Archaeology of a Seventeenth-Century Houselot at Martin's Hundred, Virginia

Author(s): Andrew Edwards

Year: 2004


In his celebrated 1982 volume on Martin’s Hundred, Ivor Noël Hume wove a fascinating narrative of early seventeenth-century life in Tidewater Virginia, intertwined with archaeological sleuthing, murder, war, and intrigue, reminiscent of an Agatha Christie mystery novel. Unlike most books dealing with archaeological subjects, the reading is engaging, conjuring images of massacre and mayhem at early Martin’s Hundred. The characters Noël Hume portrays—Harwood, Kingston, “Granny”—tend to be like those in a good conundrum, worldly and well-to-do, made noteworthy in the Martin’s Hundred story by the array of artifacts they left behind. The armor, silver inlaid tableware, gold threads, and other personal accouterments, do, however accidently, leave an impression that the majority of immigrants from the mother country were members of the fairly well-heeled English gentry. But the archaeological evidence of the Martin’s Hundred community, obtained during more recent field work at Carter’s Grove, mainly the 1990 and 1991 surveys and the full-scale excavation of site 44JC647, reveals quite a different life for many residents in the second quarter of the seventeenth century.

It is in this period, between 1625 and 1650, that a community developed at Martin’s Hundred. David Muraca’s M.A. thesis explores the development and settlement logistics of this community (Muraca 1993), and it is from his observations that an examination of the nature of this phase, specifically its economic and social characteristics, can be made. Noël Hume has skillfully described what appears to be the upper echelon of Martin’s Hundred during this period, with his detailed description of Sites A and B, but little is mentioned of sites representing people on the other end of the economic ladder. If the archaeological record of these artifactually-challenged sites is properly analyzed for positive and negative evidence, rather than considered uninteresting anomalies, these poorer sites can serve as valuable foils to the wealthy locales most frequently excavated in Tidewater over the last twenty years.

The purpose of this report is to describe in some detail the excavation of one of these “poorer sites” and thereby attempt to learn more about a segment of early Virginia society often overlooked in both the archaeological and written records of the period. Chapter 2 reviews the environmental conditions of Tidewater Virginia. Chapter 3 will attempt to place the initial exploration and colonization of Virginia in the context of the expanding horizons and expanding problems in Europe that lead to the conquest of new territories in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Chapter 4 deals specifically with the methods and techniques of data recovery that were used by Colonial Williamsburg’s Department of Archaeological Research in the excavation of site 44JC647. Chapter 5 describes the layers and features encountered, specifically examining soil chemistry and paleoethnobotanical remains. Chapter 6 examines the artifactual material recovered from the plowzone and refuse pits, concentrating on smoking pipes and ceramics. Chapters 7 and 8 will attempt to place JC647 and four other contemporary Martin’s Hundred sites in perspective. Through this examination it is hoped that a better understanding of inequality in early seventeenth-century colonial Virginia can be derived.

Cite this Record

Archaeology of a Seventeenth-Century Houselot at Martin's Hundred, Virginia. Andrew Edwards. Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 2004 ( tDAR id: 6078) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8T72FSX

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1620 to 1650

Spatial Coverage

min long: -77.498; min lat: 36.633 ; max long: -75.41; max lat: 39.368 ;

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