expressed at public events. They hope that the archaeological and historical work being undertaken by SHA and U of MD will help them to recreate a walking city within this cultural landscape that is commensurate with the complexity and depth of Bladensburg history as we are coming to understand it. Above all, this is what the public has asked from our archaeology project.

Using a combination of public outreach and traditional scientific methods the Bladensburg Archaeology Project has made our work meaningful to the communities of Bladensburg. Inviting the public to take part in the archaeological process aided us in making the physical discoveries meaningful to the town. It has helped us, and the community, relate the data we find underground to themes that are relevant locally and nationally, historically and in the present. Through the narrative of archaeological research, we can connect the complex history of a small locality to broader national themes of contemporary importance. Through the themes of ecology, conflict, commerce and transportation we can highlight the complexity of a history that the community can be both critical and proud of.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"Ecology, Commerce, Conflict and Transportation along the Anacostia River", Part IV, Conflict

This paper was co-authored by Mike Roller and Julie Schablitsky and presented at the 2010 Conference for the Society for Historical Archaeology. It is based upon their work in Bladensburg. Here is part IV:

After the river silted in and rendered the port unnavigable, Bladensburg’s economy suffered. However it continued to serve an auxiliary role as a way station for travelers. In the 19th century its location at the intersection of major roads to Annapolis, Baltimore, Georgetown, Upper Marlboro, Alexandria and Washington D.C. made it a major stopping point for travelers. The bridge over the Anacostia River also served to make it a strategic spot during the War of 1812 when the British confronted limited American resistance in their march to burn Washington in August of 1814. At our workshops and public events many people ask if we have found anything from the battle. For the town this singular event and its historical context is the most significant to Bladensburg’s heritage. As enthusiasm has been growing in anticipation of the bicentennial, tour groups from all over the country have visited Bladensburg and the rest of the DC area tracing the path of the British.

In fact, the battle itself took place to the west of town, but it is likely that many of the buildings in town, including the Magruder house, served as field hospitals for British troops. While excavating at the house, SHA archaeologists recovered a British 1774 King George halfpenny like the one pictured. For the public and the press, the coin was a palpable connection to the period of time just before the American Revolution and the subsequent tension that led up to the forgotten and fascinating event that made the town famous again, the Battle of Bladensburg. We cannot be certain where the coin came from, whether it was dropped by a wounded British soldier or was simply amongst the pocket change of Mr. Henderson, the occupant of the house at the time. A variety of foreign currency was used in the American colonies, as were valuable commodities such as tobacco and sugar. However, it serves to remind us, and the community, of the political ties that connected Bladensburg and the rest of the fledgling nation with England in its first century. These ties, broken by revolution in 1776, came back to Bladensburg in a conflict in which it would serve a pivotal role. Many residents of the town hope that event, with the upcoming bicentennial in 2012, will bring attention back to the town.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Ecology, Commerce, Conflict and Transportation along the Anacostia River" Part III, Commerce

This paper was co-authored by Mike Roller and Julie Schablitsky and presented at the 2010 Conference for the Society for Historical Archaeology. It is based upon their work in Bladensburg. Here is Part III:

The Market Master’s house is a ca. 1760 stone structure built by Christopher Lowndes, a prominent merchant and slave trader in the region. He operated several businesses including a ropewalk and an import business in the structures he built in the town of Bladensburg. Among the artifacts recovered at the Market Master’s house was a fragment of black transfer-printed creamware printed with an inscription. Research resulted in finding an image of a matching teapot, helping us to complete the inscription. It reads: “When this you see, Remember me, And bear me in your mind; Let all the world, Say what they will, Speak of me as you find”. On the rear of the teapot is a poignant image of a couple parting, the man gesturing towards a three-masted sailing ship. Transfer-printing on creamware, often with a nautical theme to commemorate a sea voyage to the colonies, was mass-produced for export to the American colonies by Wedgewood in the third quarter of the 18th century (Nelson 1980:93).

The poignant message and image reminds us of the ties of commerce that connected Bladensburg to a global network of trade that reached across the ocean to England where tobacco was sold and goods, as well as people, were collected for export. This network also extended to Africa where human labor was collected for the long sea journey that resulted in death for many, and misery for the rest. Bladensburg would have been a major destination for global trade, with its deep harbor and location convenient to the dispersed tobacco growing population of early Maryland. Traces of these ties, and the society they engendered are revealed by the archaeology, and serve us as a way of engaging the public about this history. The nautical scene made us think of the many people that made their way to Bladensburg and to other American colonies, some with fortunes, some with dreams, and many against their will.