Phase III Archaeological Data Recovery, Cardon/Holton Site [7NC-F-128], St. Georges Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware


The Cardon/Holton Site [7NC-F-128] is a Euro-American farmstead occupied during the second quarter of the 18th century. It lies in St. Georges Hundred in New Castle County, Delaware, in a location east of the Choptank Road: itself one of the earliest north-south overland routes in this part of Delaware. This site itself was placed immediately adjacent to a now-vanished secondary cart road that branched off the Choptank Road a short distance to the south, and close to the still-extant wooded headwater marshes draining eastwards to Drawyer’s Creek.

This report presents the results of a program of archaeological and historical research undertaken on this significant archaeological property, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic places (under Criterion D) because it has yielded information important in history. The program was developed in accordance with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) from 2007 between the Federal Highway Administration, the Delaware State Historic Preservation Officer, the Maryland State Historic Preservation Officer, and the Delaware Department of Transportation, in accordance with 36 CFR 800.6 and 800.14(d). This MOA addresses the identification, evaluation, and treatment of historic properties within the Area of Potential Effect of the approved new alignment of U.S. Route 301. The Cardon/Holton Site will be adversely affected by the highway construction, and research and documentation were determined to be appropriate treatments.

The site was first noted through the surface collection of 18th-century artifacts during a Phase I identification survey of the U.S. Route 301 alignment. Subsequent Phase II evaluation of significance studies established the extent and integrity of the site, researched its complex ownership and tenurial history, and related it to existing Delaware historic context frameworks.

Field investigations for the current documentation study comprised the excavation of 16 plowzone sample units, followed by the topsoil stripping of the site area of about 30,000 square feet (approximately 0.75 acres). Identified features, including a well containing substantial timbers from the well lining, were mapped, photographed and excavated. Soil samples were taken from major features and from gridded intervals from the subsoil across the site. These were subsequently subjected to soil chemistry and paleobotanical analyses. The excavations were completed on September 27, 2012.

Establishing the ownership and tenurial history of the property proved to be a challenge because of the limited and somewhat unspecific nature of the documentary record. The site lay within a triangle-shaped 300-acre tract warranted to one John Webster in circa 1685. At that time, and well into the 1700s, this area was in dispute between the Three Lower Counties (later to become Delaware) and Maryland; a circumstance that may further complicate the historical record.

By 1727 Webster’s 300-acre plantation, “Eckmon”, had been transferred to William Cardon, who had been accumulating property in the vicinity since at least 1705. By the end of 1727, Cardon was in possession of at least 644 nearly contiguous acres along the headwaters of Drawyer’s Creek. The Cardon/Holton Site was located near the southwestern edge of this substantial landholding. Since there are indications from the documents that Cardon’s house was well to the east of the area of the archaeological site, the working hypothesis for the research was that the archaeological data represents the footprint of tenant farm established on Cardon’s property, perhaps in the 1720s.

A court case in 1743 may provide both the name of the tenant and information on the landscape on and around the farmstead. Weaver Boaz Boyce, guardian for the deceased William Cardon’s son (also called William), brought a complaint against tenant Robert Whiteside for reducing the value of the property through cutting of valuable timber and possibly also by opposing the planting of an orchard. The court’s settlement of the dispute provides some interesting details of the landscape, mentioning a valuable stand of timber, a turnip patch, and an orchard to be planted by the guardian and enclosed with a fence, somewhere on or near the tenant’s lease. The tenant’s roaming cattle were to be prevented from damaging the orchard.

The archaeological dating evidence broadly conforms to that of the documentary material, suggesting that the identification of the site with Whiteside’s tenancy is reasonable. Two dendrochronological dates from the well timbers provide fixed points in the use of the site. The well seems to have been built in or shortly after 1737 and was rebuilt or repaired in, or shortly after, 1753. These two dates reflect the minimum length of time (about 16 years) that the site was in use, but the occupation presumably began before 1737 and ended after 1753. Analysis of diagnostic ceramics and tobacco pipe stem diameters suggests an occupation date range of perhaps circa 1720 to the 1760s.

The extensive plowzone stripping conducted within the Area of Potential Effects enables some conclusions to be drawn about the individual structures and cultural features of the site and its layout. The archaeological signatures of three buildings were identified. What is interpreted as the main dwelling was a probable two-room earthfast structure of about 15 by 30 feet. One subfloor pit extended across the full width of the northern end of the building in front of a fireplace and chimney, while a second smaller pit probably lay within a second room to the south. The footprint of a smokehouse lay to the east of the house. A second domestic structure (perhaps, from its location, a kitchen) is hypothesized from the presence of a shallow, presumably subfloor pit. The absence of postholes may suggest that it was situated under a cabin built on sill beams or of log. A substantial timber-lined well lay to the south of these three buildings, and there were also two groupings of substantial pits east of a north-south fenceline to the east of the possible kitchen.

Analysis of the layout and relationships of these cultural features identified the following characteristics. These are also presented visually in a reconstructed layout plan and an artist’s perspective rendition of the farmstead in its landscape setting as seen from the west. The subjective impression is of a farmstead laid out with care, order, and a view to efficient use of space, although it is not possible to certainly demonstrate that all the features were in use contemporaneously.

Orientation. The site is apparently laid out on north-south and east-west axes. This is particularly apparent in the alignment of the probable fenceline, of the three root cellar/subfloor pit features and probably of the main house.

Linearity. The main cultural structural features, with the exception of the well, lie in an east-west zone roughly 50 feet north-south and about 120 feet east-west. This zone crosses the north-south fence alignment, with the main buildings lying to the west and pits and processing and disposal areas to the east.

Spaces. The gentle slope to the south of the main buildings appears to be clear of structures, except for the well in its southeast corner adjacent to the fenceline. A shallow u-shaped yard area can be identified in the area defined by the house to the west, the smokehouse to the north, and the root cellar/subfloor pit under the possible kitchen on the east.

The analyses of soil chemistry, and of faunal and plant remains, provided important information on both the farm economy and the surrounding landscape. The pollen record indicates that the site lay in a wooded setting dominated by oak and hickory forests with a significant pine, chestnut and cedar components. Charcoal analysis reveals low diversity in wood species observed, probably reflecting the intentional selection of high-caloric hardwoods for fuel.

Uncarbonized and carbonized grass and sedge seeds recovered from the well suggest a local environment that included ruderal herbaceous plants, suggestive of woodland clearance and cultivation in and around the farmstead perhaps reflecting the suggestive use of the term “savannah” to characterize the landscape of adjacent areas in a deed of 1727.

Phytolith analysis revealed the presence of Old World cultigens/cultivars (wheat and possibly barley, oats or rye), clover, and plantain (platago major). New World maize and squash were also identified. Cultivated peach was also documented from both pollen and macrobotanical remains.

Faunal analysis identified the expected range of domestic animals (horse, cow, sheep and pig), and suggested wild fauna played a limited role in the diet. The bones of a coyote were recovered that are probably those of a victim of an eradication strategy like that applied to wolves a generation earlier. The paucity of wild fauna at Cardon/Holton may suggest that the nearby habitat had been compromised to the point that labor expended on hunting was now counterproductive .

Tree-ring data from the well’s timber lining provides some circumstantial insight into regional climate. The firm date of 1737 for when the oak timber lining the well was harvested may reflect regional drought conditions suggested by stream-flow fluctuations on the Potomac River.

The farmstead is set into a wider context through an approach based on consumer choice theory, and in particular by the adaptation, by James Gibb, of that approach to rural households of the 17th century. This perspective permits all aspects of the archaeological data to be viewed as expressions of decisions related to the acquisition, use, display and perpetuation of wealth. It privileges examination of the social and economic aspirations of households over the more traditional concerns of historical archaeology with the relationship between subsistence and market-oriented production. In the case of the Cardon/Holton Site, this can now be seen as a well-planned and probably effective farming operation carried out under challenging physical and social constraints.

Several recommendations for future research practices are made at the end of the report.

Cite this Record

Phase III Archaeological Data Recovery, Cardon/Holton Site [7NC-F-128], St. Georges Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware. ( tDAR id: 402051) ; doi:10.6067/XCV82809GH

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1720 to 1770

Calendar Date: 1737 to 1737 (Dendrochronological date from well timbers)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -75.758; min lat: 39.443 ; max long: -75.717; max lat: 39.477 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Heidi Krofft

Contributor(s): James Patrick Harshbarger; Alison Haley

Principal Investigator(s): William B. Liebeknecht

Project Director(s): Ian Burrow

Sponsor(s): Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

Permitting Agency(s): DelDOT

Repository(s): Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs Curatorial Facility

Prepared By(s): Hunter Research, Inc.

Submitted To(s): DelDOT

Record Identifiers

DelDOT Parent Agreement and Task(s): 1535/12


Redaction Note: Maps showing site location and state site forms were redacted

Source Collections

Artifact assemblage from all three phases of work will be transferred to the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs curatorial facility.

Resources Inside this Project (Viewing 1-5 of 5)

  1. Cardon/Holton Site [7NC-F-128] Phase I Subsurface Summary and Artifact Inventories (2015)
  2. Cardon/Holton Site [7NC-F-128] Phase II Subsurface and Artifact Data (2015)
  3. Cardon/Holton Site [7NC-F-128] Phase III Field and Artifact Photographs (2015)
  4. Cardon/Holton Site [7NC-F-128] Phase III Subsurface and Artifact Data (2015)
  5. Phase III Archaeological Data Recovery, Cardon/Holton Site [7NC-F-128], St. Georges Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware (2015)