|Google Map of Smiths Island sites (Green = 17th c.; Blue = 18th c.; Red = 19th c.)|
I am now back in Rochester, recovering from a very intense six weeks of excavations, tours, research, teaching, snorkeling, and assorted boon-doggles - for all of 24 hours before we board a jet to Ireland and the UK - but thought it fitting to sum up the 2013 season as a last entry for a while. We had a spectacularly successful field school. By the end, the students were basically carrying out all the routine steps of excavation, from filling out forms, taking elevations and opening photos to digging sensitively and noting layer changes and features on their own. I am confident that they could now join any ongoing excavation elsewhere in the world and fit right in (OK, so our Archimedes water level is a bit on the primitive side compared with the EDMs used elsewhere, but it's tried and true technology and doesn't need batteries). Our volunteers (Krystl, Chloe, Khari, Jillian, Suzann, Sara, Matthew, Alaina, Jason, Scott, and Kelsey) were also wonderful and helped us greatly expand the area we were able to uncover. Many of them were frustrated by the minimal amount of Bermudian history they were taught in school and really appreciated digging into their collective distant past - and I was happy to help them explore the rich heritage all around them and beneath their feet. We had a wonderful turn-out for both the Historic Heartbeats tours and the evening talk at the World Heritage Center - both apparently sold out within a day of being publicized.
In terms of research questions and discoveries, we also fulfilled our primary aims. We determined the front of the Oven Site house, revealing it to be a 24-foot wide structure which was two rooms deep where our trench bisected it. A collateral expansion unit (N2 E7) revealed a worn set of stairs, a deeper floor portion to the south of our trench, and perhaps a front porch room, which would make the building cruciform in shape. Three deep and deeply buried postholes date to the earliest phase of construction, but then were buried by a renovation episode when the brick lining of an oven and hearth was removed, at about the mid-17th century. In the upper layers of the subsequently deposited floor (dating to the late 17th and early 18th centuries) we found both West Country English pottery consistent with the origins of Godherd Asser, the first historically known tenant of Smiths Island, as well as many more flakes of chert, which is consistent with the documented presence of nine Native American slaves at the site in 1707. Next year's excavations will help determine the northern and southern wall boundaries of the house, reveal the deeper floor layer to the south, and articulate the postulated porch room in front. We also hope to test to the north and east of Oven Site in order to find the privy, midden, outbuildings, and (perhaps) well one would expect to find associated with a 17th-century homestead.
Even with limited time available to investigate the Smallpox Bay cottage, we determined an active use span from mid-18th to mid-19th century through a surprisingly wide array of ceramics. The discovery of three postlholes in the three units we excavated suggests that there may be an earlier structure that predates the standing ruin, with an orientation about 45 degrees different from the stone wall configuration presently there. Again, testing in an arc radiating out from the site may reveal associated features, including the graves of patients who did not survive their stay (assuming this to be the quarantine site mentioned in 18th-century laws)
The final goal of the season was to find new sites - which we did in spades. They ranged from the puzzling modern styrofoam-lined drum buried a mere 30 feet from Oven Site to a very promising nearly filled in cave toward the center of the island which would have been a highly attractive site to Carter, Chard, and Waters upon their first arrival but also to generations of slaves and smugglers who followed. The cluster of stone foundations on the Bermuda National Trust's Western Bay property suggests a small hamlet - perhaps where the Forbes family slaves lived apart from their widowed mistress. On my last day at the Bermuda Archives, I did a little digging to see if I could connect James E. Forbes, a quite successful and well-known black pilot who was kept as a salaried retainer by the Royal Navy to bring in their warships, with Smiths Island, since growing up on Smiths would have been wonderful training for a future pilot. As luck would have it, a parish assessment listed "wooden house (Smiths)" under Forbes's property - before he moved to nicer quarters in St. George's. Given how few houses there were on Smiths Island in the late 18th century and how poorly documented the cluster of houses at Western Bay is, it seems highly likely that one of these was Pilot Forbes's childhood home - and thus of major historical significance to Black Bermudian heritage.
And as important as it is to make discoveries, we also made a significant contribution by NOT finding anything - when we tested at Mike Dickinson's proposed house site above The Narrows. Would that all Bermudians building houses had archaeologists verify that no irreplaceable archaeological sites were going to be destroyed through modern construction! An afternoon's work was sufficient to reveal the absence of human occupation of the site, so Mike can go ahead and build with confidence.
So now comes the hard task of artifact analysis and preparing the formal site report through the fall as I resume teaching. I will be advertising next year's field school, which will run from May 24 to June 29, 2014, this fall and early spring, with the goal of recruiting eight academically strong and motivated students. For this coming year, I will be accepting students from other universities and colleges and can also make arrangements to grant academic credit (undergraduate or graduate) to Bermudian students. Please contact me directly by email (Michael.Jarvis@rochester.edu) if you wish to be notified when the 2014 applications become available.
Smiths Island may be a very small place, but there's a vast amount of history to explore there in the years to come.