Thursday, June 7, 2012

The American Invasion

198 years ago, an enormous British military expedition invaded the Chesapeake Bay, burned most of Washington, D.C., and put on a spectacular fireworks display outside Baltimore to help inspire Francis Scott Key to pen a patriotic poem. When we took a break from excavating today to go to Hamilton (Bermuda's big city and capital) we saw the US return the favor. 4,000 battle-hardened Americans armored in sunscreen and sometimes painfully skimpy attire hit the Front Street beachhead and engaged in store-to-store street fighting (over t-shirts, mostly).

The invasion's landing craft was truly enormous - made D-Day LC's look like rowboats. Had they wanted to, they could have rained fire down onto Hamilton - but luckily were distracted by the Promenade Deck happy hour...

Fast-moving mounted cavalry units fanned out across the city, shooting passersby as they went.

And this especially talented special ops pair (unencumbered by much bulky clothing) texted and sent real-time video surveillance of the battlefield back to base!

(Love the designer swag bag)

Our own modest invasion of the Bermuda Archives today was far more successful, beginning with a bus ride  into "town" from St. George's - which in itself is an interesting cultural experience -->

At the archives, we talked about the many different types of documents that historical archaeologists use - deeds, grants, maps, sketches, wills, probate inventories, letters, tax assessments, maritime protests, newspapers - and how they use them to find and interpret sites. It was especially cool to examine the colonial records, read the minutes of the June 1616 assize, and imagine the clerk setting down the words before us in thatch-roofed timber-frame church while the colony was still in its infancy. We also pored over Richard Norwood's 1663 survey map, which marks the location of hundreds of potential archaeological sites - including our own at Smith's Island.

We were in the outside reading room - the wall of glass behind us encloses a more climate-controlled space for working with sensitive documents. I call it the "aquarium" or "fish bowl" and feel a bit on display when I work within it, but appreciate how important it is to preserve the documents for future researchers and posterity. Mike spent the entire day inside working through various 1770s-80s letters from Bermuda to St. George Tucker in Virginia - a very rich collection.

Over the course of the morning, the students picked some pretty cool topics for the historical research part of their training. Leigh is investigating the witchcraft prosecutions of the 1650s and the community tensions and gender relations they reveal. Quarin is going to study the Forbes family and their slaves, especially those who lived and worked on Smiths Island, using a letterbook from the 1780s and 1790s. Mimi is interested in smallpox and Bermuda's effort to prevent or suppress it from 1760 to 1860 using acts passed to encourage inoculation and create a quarantine system that may have included Smiths Island. Kristina wants to research the transmission of British fashion and consumer items to Bermuda, probably using 1780s newspapers advertising imported wares (which would help archaeologists date the arrival and availability of items like ceramics that we find at various sites). Jordan's topic is the 17th-century transition from timber-frame to stone architecture and the growth of distinct Bermudian vernacular building traditions - a study directly related to our Smiths Island excavations. Once they got started, it was amazing how intently they threw themselves into the research - it was the quietest I've ever known them to be!

At lunchtime, we visited the Bermuda Historical Society Museum to see whole examples of the sorts of artifacts that are often recovered on 18th-century sites.

We capped off an amazing day with a ferry ride across the harbour to Darrell's Wharf and a dinner hosted by Margie Lloyd. We ate traditional dishes like ham and cassava pie off porcelain plates, with Margie's 18th-century ancestors looking down upon us from the wall, frozen in time by Joseph Blackburn in 1752. The chocolate cake and ice cream were thoroughly modern - and delicious, so food history went out the window at desert time. The students did learn about the amazing Old House Survey project that Margie pioneered in the 1970s - identifying and inventorying every building in Bermuda that could be dated to before 1898 using Thomas Savage's Ordnance Survey map. This data evolved into the parish-by-parish architecture books that the Bermuda National Trust has produced - six parishes down, three to go!

We were strangely exhausted by the time we headed back to St. George's - whoever thought that reading documents could be so tiring? At least we escaped being captured and dragged aboard the Veendam for a cutthroat game of shuffleboard and the midnight buffet...!

It's COLD in the Archives!

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