Thursday, January 24, 2008

Archaeology and Genealogy?

According to their website, the Public Archaeology Survey Team, Inc. (PAST) is a private nonprofit organization which specializes in archaeological and historical research and public education in the Northeast. In addition to research projects and public outreach, PAST provides professional cultural resource management consulting services, including archaeological surveys, historic building recordation, museum exhibit design, and preservation planning for archaeological sites, historic buildings and structures, and cultural landscapes.

Among their current projects is the analysis of the voluminous data from four 18th-century house sites. One of those sites is the "Sprague Homestead" of Andover, Connecticut.
"The analysis of this important c. 1705 homestead is progressing, as we inventory the very large artifact assemblage recovered from the site. The house burned down in the 1750s, creating unusually favorable conditions for artifact preservation. Organic items such as food and wood, which would normally be consumed in New England's acidic soil, were preserved by carbonization. Ash filtered through the site, making the soils less acidic and promoting the preservation of bone, antler, fish scales and eggshells. The sheer number of household artifacts is also greater than average because objects burned or broken in the fire were left behind. Well over 100,000 artifacts were found at the Sprague homestead, a wealth of data that are already promising an enhanced understanding of 18th-century foodways and life on the frontier in Connecticut's sparsely settled interior.

"The Sprague site also makes a significant contribution to the interpretation of the 18th-century architectural landscape. Excavation indicates the house took a form that closely resembles post-medieval "long" houses of west England, from which the Sprague family came to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1623. Measuring 64 by 16 feet, with an off-center large hearth and a second small corner external chimney at one end, the house form matches no standing historic houses in New England. Perhaps the Spragues were a particularly conservative family, or perhaps this old-style house form was more common than previously thought."
The other three house sites being investigated are the Goodsell House in North Branford, home of Samuel and Lydia Goodsell, the Daniels Homestead in Waterford, home of Thomas and Hannah Keeney Daniels, and The Huntington Homestead in Scotland, which is the birthplace of Samuel Huntington, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a distinguished statesman during the Revolutionary War. All four sites are in Connecticut. The first three were excavated in 1999, 2000, and 2001.

Wouldn't it be incredible if one of these sites was where your ancestor had lived? Well, I got lucky, again. The Sprague Homestead was settled in 1705 by Captain Ephraim Sprague of Duxbury, Massachusetts. He and his wife, Deborah, are my 6th great grandparents! Insert genealogy happy dance here!!!

There's more. In 2001 an article on the first three sites was published in "CRM No 4", and PAST has posted scanned images of the article on their site. It took some searching but I finally found out that "CRM" is a (now defunct) magazine on Cultural Resource Management that was published by the National Park Service.

The article, "Foodways in 18th Century Connecticut," was written by Ross K. Harper, Mary G. Harper, and Bruce Clouette. It provides details on some of the items found at the sites as well as some background information. I would find the article interesting even if one of the sites wasn't one of my ancestors. It truly is a look into the past.
"The picture of Sprague, only just emerging as the botanical, faunal, and artifact analysis progress, is one of a man who spanned several worlds. He lived in an oldstyle house, kept domesticated animals but also hunted, and enjoyed a fine tea set but still made his own tools of antler and cut-up brass kettles. He was a representative to Connecticut’s assembly, yet fought alongside Native Americans in a colonial and Indian war. Sprague, with his fine cufflinks and large quantity of trade beads, moved easily between roles. The archeological remains of his burned house will permit detailed reconstruction of the foodways of a frontiersman in southern New England, something which has never been done."

I found the link to the 3-page article yesterday at the bottom of the record of Ephraim Sprague in The Sprague Project database, which is coordinated by Richard E. (Dick) Weber. It contains information on more than 278,000 individuals from worldwide families of Sprague and Sprague-derivative names. If you have anyone with the Sprague surname in your family, it's definitely worth a look. It had been a while, like a couple years, since I'd been to the site and thought I'd just check to see if they had any new information. Am I glad I did? You betcha.

A PDF file of the article is on the National Park Service website.

The National Park Service website has other publications that may also be of interest.

Scanned images of the article can be found on the PAST website.

Current Projects of the Public Archaeology Survey Team, Inc.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

It sounds like you struck gold! Thanks for the link. Some of the Heritage Matters articles look interesting too.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thanks Apple. I sent an email to the PAST contact to check on the status of the Sprague project and to see if any of the objects are going to be on display anywhere. As you can probably tell, I was just a little excited.

I'll be checking out some of those other articles as well. You just never know what might turn up!