Reported by David Starbuck
(Summer 2011 SHA Newsletter 44)
The Discovery of a 17th-Century Nucleated Colonial Village in Southern New England (submitted by Randy C. Daum, M.A. student, University of Massachusetts Amherst, firstname.lastname@example.org): Buried beneath heavily farmed private property north of Springfield, Massachusetts, is the site of the remnants of a long-forgotten 17th-century village of the compact English type. Randy Daum is conducting the investigation under the supervision of Professors Robert Paynter, Elizabeth Chilton, Mitchell T. Mulholland, and Brian Jones of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Evidence uncovered during the study indicates the settlement plan is very similar to that of the classic 17th-century New England nucleated village, in which colonists were granted adjacent house lots along with noncontiguous plots of land in various fields surrounding the compact settlement. The site described in this article is the only known archaeological example of a complete 17th-century nucleated village in southern New England.
Historical Overview: In 1659, the Massachusetts General Court granted Major Daniel Denison, the leader of the colonial militia, 500 acres of prime agricultural land near the Connecticut River north of Springfield. Following Denison's death in 1682, his heirs sold the property to a consortium of seven men from nearby towns, who soon afterward began building homes on this land. Additional settlers are believed to have moved there before the turn of the century. The former Denison property was operated as a corporate enterprise by the proprietors and became known simply as "the Farms." As a separate entity from the surrounding towns, the proprietors of "the Farms" held their own meetings, kept separate records, and were responsible for all roads and fences within their boundaries.
The village at "the Farms" was occupied during both King William's (1689–1698) and Queen Anne's wars (1702–1713). Historical references state that due to the constant threat of attack, one of the houses was fortified and a palisade was built around the settlement. During King William's War, two small-scale ambushes occurred while village residents were working in the nearby fields. The first took place on 24 June 1697, and resulted in the death of Sergeant Samuel Field. The second raid was on 15 July 1698, when John Billings and thirteen–year–old Nathaniel Dickinson, Jr. were killed, and Samuel Dickinson, 11, and another boy, Charley, were captured.
During Queen Anne's War, Deerfield suffered the well-documented attack of 29 February 1704, when more than 50 of the English settlers died, over 100 were captured, and much of the town burned. On 10 May of the same year, Pascommuck, a small hamlet below Northampton, was struck: 19 colonists were killed, 3 captured, and the village was burned to the ground. Although the exact date was not officially documented, the small, isolated settlement at "the Farms" was abandoned shortly after the Pascommuck attack and never rebuilt. The abandoned village site became known locally as "Old Farms."
Old Farms Today: The village site is located on private property that has been continuously farmed for over three hundred years. No discernable structural remains are visible from the surface other than the occasional scattered rock and brick fragments exposed during farming activities. Following initial discovery and mapping of the site, the required documentation was submitted to the Massachusetts Historical Commission; the site is now known as the Old Farms Settlement.
Archaeology of Old Farms: The owners of this property have graciously granted permission for preliminary archaeological investigations to be conducted at the Old Farms Settlement provided that they not interfere with ongoing agricultural operations. Archaeological inquiry has focused mainly on questions involving the extent, integrity, and age of the remains. To address these questions, a controlled surface collection was conducted over the ten–acre site during which visible artifacts were gathered and their proveniences recorded. A metal detector was also used to plot the near–surface iron debris. After mapping both sets of provenience data, 10 possible structural locations were revealed. In search of buried foundation remains, five of the cluster areas were manually tested with a thin metal probing rod; hard debris features were encountered at four locations. Three of these features were then investigated with small test excavations, which uncovered occupational evidence, including a dry–laid–stone well casing, concentrations of brick debris presumably from fallen chimneys, and building foundation remnants, along with associated artifacts that are typical of the late 17th century. Although landowner restrictions and time constraints limited subsurface investigations to small portions of the village, the results indicate that subplowzone archaeological deposits are common at the site.
During the project, two small research grants supported geophysical survey at the village site, performed by Daniel Lynch of Soil Sight LLC. The limited funding meant that it was possible to closely survey just 3 of the 10 possible homesites. Results from the ground–penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry (MAG) clearly showed deposits of possible buried structural debris at all three locations. Significantly, the features were located near the centers of the mapped artifact concentrations.
In the summer of 2009, the UMASS Archaeological Field School excavated at Old Farms. Our work focused on questions concerning the accuracy of the geophysical surveys at locating buried remains and the state of preservation of buried remains. Concentrating on one homesite where hard debris features were previously identified through geophysical survey, the field school excavations uncovered foundation remnants, a possible hearth support, more 17th–century artifacts, and an unlined filled–in cellar. The cellar was quite large for the time, with dimensions of approximately 3.66 x 4.27 m (12 x 14 ft.). Some of the more interesting artifacts uncovered were brass pins, window glass, early spoon fragments, and a spur–strap buckle. Also found were musket bullets and lead waste, possibly indicative of the violence of the time.
The project also involved extensive archival research. One of the most illuminating documents uncovered was a copy of the original land allotments in an old book of town records in the county courthouse. The book, with no date of publication or author listed, is actually the settlement's second book of records documenting the proprietors' meetings from 1712 to 1734, the first book of meeting records being lost. The four-page document, dated November 1689, details the ownership and boundary descriptions of each land parcel allotted to the seven original purchasers of the 500-acre property; each proprietor received a slender, rectangular, five-acre house lot along the center street and equal portions of each large field surrounding the village. This book also records the proprietors' meeting minutes, which reveal the corporate nature of the farm's operation, including the seeding and harvesting of the farm as a unit, the sharing of costs and profits of the farm's operations, and the voting for the building and repair of fences that separated their lands from those of the surrounding town. The plotting of the described land and fence boundary lines on a map that includes the identified features and the present topography makes it increasingly clear that the archaeological remains are those of the late-17th-century settlement described in various historical sources. This conclusion, in tandem with the title search results of many of the original Old Farms house lots, forms the basis for the assessment that the Old Farms Settlement was a small version of the idealized New England open-field nucleated village, minus the meetinghouse.
Research to date has confirmed that the material remains at the Old Farms site are indeed those of the historically documented 17th-century village founded on the Denison grant in the 1680s. The question of settlement density and intrasite integrity has only been partially answered, since 4 of the 10 likely house sites locations have been explored below the plowzone. Clearly, further subsurface testing needs to be conducted to establish whether these other homesites also contain largely intact features. If they do, Old Farms, though not as old or prominent as Jamestown, Avalon, or St. Mary's, offers the unique possibility to explore the material dimensions and mental templates surrounding the strategy of English village colonization of southern New England.
Due to landowner concerns and site security issues, exact site and feature locations have been omitted. To request additional information, please contact the author of this article.
Old Post Road Rehabilitation Project, Martin Van Buren National Historic Site: Archaeological excavations by URS at this National Park Service site located in the Hudson Valley revealed information on the lateral extent and surface treatments of both the Old Post Road and the North Entrance Drive/Carriage Road leading to the mansion. This data contributes to future NPS strategies for the park. The Old Albany Post Road was shown to be consistent with historic dimensions and has varied very little. No conclusive information about overall surface could be drawn from archaeology or archival research. The North Entrance Drive also closely matches its historic dimensions. This road originally was a hard-packed dirt path that subsequently was macadamized with the addition of several layers of compressed gravels.
Swart-Jackson Site: Jay R. Cohen, Inc. excavated this historic site located in the village of Fishkill, New York. The well–preserved historic remains dated from the mid– to late 18th century to the 19th century. Intact archaeological deposits were found within several deep features and across yard deposits. Features included a cistern, stone-lined wells, a refuse pit, cobble walkway, bottle dump, and sheet middens. Artifacts included lead shot, gunflints, buttons, buckles, pins, thimbles, clothes pins; coins (1787, 1694–1702, 1861), a pocket knife handle, watch part, cuff link, seed bead, slate writing instrument, lamp parts, drawer pulls, curtain hooks, white tobacco pipes (bore sizes 4/64, 5/64, and 6/64 of an inch), horse tack, toys (domino, toy letter, marble, erector set part), nails, tacks, bolts, window glass, and faunal remains (of cattle, sheep, chickens, and turkeys). Prehistoric finds included a biface, projectile point fragments (Brewerton Eared), scrapers, gravers, debitage, and lithic chunks. The historic house was moved. Monitoring is recommended while a new medical building is constructed on the site.