Rich Neck (44WB52)
Rich Neck was one of the founding plantations of Middle Plantation, the Lower Peninsula community that preceded Williamsburg. Rich Neck’s architectural sophistication and elaborate layout set it apart from nearly all of its colonial neighbors. Started in 1636 by Richard Kemp, the Secretary of the Colony, the plantation grew to over 4,000 acres in size by the middle of the seventeenth century. Richard Kemp and his wife Elizabeth built two structures executed entirely in brick, a rarity in 1640s Virginia. The plantation employed African slaves from its inception.
Richard Kemp died in 1650. In his will, he ordered Elizabeth to sell the plantation and return to England. She did neither, instead marrying Sir Thomas Lunsford, a refugee from the English Civil War.
After Thomas Lunsford’s death, Elizabeth remarried and in 1665, the property passed to another Secretary of the Colony, Thomas Ludwell, who completely renovated the existing brick buildings and added several post structures.
The end of the seventeenth century witnessed the abandonment of this complex due to several factors. Thomas died in 1678, leaving the plantation to Philip. Virginia’s governor Berkeley also died that year, and Philip quickly married Berkeley’s widow, acquiring Greensprings Plantation in the process. The couple lived at Rich Neck for several years before relocating to Greensprings. As an absentee owned plantation, the dwelling and other buildings fell into ruins before they were torn down so that their building materials could be used elsewhere.
Structures and Landscape Features
Structure A is the dwelling house used by Richard and Elizabeth Kemp, Thomas and Elizabeth Lunsford, and lastly Thomas and Philip Ludwell. An intact brick foundation and hearths define it. The house began as a single pile, hall and parlor with a central fireplace. Built around 1640 by Kemp, the house measured 35 feet long by 20 feet wide with a central fireplace.
Brick foundations two and a half courses wide demarcate the initial building phase of Structure A. Excavation uncovered an H-shaped chimney foundation, with a hearth facing east and one facing west, thus dividing the interior space in two heated rooms. The fireplace is off-center; the westernmost room measured approximately 16 by 14.5 feet from interior wall to interior wall, and the eastern room was roughly 16 by 10 feet.
Excavation revealed an addition that ran across the length of the building. This rear addition was 10 feet deep and increased the overall dimension of the house to 35 by 30 feet. The addition was divided into two rooms. Exterior end chimney foundations were found on the east and west walls of the main house section. In front of the east hearth was a large, deep root cellar.
Builders later added another room off the northwest corner of the rear addition. This 1½ course wide foundation measured 10 feet by 12 feet. This room contained a full cellar featuring a brick floor. This room post-dates both the additions and the end chimneys. Heated indirectly this room may have served as the Secretary’s office.
Structure B, The Kitchen/Quarter
Structure B was a large brick outbuilding opposing the plantation's residence. Like Structure A, additions augmented the size and capacity of the building's original plan. Evidence indicates that the entire building was executed in brick and that it served the plantation as its kitchen, as a servant’s quarter, and as a storage/work facility. Excavations revealed the complete outline of structure B's rectangular foundation plan measuring 36 feet (east and west) by 24 feet (north and south). The building was divided into three components--a roughly square center room measuring 24 feet N-S and 20 feet E-W. This room is flanked on the east and west by matching rectangular additions. Both measured 13 feet (east-west) and 24 feet (north-south) and were filled with destruction refuse associated with the demolition of the building.
The center room appeared to be the earliest of Structure B's three components. Key elements of the room's construction date it at the site's earliest phase of habitation. The west wall's C-shaped hearth remains are of the same construction as the rest of the center room. Numerous root cellars were identified in front of the hearth and the remains of a bake oven.
Structure C, a post-in-ground building located west of Structure B, was built during the Ludwell period of ownership. Eight postholes delineate the 20 feet wide by 36 feet long structure. Two additional postholes, slightly smaller in size, indicate that there was a shed attached to the east end that measured 12 by 20 feet.
Structure D, a 16 by 16 foot post-in-ground building, is located directly west of Structure C. Characterized by a very light scatter of artifacts, this structure may have served as an agricultural storage building.
On the other side of Structure C are Structures E and F. These overlapping post-built structures—one with four posts (Structure E) and one with six posts (Structure F)—both date to the Ludwell period of ownership. The location of a single burial supports the contention that slaves lived in this building.
One of the more unusual architectural discoveries was the discovery of a seven-post structure (Structure G) located to the south of Structure B and to the southeast of Structures E and F. Structure G appears to date to the Kemp period of occupation. Its unusual construction style suggests that this structure was built as a lean-to, with its western wall lower than its eastern one. The eastern line of holes was dug deeper and represent the tallest portion of the structure, with the western line being much shallower representing the lower end of the structure. This building probably served some agricultural function and was oriented in such a way as to facilitate access from the homelot (eastern).
South of Structure B, excavators encountered a concentration of artifacts that made up a kitchen midden. The three layers that constitute the midden contained both domestic and architectural debris that included ceramics, imported pipe fragments, paving and roofing tile fragments, brick, and nails.
Fences and Bounding Ditch
Rich Neck yielded evidence of two types of fences. Slot trenches were shallow linear features measuring generally 6 to 8 inches in depth and 6 to 10 inches in width. Five of the slot trenches had rectangular or circular features associated with them; each of those latter features adjoined one side of the trench, slightly cutting it and extending deeper than the trench. No molds were apparent in the features and they appear to be support posts for the pale fence.
A bounding ditch defines the eastern and southern borders of the site. Test units placed beyond or east of the ditch provided relatively few artifacts, indicating that plantation activities were confined primarily to the site area west and north of the ditch. Several large sections of the ditch were exposed. Typically the ditch measured 3 feet wide and 1.5 to 3 feet in depth. At least one area had been redug, presumably after the original channel collapsed or silted in.
A large oval-shaped feature, measuring over 50 feet wide was encountered just north of Structure A. This feature started out as a clay quarry pit, dug to extract clay in order to make bricks. Instead of filling this pit with trash, as was the custom, the owners of Rich Neck decided to let the pit fill with water and serve as a watering hole.
Over time the feature filled in. Layers of almost sterile silt made up the lower layers of this feature. At the south end of the feature, the silt was sealed by a layer of brick rubble used to reduce the size of the pond to accommodate the expansion of the dwelling house in this direction. An artifact rich dark brown loam sealed the brick and silt layers. A thick yellow clay layer was next, followed by another artifact rich layer. In all, the feature was almost 5 feet deep. Artifact seriation indicates that this feature was created in the 1640s and was open until the 1680s. Thousands of artifacts were recovered from the sampling of this feature.
Rich Neck contained large numbers of architectural and domestic artifacts. Clothing artifacts include woven fibers covered in silver and gold, silver beads and jewelry, a silver thimble, a silver toy, and gold jewelry and hardware. Other objects include book clasps, silver coins, bone combs, numerous buttons, wire hooks and eyes, iron buckles, aiglets, candle snuffers, straight pins, scissors, spoons, knives, tenterhooks, lead bale seals, and fireplace tongs. Architectural accoutrements included ceramic roofing tiles, hinges, a fireback, and mirror glass. Tools include a scale part and coin weight, scythes, shears, sickles, axes, saws, shovels, hoes, fishing and net weights, and various files. Arms and armament include gun barrels, cannonballs, shot, sword parts, armor, and gunflints. Furniture and architectural locks, padlocks, and keys were found. Numerous coins and jettons were also recovered. A jet pipe tamp inscribed with “I like my choice” with a stylized tobacco leaf was found in the fill of the watering hole. A fossilized whale vertebrae was recovered from one of the kitchen cellars.
McFaden, Leslie, Philip Levy, David Muraca, and Jennifer Jones. 1999. Interim Report: The Archaeology of Rich Neck Plantation. Department of Archaeological Research, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg.
Muraca, David, Philip Levy, and Lesie McFaden. 2003. Rich Neck Plantation (44WB52): Description of the Features. Department of Archaeological Research, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg.
Further Information on the Collection
The Rich Neck Plantation collection is owned by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. For more information about the collection and collection access, contact curator Kelly Ladd-Kostro at 757-220-7332; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cite this Record
Rich Neck (44WB52). ( tDAR id: 6062) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8KW5HGS
Rich Neck (44WB52)
Calendar Date: 1636 to 1700
min long: -77.498; min lat: 36.633 ; max long: -75.41; max lat: 39.368 ;
Individual & Institutional Roles
Field Director(s): David Muraca