Maggie L. Walker: Activism in the Archives

Sandra, author

NMSC archives technician, Sandra (author)

This blog post was written by NMSC’s archives technician, Sandra!  Sandra has a joint degree in Archeology and Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh and a Certificate in Museum Studies from Harvard Extension School. She has been working in the archives department at NMSC for about 2 years. Her work has included digital archives projects for Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site and Women’s Rights National Historical Park as well as processing archives for Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River and Lowell National Historical Park. Sandra’s interests include care of museum collections and improved access to collections through digital projects.

This week we celebrate the birthday of an important African American woman whose life signifies perseverance, success, and love of community.  That woman is Maggie Lena Walker, businesswoman, community organizer, and civil rights activist.

Over the past two years, as an Archives Technician at the Northeast Museum Services Center, I have had the honor of working on a digital archives project for Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site located in Richmond, Virginia.  The project involved creating metadata for a collection of Maggie L. Walker’s documents and photographs.  Once the project is complete, the collection of documents and photographs will be available online for the general public and academic researchers to access.

Maggie L. Walker’s archives reflect many aspects of her life including her tireless work to improve the lives of African American people and her success as the first African American woman to found a bank.   Her success in business allowed her the stature and financial means to make real change in her community.

Working with her archives, I was able to see snapshots of the work she did and the causes that she fought for.  Last week, I was reminded of some of these documents while watching a ranger talk from Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site by Ben Anderson entitled “Maggie L. Walker:  A Catalyst for Change.”  Ranger Anderson talked about the different ways that Maggie L. Walker was an activist for change in her community.  He pointed out that she worked on such issues as fighting for African American women’s right to vote and to end racial segregation.  His talk brought to mind several specific documents and photographs from her archives that illustrate Maggie L. Walker as an activist.  Below are a few examples of those items.

Maggie L. Walker was a member of many organizations that were working to improve the civil rights of African American people in the United States in the early 20th Century.  In the collection of documents that I worked on there were many publications and other documents recording the work of these organizations and Maggie L. Walker’s involvement with that work.

For example, in November 1926 she donated money to the NAACP and received a certificate that recorded her contribution.  The certificate lists the organization’s mission as being “To Safeguard the Full Potential, Civil and Legal Rights of Colored Citizens and Secure them Equality and Opportunity.”

Certificate from NAACP, recognizing a contribution from Maggie L. Walker. Dated November 7, 1926.

The collection also includes brochures and pamphlets that Maggie L. Walker may have used to educate herself and others.  These publications documented the inequality suffered by African Americans during her lifetime and actions that could be taken to make a change.  For example, lynchings were taking place all across the United States, especially in the Southeast.   A pamphlet  from the Commission on Interracial Cooperation records the statistics of lynchings while calling for an end to this disturbing trend in the United States.  The pamphlet recommends steps that can be taken to help eradicate lynchings and even records some progress that had already been made in some states.

Maggie L. Walker’s activism also included supporting and inspiring her community.  She was very interested in working with African American youth to help them achieve successful futures despite the obstacles they faced due to racial injustice.   The below photograph from the collection of Maggie L. Walker with a group of neighborhood boys seems to illustrate her love of children as well as her stature in the community.

Maggie Walker outside St. Luke Hall

Maggie L. Walker with neighborhood boys outside of St. Luke Hall. Circa 1917.

Walker contributed financial donations, food, and her time to schools for African American girls.  This can be observed in her documents in the form of donation receipts including one made to the National Training School for Women and Girls in Lincoln Heights, DC.  The money was for a student prize for the ‘Best advanced student business.’

Receipt for contribution made by Maggie L. Walker for a student prize to the National Training School for Women and Girls, Inc. Dated June 5, 1931.

She was also on the Board of Managers for the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls.  A letter in her archives from the school superintendent illustrates that Maggie L. Walker was loved and respected at the school by the staff and students for the work she did to assist them.  The letter reads, “We all missed you so much at our annual exercises.  It did not seem complete without you.  The girls looked for you until it was over…”  The letter also requests that she make an impromptu speech about interracial cooperation at an upcoming event.

Letter To Maggie Walker 1931

Letter from Janie Porter Barrett, Superintendent of the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls, to Maggie L. Walker. Dated June 17, 1931.

Maggie L. Walker was well known for her public addresses.  She spoke eloquently on a number of subjects that were important to her.  Her fight for civil rights and equal opportunity for women were a theme in many of her speeches.  Her public addresses can be found in her collection of documents since they were carefully typed up and, in one case, bound into a book.

A page from Maggie L. Walker’s public address titled “Race Unity” from her 1909 volume of public addresses.

My favorite Maggie L. Walker public addresses are those in which she expressed her activism both for racial justice and women’s rights.  For example, in her public address titled “Race Unity” she calls for all African Americans to shop at and use African American owned businesses as a way to support their community. An excerpt from ‘Race Unity’ reads “..when we realize our family, the Negro Race, is spending more than a quarter of a million of dollars every week in these twin cities, and spending that money with a family which will not recognize us as citizens, will not employ our fathers nor our mothers, will not give out sisters or brothers the slightest chance to be benefited by this stream of living water, which we continually furnish daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and that without ceasing, we are going to see if we can try and turn the course of that almighty stream of dollar..”  This idea of patronizing African American businesses as a way to work towards racial equality lives on today in the ‘Buy Black’ movement.

Maggie L. Walker (2nd from right) with some of her female employees at the accounting office at St. Luke Hall. Circa 1900-1917.

Another common theme in Maggie L. Walker’s public addresses was African American women’s equality and rights.  In her address titled, “Women in the Business World” she encourages African American women to pursue varied careers by saying, “What women of other nationalities can do, we can do.  The fact that we are at the very bottom of the ladder should not dishearten us. Faith in God and faith in ourselves can work miracles…”  She not only talked about women’s careers, she also employed many African American women in her businesses and at the Independent Order of St. Luke, a Fraternal organization that she led for many years.

A page from Maggie L. Walker’s public address titled “Women in the Business World” from her 1909 volume of public addresses.

A page from Maggie L. Walker’s small spiral notebook, possibly notes for a public address regarding voter registration requirements. Undated.

Maggie L. Walker also fought for access to voting for African Americans in her community. In her archives are typed notes, possibly for a public address, that spell out the hoops that people had to jump through to register to vote in 1917.  It appears that she was using this information to educate African American men to ensure that they knew how to register. She notes that literacy had been added as a requirement to register to vote by 1917.  This was in addition to other requirements including a poll tax and property ownership.  These hurdles must have discouraged many people from even trying to register to vote or made it outright impossible for others.  It is clear why people fought so hard to change voting laws since at that time the requirements disenfranchised so many people.  Maggie L. Walker was not able to change these laws in 1917, but she was able to educate people on the voting laws to ensure that as many people as possible from her community could register to vote.

The above notes on how to register to vote were from three years before women were given the right to vote.  Maggie L. Walker’s diary for September 11, 1920 records that she paid her poll tax and registered for the first time in her life.  Throughout the September 1920 entries in her diary she mentions that she was working with people to ensure that African American women registered to vote.  For example, on September 20th she wrote “Visits City Hall – makes plea for additional help to register colored women.”

She clearly worked tirelessly to ensure that as many African American women as possible were registered and able to take part in the historic first vote for women in November 1920.  Her diary reflects that important day in history.  She wrote “Election Day – Holiday. 1st voting day for Women.”

November 2nd page from Maggie L. Walker’s 5-year Diary for 1918 – 1922. The entry for the year 1920 documents the 1st day women voted in the United States.

Maggie L. Walker’s archives are vital documentation of the work she did for the civil rights movement in the early 1900s.  They are important for understanding how long and how difficult the fight for equal rights for African Americans has been in the United States.  Maggie L. Walker was one of the women in history who fought that fight and her archives will ensure that her civil rights work is not forgotten.

The project to make the MAWA archives accessible online is funded through the NPS Civil Rights Initiative. In addition to competitive grants for non-NPS sites, the initiative supports NPS cultural resource and education projects to document, interpret, and preserve the stories and sites of the Civil Rights Movement.



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The Mysterious Case of the Brooks Brothers Button

Author photo

NMSC museum technician, Hayley (author).

This blog post was written by one of NMSC’s talented museum technicians, Hayley!  Hayley graduated from the University of Vermont in 2019 with a dual degree in History and Anthropology with a concentration in Archeology.  She is currently an archeological museum technician at NMSC, where she assists in cataloging and rehousing archeological objects from National Parks across the Northeast.  For the past three years, Hayley has helped run an archeological field school in Italy and hopes to continue teaching others in the field during her off-seasons.  Thank you, Hayley, for this fascinating history of Brooks Brothers and its tie to NPS museum collections!


Brooks Brothers. You’ve probably heard of them. The clothing brand founded in 1818 featuring the mythical golden fleece once captured by Jason and the Argonauts.

At the ripe old age of 23 (not very ripe at all mind you), I had only heard of the clothing brand once when talking to my father about history and what not. It wasn’t until one rainy day when I was cleaning out my room that I discovered a strange little button. The button in question came into my possession, we suspect, with my grandfather’s collection of random coins and stamps. Nothing valuable, mind you, just a small box no larger than my hand filled with coins from over the years and from around the world. Researching this random button actually had a connection to my job as a museum technician with the National Park Service.

As an archeologist, I have a fascination with three things: old things, finding answers, and organizing/cleaning/sorting. I began to clean the old button I had discovered with a small tipped needle and some ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) to keep me company.

I am no button expert, but I could make out some engravings on the button including the double “B” in the center of two laurel branches, an empty scroll at the bottom of the figure and a crown with a cross at the top. Equally confusing was the cross-stitch background on the face of the button and the questionable material it was made from. Although I first thought it was made of metal (since it was cool to the touch), I began doubting it was metal due to how lightweight it was and therefore I suspected plastic. This element is still debated among my family members, who are equally divided on the subject.

After combing through internet results for crowns, laurels, BB, and scrolls, I was nowhere closer to finding my answer as to what the button was used for, let alone how old it was. I began looking at button charts and enthusiastic button collectors’ websites while diving even deeper into museum collections that were available to the public online.  None of these endeavors proved fruitful, however.

At this point, something in the back of my mind was bugging me, suggesting that I had seen that double B logo before.  Feeling exasperated, I went to the source of all riddles: my father. Upon showing him the button, he immediately suggested Brooks Brothers and began his own internet spiral into the subject. The logo was indeed that of Brooks Brothers, but my quest did not stop there as I had yet to find an exact match to the button now in my possession. From Civil War uniforms produced by the company to more modern fashions, I have yet to find a button with this cross-stitch background and particular logo. (Have you seen this button before?  Please share your knowledge in the comment section!)

Despite my failure to tie up this loose end, I found myself diving deeper into the history of the company itself and realized that Brooks Brothers actually has quite the place in American history and National Park Service museum collections.

From mass producing Civil War uniforms (complete with scandals) to proudly providing clothes for 39 presidents, Brooks Brothers has a deep and fascinating history intertwined with national figures whose personal clothes ended up in museum collections in National Park Service sites throughout the United States.

The Civil War

In 1861, a government contract for 12,000 uniforms was awarded to Brooks Brothers as they stated that they, unlike other companies at the time, could produce the ready-made uniform in the short time frame made from army cloth. Upon receiving the contract, Brooks Brothers negotiated the terms of the agreement by substituting army cloth with what was declared by the company as “equivalent cloth.” The government accepted this change in cloth type after reviewing some samples and were assured by the company that the quality of the uniforms was to be of high quality. Feeling the pressure from recent Union losses and desperately needing the New York volunteer regiment (which needed to be clothed), the government accepted the change in contract. With the new contract in hand, the government agreed upon the price of $19.50 for each uniform.

These uniforms, issued to new recruits, were found to be missing buttons and button holes and were made from a woolly substance consisting of sawdust and scraps of fabric which had been hastily glued and ironed together [i]. The resulting uniforms were shoddy at best and proceeded to fall apart when they were first exposed to rain. In fact, their tattered integrity gave birth to the term “shoddy.” [ii] 48,000 of these fraudulent uniforms were paid for before a government Board of Inquiry caught on.


Brooks Brothers red wool jacket thought to belong to Frederick Billings or John Harcourt McDill. Ca. 1890-1900. Photo courtesy of Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

The man who composed the contract (William H. Anthon) after reviewing the initial sample cloths from Brooks Brothers testified to the Board of Inquiry:

“I have seen the gray cloth of which the uniforms of Cols. Quimby and Walrath’s regiments are made, during my recent visit upon official business to the city of Washington. The cloth of which those uniforms are made is rotten, and may easily be torn with the fingers. It is not like the sample cloth, which is strong, and cannot be so torn. The shade of color also is different, having a rusty faded appearance.” [iii]

When the board required the leader of Brooks Brothers, Elisha Brooks, to testify to the types of fabric used and the possible profit margin the company experienced by using these types of materials, Brooks stated, “the uniforms were made, some army cloth some of petersham, some of satinet, some of felt cloth, and some of mixed cassimere and some of mixed coating” and that he could not “ascertain the difference [in profit] without spending more time than [he] can now devote to that purpose.” [iv]

These resulting low quality and mixed colored uniforms (originally ordered to be blue but appearing gray) have been theorized to result in mistaken friendly fire among the Union troops. A reporter for the New York Tribune at the time described the uniforms as “shoddy, poor sleazy stuff, woven open enough for sieves, and then filled with shearman’s dust. Soldiers, on the first day’s march or in the earliest storm, found their clothes, overcoats, and blanket, scattering to the wind in rags or dissolving into their primitive elements of dust under the pelting rain.” [v]

The investigators issued a statement to the Board of Inquiry suggesting that those soldiers who had paid for their uniform (issued by Brooks Brothers) be given new uniforms of the original quality promised in the contract and that the cost of new uniforms be deducted from the contract with Brooks Brothers. The board further suggested that the government no longer conduct business with the company unless such business was free of charge and the defective uniforms were replaced. [vi]

Two years later riots began to break out in Manhattan’s 19th ward as city inhabitants were drafted for the Civil War. During these riots, the Brooks Brothers store and manufacturing space were raided and sacked by rioters. Despite this large case of clothing fraud, Brooks Brothers proceeded to manufacture uniforms for World War I.

Brooks Brothers buttons

Brooks Brothers bronze buttons, ca. 1902. Photo courtesy of Gettysburg National Military Park.


During President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration (1865), Brooks Brothers gifted a unique coat featuring an embroidered lining bearing an eagle and the inscription “One Country, One Destiny.” This was the same coat he was wearing when he was murdered at Ford’s Theatre two weeks later. The coat was reportedly given to Alphonse Donn, Lincoln’s favorite White House doorkeeper, by Mrs. Lincoln after her husband’s untimely death.

Alphonse kept and treasured the coat for the rest of his life, storing it in a trunk and occasionally displaying it for guests [vii]. The coat, a desirable memento, was taken apart over time as pieces of the great coat were sought after and its pieces passed down through the family. Eventually, the left sleeve of the coat was detached and further years of displaying the coat weakened the fibers of the silk lining. Two replicas of the coat were later made by the Brooks Brothers to be kept by the Ford Theatre and the Brooks Brothers corporation.

Passed down through generations, the coat, after more than 100 years after Lincoln’s assassination, found its way back to Ford’s Theatre in 1968. Through a donation made by the American Trucking Association to the United States Capital Historical Society, the coat was bought from Alphonse Donn’s great granddaughter and donated to Ford’s Theatre. The coat remained on display at Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site since it was donated and installed on April 24, 1968 till 2009 when museum curators made the difficult decision to let the coat “rest” as it had suffered light damage from display. [viii]

The Brooks Brothers fashion trend continued as a Lieutenant Colonel and future president, Theodore Roosevelt, sent a note to clothing manufacturers in 1898 asking for a new uniform which he would later wear during the charge of San Juan Hill.


The Crowned Hour at San Juan, July 1, 1898. Statue by James Edward Kelly. Photo courtesy of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.


Letter sent by Theodore Roosevelt. Brooks Brothers photo.

Additionally, Franklin D. Roosevelt was often seen wearing capes and although two of his U.S. naval boat cloaks were often favored, he also wore a finer Brooks Brothers version made from wool with a silk lining.

In 2009, President Barack Obama became the 39th of 44 sitting U.S. Presidents to wear Brooks Brothers. [ix]

Through my button research I was able to draw connections to my family and National Park Service collections: two very integral aspects of my life. It’s interesting to think that I may have never investigated this button had I not been avidly missing the office and the work I do for the Park Service. The button’s unique history has inspired further investigation of my house and its many “knick knacks” as I bide my time waiting to return to the office when the time is right. And so, I pose the question to you dear reader: what’s in your house?












Image Sources:

MABI jacket –

GETT buttons –

Lincoln coat photos: and,default,pg.html

The Crowned House at Jan Juan –

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt –,default,pg.html

FDR cape –

Yalta Conference –

President Barack Obama –

List of Presidents –,default,pg.html



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Kiss Me Kid, And Pass the Swamp Root: The 1918 “Spanish Flu” in Lowell

schools closed lowell

Lowell Courier Citizen, September 27, 1918


As wearily familiar as you may be with headlines like this, the above news report actually appeared in a local newspaper in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1918.  Residents of Lowell at the time were dealing – as was much of the entire country (and planet) – with a fierce influenza epidemic known commonly as the “Spanish Flu.”*  Artifacts recovered archeologically at what is now Lowell National Historical Park can help us to understand what it was like to fear, battle, and survive a harrowing epidemic over one hundred years ago.

The Boott Mills Boardinghouse was built as lodging for the “mill girls” who worked in the Lowell mills in the early- to mid- 19th century.  The Kirk Street Agent’s House housed the agent for the Boott Mill on one side and the agent for the Massachusetts Mills on the other.  By the early 20th century, the nature of the workforce in the mills had shifted to predominantly immigrant labor.  The boarding houses were subdivided into tenements for immigrant families, and the Agent’s House was sold and operated as a rooming house.  Early 20th-century artifacts recovered during excavations at both locations largely reflect the hard-working immigrant families (mainly French Canadian, Greek, Portuguese, Polish, and Russian) that were living and working at the mills during the time of the Spanish Flu.  The tenement area was hit particularly hard by the epidemic.

boardinghouses np gallery

Boardinghouses, Lowell, MA. NPS photo.

The city of Lowell was hit by the severe second wave of the Spanish Flu, which broke out in nearby Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts in July of 1918.  Reports of the flu were frightening, many including the dreaded, telltale mahogany-colored spots that appeared under the cheekbones.  Many young, robust, healthy people were succumbing to the flu or the pneumonia that it caused.  So… what to do?

There was no cure or proven treatment for influenza in 1918.  Doctors and their patients turned to plant-based remedies as well as the myriad of questionable patent medicines available in the early 20th century.  Medicines that had been around for years were suddenly assigned new importance as preventatives, treatments, and restoratives for those trying to avoid or recover from the flu.  Manufacturers of patent medicines exploited the public’s fear, advertising, for example, that a cough left people more susceptible to the flu.  A 1919 ad for a cough remedy in a Washington paper read, “From a Sneeze or Cough to Spanish Influenza – People who suffer with colds and coughs are more liable to this insidious disease.”  (So buy our product and get rid of that cough!)  The Lowell Courier Citizen featured this ad for local druggists, encouraging people to buy their lung-enhancing products to avoid the flu.

Lowell Courier Citizen, Oct 12, 1918

Lowell Courier Citizen, Oct 12, 1918

A bottle of Kemp’s Balsam was recovered during excavations at the Boott Mill Boardinghouse.  The paper label on a bottle of Kemp’s Balsam in the collection at the National Museum of American History reads, “Cures coughs, colds, bronchitis, catarrh, asthma, influenza and all throat and lung diseases. Affords immediate relief in the severest cases of whooping cough, croup and all throat disorders.”  We don’t know who bought the Kemp’s Balsam found at the Boardinghouse, or exactly when, or exactly why.  But we do know that sales of these tonics increased significantly in 1918, when they were marketed as flu preventatives.  According to flu-time advertising, your cough wasn’t just painful and bothersome – it was deadly dangerous too.

In addition to being marketed as preventatives, common patent medicines were also touted as restoratives, which one had to buy in order to fully recover from the Spanish Flu.  Two such products were Hood’s Sarsaparilla and Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root, both of which are represented in the archeology collection at Lowell NHP (a bottle of Hood’s Sarsaparilla was recovered at the Agent’s House site, and a bottle of Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root at the Boott Mill Boardinghouse).  Both of these products had been sold for years as cure-alls (who wouldn’t buy something called “Swamp Root” to feel better?) and were rebranded during the flu epidemic as necessary restoratives.  The Indianapolis News advertised in December of 1918, “No Tonic Like Hoods Sarsaparilla For a Time Like This, After Influenza, the Grip, when purified blood, rebuilt strength, and regulated bowels are essential.”  The Bemidji Daily Pioneer reported in February of 1919, “Druggists report a large sale on Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root which so many people say soon heals and strengthens the kidneys after an attack of grip.”

Newspapers across the country also provided practical advice as to how to avoid getting the Spanish Flu.  Some could be borrowed from 2020 news bulletins:  keep your distance from people who are coughing and sneezing; wash your hands before eating; wear a mask.  Other recommendations sound distinctly old-fashioned, like the suggestion in the Chicago Herald and Examiner to “keep your head cool, your feet warm, and your bowels open.”  One rule topped several lists we found of “dos” and “don’ts” in 1918:  NO KISSING.

The LOWE archeology collection includes this celluloid pin-back button, which was excavated at the Boott Mills Boardinghouse.  The pin reads “Kiss Me Kid, I’m Sterilized!” and features a woman and a man in early 20th-century dress leaning in for a kiss.  Pin-back buttons date to the late 1890s, and buttons with this particular playful phrase were popular by at least 1913.  Available vaccines in the 1910s included those for smallpox and typhoid, but after much research, the archeologists who excavated the Boott Mill Boardinghouse attributed this pin to the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic.

kiss me both

Pin-back button from Boott Mills Boardinghouse; Intact example found online (WorthPoint) for reference

If you’re thinking, but wait, there was no flu vaccine in 1918, you’re right.  In the fall of 1918, doctors at Tufts University School of Medicine produced trials of an influenza vaccine that they hoped could stop the Spanish Flu epidemic.  Unfortunately, doctors and scientists in the early 20th century attributed influenza to bacteria, not a virus, so the vaccine they developed was ineffective.  The trials, however, were highly publicized in hopeful bulletins in local and national newspapers.  The Boston Globe featured a photo of Mayor Andrew Peters smiling as he got his shot, which he claimed wasn’t nearly as bad as the smallpox vaccine.  With such widespread optimism surrounding the vaccine, we can just picture recipients proudly wearing pins like this one – and finally going in for that kiss! – after getting their shots.

boston globe mayor peters vaccine

Former Boston Mayor Andrew Peters receiving an experimental vaccine in 1918.  Photo-The Boston Globe.

Looking at artifacts through a specific historical lens can give them a whole new meaning.  As illustrated by period newspapers and advertisements, products used normally as cough elixirs and general cure-alls were marketed, and undoubtedly purchased, as treatment for the dreaded Spanish Flu.  Finding these artifacts in the boardinghouses and tenements in Lowell helps us to imagine what measures the occupants may have taken to try to safeguard their health during an epidemic.  I find it comforting to learn how our communities in the not-so-distant past experienced and endured a situation that is similar to what we’re going through right now. To me, the “Kiss Me Kid!” pin represents humanity’s determination to triumph over adversity.  The 1918 vaccine was ineffective, but flu shots are now available.  If you’re tired of seeing your family on a computer screen and sick of staying 6 feet apart, take heart.  At some point, we’ll be saying, “Kiss Me Kid!” again.


*Because the common name at the time for the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 was the “Spanish Flu,” we will refer to it as such in this post.


Barry, John M.  How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.  Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017.

Mrozowski, Stephen, Grace H. Ziesing, and Mary C. Beaudry.  Living on the Boott:  Historical Archaeology at the Boott Mills Boardinghouses, Lowell, Massachusetts.  University of MA Press, 1996.

Spinney, Laura.  Pale Rider:  The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World.  New York:  Public Affairs, 2017.

The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919:  A Digital Encyclopedia.  Produced by the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine and Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library.

Library of Congress, Chronicling America database.

National Library of New Zealand, Papers Past online archives –

Utah Historical Quarterly, Spring 1980, Vol 58, No. 2

Additional websites:

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What Features at the African Meeting House Can Tell Us About Life in 19th-Century Boston

This blog post was written by one of NMSC’s archeology research assistants, Erica!  Erica is also a second-year master’s degree candidate in UMass Boston’s historical archeology program. While at NMSC, she is working to catalog artifacts from the African Meeting House, which is managed by the Museum of African American History (a partner of Boston African American National Historic Site).  Erica is using the collection to study the impacts of institutionalized inequality on dress and adornment practices of the free African American community that would have used and occupied the African Meeting House. 

The following post was written by NMSC research assistant, Erica.

NMSC research assistant, Erica, in the field.

Built in 1806, the African Meeting House in Boston was used as a church, school, and community gathering place for the free African American community residing on Beacon Hill in the 19th century. Archeological excavations at the African Meeting House, a partner of Boston African American National Historic Site, began in 1975 and continued until 2005. These extensive excavations uncovered not only thousands of artifacts, but also a number of features. Features are parts of an archeological site that cannot typically be removed from the site still intact. They include things like building foundations, hearths, and privies. Archeologists studying the African Meeting House have even been able to connect some of the artifacts found in features to individual people. This post will examine three important features from the African Meeting House site:  two privies, and a privy/sheet midden.

Image from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

African Meeting House, Boston (Massachusetts Historical Society)

Privies are essentially historical bathrooms. It may seem gross, but archeologists love privies. This is because in addition to being used as bathrooms, privies were also used as trash piles in the days before municipal garbage removal. High amounts of discarded ceramics, glass, clay pipes, buttons, animal bones, seeds, you name it, commonly made their way into privies. The artifact assemblage recovered from privies can be used to date the site as well as telling us about the people who occupied or used the space.


44 joy street ex

2005 excavations of the 44 Joy Street Privy, Fiske Center for Archaeological Research

Privy #1

At the Meeting House, not one, but TWO intact privies were found and excavated. Neither of these intact privies belonged to the Meeting House, but they do represent domestic life from the surrounding area. The oldest privy dates to approximately 1790-1806, predating the Meeting House. It likely belonged to the first structure built on 44 Joy Street, property that abuts the Meeting House on the east. At the time, the tenement building was owned by Augustin Raillion, a white hairdresser, and his wife, Sally (Bower 1987:9). There were five wig curlers recovered from the privy, evidence of Augustin Raillion’s profession. Wig curlers are cylindrical, with wider ends and a narrow center, and were typically made of white clay. Wigs were frequently a marker of status, and wig curlers were used to shape them into their often elaborate styles. Unfortunately, Augustin Raillion was not a success story. Despite referring to himself as a “Gentlemen” and “Trader,” historical records tell us that he struggled economically (Bower 1987:5). He was constantly selling and mortgaging the property he owned on Beacon Hill- including the land where the African Meeting House currently stands (Bower 1987:5). He ultimately died destitute sometime in the 1820s (Bower 1987:5).

wig curler

Wig curler fragment from 2005 excavations, Fiske Center for Archaeological Research

Privy #2

The second privy found on the property has also been associated with 44 Joy Street, but from a later time period. In 1811, Raillion mortgaged the 44 Joy Street lot to Anne Collins, a white spinster, who owned the property until 1836. During her ownership, she built a tenement on the land and rented to African Americans (Landon et al. 2007:64). The privy dates to approximately Anne Collins’ ownership of the property, and it provides archeologists with an insight into the lives of her tenants. From historical documents, we know Cyrus Barrett, a cordwainer (shoemaker), occupied 44 Joy Street from 1828-1833 (Landon and Bulger 2013:126). Archeologists found fragments of men’s and women’s shoes in the privy.  Organic artifacts often break down in the ground, but luckily the waterlogged conditions of the privy preserved them. A single naval officer uniform button was also recovered from this privy. This could potentially be linked to Robert Curry, a mariner who resided at 44 Joy Street from 1826–1828 (Landon and Bulger 2013:136).

Privy/Sheet Midden

Our final feature is a little more complicated than a clearly defined privy. It’s both a privy AND a sheet midden. A midden is essentially an area used for garbage, and a sheet midden specifically refers to a widespread trash accumulation that may only comprise one excavation level. So considering that a privy and a sheet midden are two vastly different things, how can a feature be both? This privy/midden feature was first discovered in 1975, the very first year of excavations. It was initially described as a trench with a high amount of nineteenth century material culture and decayed wood (Bower and Ritchie 1975:5). However, further excavations in following years revealed that this feature was truncated by 1855 construction to the Meeting House, which destroyed the privy and spread out its contents (Landon et al 2007:92). Thus, the privy became a midden. It is thought that the privy, when it was still intact, belonged to the Meeting House (Landon et al 2007:62).

Again, this midden/privy feature has artifacts that can be linked to an individual and his profession. Domingo Williams was a caterer who lived in the African Meeting House basement between the years 1819 and 1830 (Bower 1986: Figure 15A). He had a long and successful career, and frequently catered events at the African Meeting House (Bower 1986:24). The midden excavation level included thousands of ceramic sherds, including many table and tea wares that probably came from Domingo Williams, who would have supplied his own ceramics at catered events.




Examples of ceramics from the African Meeting House, Fiske Center for Archaeological Research


After intense study, archeologists have been able to link artifacts recovered from these three features at the African Meeting House to individuals who once lived and worked in the vicinity. This was only possible because of ongoing site preservation. If artifacts are disturbed, archeologists are unable to offer interpretations like the ones described here. An artifact on its own is not meaningful, but when understood in the context of a feature or in relation to other cultural material and the site as a whole, archeologists are able to tell the history of a site.

The three features excavated at the African Meeting House can help us understand what life was like for African Americans in 19th-century Boston.  Archeologists have been able to connect occupational artifacts in domestic contexts to individuals, highlighting the fact that many of these free African Americans were running their businesses from their homes. They were finding ways to economically support themselves and their community, despite the fact social institutions of the era would have actively worked to exclude and disadvantage black Americans.


Bower, Beth.  1987 Report on Feature B7, African Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts. Museum of African American History, Boston. Report #25-778 on file at the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

1986    The African Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts: Summary Report of Archaeological Excavations, 1975-1986. Unpublished Draft Manuscript. The Museum of African American History, Abiel Smith School.

Bower, Beth and Duncan Ritchie.  1975    Preliminary Archaeological Excavations at the African Meeting House, Boston, Mass. May-June 1975. The Museum of African American History.

Landon, David B.  2007    Investigating the Heart of a Community: Archaeological Excavations at the African Meeting House, Boston Massachusetts. Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research Cultural Resource Management, Study No. 22.

Landon, David B. and Teresa D. Bulger.  2013    Constructing Community: Experience of Identity, Economic Opportunity, and Institution Building at Boston’s African Meeting House. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 17(1):119-142.

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Paleoethnowhat? Let’s Talk About Plant Use in the Past!

CLAIRE BIO PHOTOMeet Claire!  Claire is a museum technician and CESU intern in NMSC’s archeology program.  She is also currently pursuing her M.A. in historical archeology at UMass Boston, where she is studying the African Diaspora, paleoethnobotany, and community engagement. At NMSC, she has been working with several NPS collections, including artifacts from Boston African American National Historic Site.  Claire’s hard work and original research interests have been invaluable assets to our program.  Thanks to Claire for this educational and engaging post! 

The following post was written by NMSC museum technician, Claire.

When thinking about the day-to-day life of an archeologist, many people might think our work looks like this…


Image of Indiana Jones taking a relic from the Lost Arc.   Photo –

Or even this…


Image of paleontologist painstakingly brushing off dinosaur remains.  Photo - 

But what about this?

Me spending hours at a microscope attempting to finish my thesis.

I know it’s much less enthralling, and I hate to break it to you, but professional archeologists do not encourage the looting of cultural sites (as seen in Indiana Jones), and as interesting as dinosaur bones are, we are not in the business of excavating dinosaur fossils.

Rather, archeologists are interested in understanding how humans navigated and lived in the world in the past. Admittedly, this is a rather large feat. However, the archeological discipline has been broken down into a series of subfields and material emphases that can help us to better answer more intimate questions about the lived experiences of people in both our recent and deeper past.

Are you interested in what the latest clothing trends were in the past? Perhaps a focus in personal adornment through the investigation of small finds might be your niche.


Adornment artifacts from the Abiel Smith School collection (managed by African Meeting House, partner Boston African American National Historic Site)

Are you interested in what types of homes people lived in? Then maybe a focus on architectural materials and hardware might be your area of interest.

sara hardware photos

Architectural artifacts from the archeology collection at Saratoga National Historical Park

But what if you’re less interested in material culture and more interested in human-environment interactions? Well buckle up people, because there’s an entire subdiscipline that focuses on these questions called environmental archeology. This type of archeological approach focuses on how humans both shape and adapt to their environment in meaningful ways in the past.

Environmental archeology can take a number of forms, but I am personally the most interested in paleoethnobotany. While this lengthy word might at first seem intimidating, lets unpack it super quick:

Paleo: Old/Ancient

Ethno: People, race, or culture

Botany: The science of plants

See! Not so scary after all. So what can we learn about people from really old plants? While this list of possibilities is exhaustive, here are a few ideas to get us started.


As you can see, there are many research directions that archeologists can take when employing paleoethnobotanical methods. Paleoethnobotanists can investigate what types of plants were used to treat illnesses in the past. Additionally, they can look at more long-term changes like climate change by comparing the presence and absence of species as they are related to certain regions. Archeologists can ask questions about foodways and cultural traditions (I don’t know about you all but my family has some pretty great recipes that have been passed down through the generations). Researchers can also use paleoethnobotanical information to better understand the construction of historical landscapes, settlement patterns, and what this means in terms of access to resources.

So how do we even begin to do this? Well, paleoethnobotanists investigate questions tied to these themes using a number of methods. Broadly, these methods include the analysis of micro- and macro- botanical remains. Below you will find a quick break-down of the different paleoethnobotanical approaches archaeologists can take. Largely, micro-botanical remains are often invisible to the naked eye and require a series of extraction processes (utilizing techniques similar to that of analytical chemists) to assess. Micro-botanical remains often look at things like pollen, phytoliths, starches, and residues that are found in archeological contexts. Contrastingly, macro-botanical remains can be analyzed and identified with the naked eye, as well as with the help of a robust comparative collection and low-powered microscopes. By identifying both the species and quantity of botanical remains collected from archaeological sites, we can begin to reconstruct a lot of what daily life looked like in the past.


Let’s give identifying macro-botanicals a try! Below are some seeds that you may or may not have seen before, see if you can identify them!


While you have likely seen these before, they look a little different in the archeological record. Many paleoethnobotanists depend on botanical remains that are charred, since we can be more certain that they were influenced by human activity. Below you will find the same three botanicals but from archeological contexts. Can you identify which ones they are? How do they look different? How do they look similar? Are there any features that retain or lose their presence after being charred?


As you can see, archeobotanical remains can look very different from their contemporary counterparts, which is why there are many researchers who have dedicated their careers to identifying these types of archaeological samples.  SO… let’s see how you did identifying these archaeobotanical remains: 1. Peach pit (Prunus persica) 2. Grape seeds (Vitis vinifera) 3. Corn kernels (Zea mays).

If you’re interested in this type of archeology and eager to learn more about what the collection of these archeological materials look like in the field, don’t miss out on my next blog post focusing on my thesis work at the Palace of Sans-Souci in Milot, Haiti. I will go into more detail about field collection methods, as well as the analysis of wood-charcoal!

Additional images:
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All Buttoned Up: Getting Dressed Was Hard in the 19th Century!

Mornings are usually pretty crazy in my house. Trying to get myself ready while getting two kids dressed, fed, and ready for the day is no easy feat!  I’m a big fan of 2% spandex and I can’t remember the last time I ironed anything.

2% spandex with smiley

This is probably why I’m so fascinated by all the time, energy, and stuff that used to be required to get dressed.  We are constantly seeing evidence of this process (or should I say, hassle) in the archeological record.  We’ve cataloged countless clothing fasteners, including buckles, hooks and eyes, and – perhaps my personal favorite – buttons!

button collage

Various buttons from NPS archeology collections.

Throughout 18th-century America, buttons were used primarily on men’s clothing and were often a mark of status.  We all love the beautiful brass buttons from men’s coats and the smaller ones from waistcoats or breeches.  Women’s clothes were typically fastened with laces, pins, and hook/eye closures.  In the 19th century, industrialization allowed for the mass production of buttons, and suddenly buttons were everywhere!  Machines were able to mold, cut, and stamp ornate buttons as well as plain utilitarian ones.  Buttons made of metal, glass, shell, bone, and later, rubber and celluloid, flooded the consumer market.  The golden age of buttons had arrived.

Buttons continued to be used for men’s clothing, but by the second half of the 19th-century, women’s clothing was loaded with buttons, many of which turn up on archeological sites.  Dresses, cloaks, gloves, boots, and gaiters all had buttons.  Fancy jet buttons were high style; in The Age of Innocence, set in 1870s New York, Madame Olenska’s “black velvet polonaise with jet black buttons” are specifically mentioned.  Similar black glass examples, like the one shown here from the archeology collection at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP), were more affordable and widely available.  The large shell button, also from FRSP, could have been used to secure a dress or cloak.  The round boot buttons from Petersburg National Battlefield are typical of the second half of the 19th century.

By the 1870s and 1880s, the number of buttons women had to wrangle with just step outside was, well, A LOT.  As noted by Nina Edwards in On the Button:  The Significance of an Ordinary Item, bodices had “close-up rows of tiny plain buttons from chin to below the waist and at the cuffs” (93).  Boots at this time were also very tall with long rows of small buttons.  Buttonhooks were a necessary household item in the 19th century and were used for buttoning boots as well as bodices and gloves.

And then there were the undergarments!  Under their dresses, 19th-century women wore drawers, chemises, corsets, corset covers, petticoats, crinolines, bustles, detachable (via buttons) bustle ruffles, and bustle covers.  (And you think you’re uncomfortable?)  Any of these items could be fastened with buttons, usually plain ceramic, shell, or bone ones that turn up so frequently on American archeological sites and, subsequently, in our lab.  (All of the examples shown below are from the collection at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.)

With so many things to button, and so many buttons being tiny, close together, and often in hard-to-reach places in the case of undergarments, it is no wonder that many women relied on the help of a lady’s maid or an obliging sister for help getting dressed.  Fans of Downton Abbey surely remember loyal Anna dressing Lady Mary for dinner.  And this was in the early 20th century, after lady’s fashion had eased up quite a bit!  Late 19th-century dressing was much more complicated involving many more items, layers, and of course, buttons.

downton abbey maids

Anna assists Lady Mary getting dressed in Downton Abbey.

new contrivance for lady's maids NYPL

New Contrivances for Lady’s Maids.  New York Public Library.

We always enjoy buttons when they pass through our lab.  18th-century pewter coat buttons or 19th-century ceramic underwear fasteners:  either way they are personal objects that offer clues to the fashion and hygiene trends of the past.  We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the world of Victorian style and extreme discomfort!



Edwards, Nina.  On the Button:  The Significance of an Ordinary Item.  I.B. Tauris, 2012.

Goodman, Ruth.  How to be a Victorian:  A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life.  Penguin Books, 2013.

Laver, James.  Costume and Fashion:  A Concise History.  Thames and Hudson, 1969.

Putman, Tyler Rudd.  “Every Man Turned Out in the Best He Had:” Clothing and Buttons in the Historical and Archaeological Records of Johnson’s Island Prisoner-of-War Depot, 1862-1865.  Northeast Historical Archaeology:  Volume 40, 2011.

Wharton, Edith.  The Age of Innocence.  D. Appleton and Co., 1920.

White, Carolyn L.  American Artifacts of Personal Adornment 1680-1820.  AltaMira Press, 2005.

White, Carolyn L.  What the Warners Wore:  An Archaeological Investigation of Visual Appearance.  Northeast Historical Archaeology:  Volume 33, 2004.

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Who’s Your Number One?

No, not your number one draft pick. Nope, not your favorite boy band member. What NMSC wants to know is…what’s your Number One Museum Object?

Many museums use the “trinomial” system to create catalog numbers for their collections. Usually, this means the year the object was acquired, which acquisition it was in that year (first, second, etc.), and then a third number that identifies the object within that accession. For instance, an object from the 4th accession acquired in 2018 might be numbered “2018-04-234”. The National Park Service museum program differs from many other museums in that all of our Accession and Catalog numbers are assigned sequentially, starting with 1. That means every park literally has a #1 museum object!

Most often, the object given Catalog #1 is a part of Accession #1, but not always! Sometimes the object is one of the most important pieces in the park’s collection, having been there from the beginning. Other times it is just the first thing a new curator got around to cataloging. Whatever the case, the #1 object has a story to tell about the park and its past, and we want to dive in to find out what they are.

At a glance, there are 74 #1s from each collecting park unit in the Northeast Region. 21 are archival objects, 18 are archeological finds, 3 are works of art, 2 are natural history objects, and 30 are other historical objects. Out of these, 8 are books, 6 are ceramic sherds, 3 each are beds, chairs and sofas, and 2 are pianos! There are guns, reports, postcards, clothing, kitchenware, and more.

Over the next several weeks, NMSC will highlight several of our #1s on Facebook, so you can learn more about these fascinating objects and what they tell us about their home parks. Even among the firsts, there were a few stand-out pieces that we felt deserved more in depth discussion. So without further ado, here are our Top 5 #1 Museum Objects!

Minute Man National Historical Park: Watch Fob Seal


Minute Man National Historical Park watch fob seal, catalog number one. (Photo by Norm Eggert for the National Park Service)

What Is It?

This watch fob seal was found at the Jacob Whittemore House in Lexington, Massachusetts, possibly during the park’s investigations for an Historic Structures Report. The crest on the seal includes a chevron, two stars, and a knight’s helmet. The seal would have been used to impress the image onto wax that sealed letters or other documents. The crest doesn’t appear to represent the Whittemore family, nor the Mussey family who owned the house later on. Was the crest a true heraldic crest of a family who visited the site? Or was it just a generic crest to make their letters look fancy?

Why Was It #1?

The watch fob seal was found in 1961, only two years after the legislation was passed to create Minuteman National Historical Park. The small staff of the early park years included an historian, an architect, and an archeologist, all of whom worked diligently to research and document the park’s resources, including the Whittemore House, and it’s possible one of them discovered the fob. But the park didn’t hire a professional curator until 1981, and the fob wasn’t formally cataloged until 1997, and any of the original information about the object’s provenience was lost.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: Diary

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What Is It?

Julia Orthwine was a Hungarian immigrant who purchase the Van Campen House in Warren County New Jersey in 1932. She lived there in the summers, farming the land, while her husband worked in the theater business in New York City. Julia arrived in New York in 1906, when she was 14 or 15. She wrote her name and address in New York in this diary, which is dated 1861…at least 30 years before she was born! Did she find an old unused diary and re-use it? Did she have a relative who shared her name?

  • Pre-Revolutionary Dutch Houses and Families in Northern N.J. and Southern N.Y., by Rosalie Fellows Bailey, 1968
  • NPS, Historical Documentation for the B.B. Van Campen Property, 1994

Additional Information from DEWA Museum Technician Lori:

The first official catalog record of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA) is a diary attributed to Julia Orthwine dating to the year 1861. As a recent facebook post of Northeast Museum Services Center(NMSC) pointed out that we should be about forgiveness, I believe this is where a case of forgiveness of curators of the past is needed. Let’s get into the diary details and then we will talk about forgiveness.

The diary was published for daily use in the year 1861 by Kiggins and Kellog publishers out of New York, New York. The book measures 3 3/16″ x 7/16″ x 5 1/16″ and is a brown colored softer version of a true hard cover booklet. The most interesting part of the contents of the book are that it frequently contains small pencil drawings that accompany the entries to be used as illustrations.

The booklet was recovered with personal papers of the Ribble family from the Colonel Abraham Van Campen House, located along the Old Mine Road in the former township of Pahaquarry (now Hardwick) New Jersey.  The name Julia Orthwine was written in ink on the interior cover of the diary, and was attributed to her by the first curators of the park, Earl and Ada Robacker.

Knowing what we know today, there is no way that this diary could have belonged to Julia Orthwine in 1861 as she had yet to be born. The house itself where the diary was recovered from began in the Van Campen family, then became owned by the Ribble family (who married into the Van Campen family) and unfortunately as was common in that time period, the last owners of the house William R. Ribble and his wife Cecilia Van Campen Ribble (who can be traced back to the first owner of the homestead) died with no children to leave the property to. The house was sold at auction in 1932 and Julia Orthwine, originally of New York City bought the house and its contents. It is her signature that is on the inside cover of the diary. Reading through the posts makes it clear as day that Julia was not the author of the book as she had a background in fine arts and dance and the diary talks about normal everyday life during the year of 1861, including items like weather, farming activities, deaths, shopping and trade events. Due to these, an unknown member of the Ribble family should be attributed to this diary and not Julia.  I personally believe that forgiveness is needed for the Robackers as their task was a daunting one at best. The park was due to become a recreation area surrounding the Tocks Island Lake, and cataloging was happening at a fast and furious pace. Now that we are well over 40 years since the item was initially cataloged, we can go back and include the changes in the description field for the diary. It is discoveries like this that help us understand that museum collections are indeed living, breathing things and not just something locked up in storage and no longer having a life of its own.

Why Was It #1?

Delaware Water Gap NRA was established in 1965 in preparation for the Tock Island Dam project, and the Van Campen property was purchased by the federal government in 1971. Julia Orthwine’s diary was cataloged in 1971, right at the beginning!


Appalachian Trail: Shrew


Masked Shrew photograph from Price County Review.

What Is It?

A series of small mammals were collected along the Appalachian Trail in 2005 as part of a natural resource inventory. These specimens document several of the forest ecosystems along the trail. But who’s number one? The Masked Shrew! This little critter is descended from members of Insectivora order that were around during the Mesozoic era. Shrews eat up to 75% of their body weight every single day and have a higher metabolic rate than any other animal. They will pretty much eat anything available, but actually play an important economical role in human agriculture as destroyers of slugs and insects harmful to crops.

Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park: Art (Cornish Landscape), George de Forest Brush


Cornish Landscape by George de Forest Brush

What Is It?

George de Forest Brush was a member of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Cornish Colony of artists, and around 1890 even moved his family into a teepee in a field on Saint-Gaudens’ land. Prior to settling in New Hampshire, Brush had spent time in the American West, fascinated with Native Americans, which lead to his adoption of teepee living. This untitled piece was completed in 1872, while Brush was studying at the National Academy of Design. It is labeled as belonging to Homer Saint-Gaudens, son of Augustus. It may have been gifted to Homer as a gift in honor of his father, as Brush outlived the elder Saint-Gaudens by several decades. The landscape continues to hang in the parlor at Aspet.


Maggie Walker National Historic Site: Settee

MAWA1_bench - Ethan Bullard

Queen Anne style settee from Maggie Walker National Historical Park.

What Is It?

This Queen Anne style settee was purchased by Maggie Lena Walker around 1920 for her front parlor. Walker’s parlor was a gathering place for both family and honored guests, including W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod Bethune. This settee’s graceful lines and rich upholstery would have contributed to the successful image of this thriving businesswoman. Walker enjoyed entertaining guests, and was able to demonstrate her financial successes through fine furniture, modern fixtures, and her impeccable style.


Did you enjoy this small showcase of number ones? Well you’re in luck! We have more number ones coming throughout the year. Follow us on Facebook so you don’t miss them.

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Hedgehogs and Brain Balls: Connecting Historic Recipes to Historic Vessels

Redware pots, creamware plates, pearlware pitchers…  As an historical archeologist, I never tire of these words or the objects they represent.  While recently researching historic foodways for fun (#HistoryNerd), I found myself enamored by 18th– and 19th-century recipes, or shall we say, “receipts.”  I loved the detailed, sometimes unfamiliar language, the mention of specific, sometimes surprising ingredients, and the reference to certain vessel types that could be used to prepare, bake, or serve food.  The recipes I found in these historic cookbooks brought pots, plates, and pitchers alive for me in a whole new way.  It is one thing to be able to identify a lead glazed bowl or ascertain the shape of a molded teacup; it is another thing entirely to visualize these objects in their real, hundreds-of-years-ago lives.  I hope that you will enjoy the following recipes (and the artifacts that I associated them with) as much as I did!

Tongue Pie

When I think of pie, I think of fruit, dessert, and à la mode.  A couple of hundred years ago, however, most pies were savory, rather than sweet.  Meat pies were staples in colonial households.  I was fascinated (and maybe a little grossed out) to read about recipes for things like foot pie and tongue pie in addition to the more familiar mincemeat pie.  This recipe is from Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery, published in 1796.  What’s a neet? Simmons’s cookbook includes multiple references to “neet,” which may be another spelling of the word “neat,” meaning – in historic recipe terms – ox.  The slip-decorated redware pie pan is from the archeology collection at Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and is probably just the kind that was used to serve up some tongue pie!

One pound neet’s tongue, one pound apple, one third of a pound of sugar, one quarter of a pound of butter, one pint of wine, one pound of raisins, or currants (or half of each) half ounce of cinnamon and mace-bake in paste No. 1, in proportion to size. (Amelia Simmons, American Cookery)

SAMA 17448.jpg

Redware pie plate from archeology collection at Salem Maritime NHS.

Mock Turtle Soup

Apparently, turtle soup was a BIG deal in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Real turtle soup was difficult to prepare, so many cookbooks offered recipes for “mock turtle soup” as an alternative.  Eliza Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (first published in 1837) advised:  “We omit a receipt for real turtle soup, as when that very expensive, complicated, and difficult dish is prepared in a private family, it is advisable to hire a first-rate cook for the express purpose.  An easy way is to get it ready made, in any quantity you please, from a turtle soup house.”  (Did you know there was such a thing as a turtle soup house in the 1800s??)

The main ingredient of mock turtle soup was usually a calf’s head.  Most recipes I came across recommended serving mock turtle soup in tureens with forcemeat balls, brain cakes, or brain balls (yummy!).  The recipe shared here is from Elizabeth Moxon’s English Housewifry (first published in 1741), but I cannot resist sharing a couple lines from other recipes… The Virginia Housewife (1836) reminded readers that the eyes from the calf’s head are “a great delicacy,” and The Lady’s, Housewife’s, and Cookmaid’s Assistant (1769) instructed its readers to “never let soup go to table with any scum upon it.”  This porcelain tureen lid is from the archeology collection at Saratoga National Historical Park.  Maybe it was used to serve mock turtle soup!

Take a fine large calf’s head, cleans’d well and stew’d very tender, a leg of veal twelve pounds weight, leave out three pounds of the finest part of it; then take three fine large fowls, (bone them, but leave the meat as whole as possible,) and four pounds of the finest ham sliced; then boil the veal, fowls bones, and the ham in six quarts of water, till it is reduced to two quarts, put in the fowl and the three pounds of veal, and let them boil half an hour; take it off the fire and strain the gravy from it; add to the gravy three pints of the best white wine, boil it up and thicken it; then put in the calf’s-head; have in readiness twelve large forc’d-meat-balls, as large as an egg, and twelve yolks of eggs boil’d hard. Dish it up hot in a terreen.  (Elizabeth Moxon, English Housewifry)


Porcelain tureen lid, archeology collection Saratoga National Historical Park.


Tea Cream

I loved this 1836 recipe for tea cream from The Virginia Housewife cookbook because it mentions using a pitcher to prepare the dish and glasses to serve it.  Pitchers like these (from the archeology collections at Saratoga National Historical Park and Minute Man National Historical Park and) and glasses like these (from the archeology collections at Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park) date to right around the time this cookbook was published.  It sounds like this turned out to be more of a jelly-like treat, and although I had never heard of tea cream, I found several modern recipes for tea jam and jelly.

Put one ounce of the best tea in a pitcher, pour on it a table spoonful of water, and let it stand an hour to soften the leaves; then put to it a quart of boiling cream, cover it close, and in half an hour strain it; add four tea-spoonsful of a strong infusion of rennet and water, stir it, and set it on some hot ashes, and cover it; when you find by cooling a little of it, that it will jelly, pour it into glasses, and garnish with thin bits of preserved fruit.  (Virginia Housewife, 1836)


Indian Pudding

According to my research, Indian pudding was a staple for colonial Americans.  Puddings in general were common main dishes, often containing meat (like steak and kidney pudding) or vegetables (like peas or carrots).  Indian pudding was a modified version of hasty pudding, using cornmeal instead of wheat, oats, or rye.  Colonists called cornmeal “Indian meal,” hence the name Indian pudding.  Puddings were often baked in squat, glazed-on-the-inside pans like this one.  This simple recipe is from Amelia Simmons’s 1796 Directions for Cookery, and the redware pudding pan is from the archeology collection at Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

3 pints scalded milk, 7 spoons fine Indian meal, stir well together while hot, let stand till cooled; add 4 eggs, half pound raisins, 4 ounces butter, spice and sugar, bake 4 hours.  (Amelia Simmons, American Cookery)

SAMA 7317.jpg

Redware pudding pan, archeology collection at Salem Maritime National Historic Site.


Here’s a word I had never heard of!  Piccalilli is basically a mixture of different pickled foods.  18th– and 19th-century folks loved their pickles!  Mrs. Bliss of Boston, in her Practical Cook Book of 1850, suggested using button onions, small cucumbers, and carrots “cut in fanciful shapes” (among others) for her piccalilli, the recipe for which is shown here.  Gothic-style jars like these from the archeology collection at Fort Stanwix National Monument were very popular for pickles in 1850.  Is that what Mrs. Bliss used for her pickling needs?  Definitely possible.

Arrange your selection tastefully in glass jars, and pour over them a liquor prepared in the following manner:  To one gallon of white vinegar add eight table-spoonfuls of salt, eight of mustard-flour, four of ground ginger, two of pepper, two of allspice, two of turmeric, and boil all together one minute; the mustard and turmeric must be mixed together by vinegar before they are put into the liquor; when the liquor has boiled, pour it into a pan, cover it closely, and, when it has become cold, pour it into the jars containing the pickles; cover the jars with cork and bladder, and let them stand six months-when they will contain good pickles.

FOST pickle jar

Mid 19th-century Gothic-style pickle jars from the archeology collection at Fort Stanwix National Monument.


And now, for the pièce de résistance, and my favorite:  the hedge-hog.  When I was initially browsing Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, first published in 1747, I thought, “Oh no!  Not cute hedgehogs!”  But Glasse’s recipe doesn’t call for cooking a hedgehog, it calls for creating a dessert shaped like a hedgehog.  How marvelous.  I loved this recipe because it was so unexpectedly delightful.  I typically think of colonial cooking as a necessary job performed by busy and tired housewives and their helpers.  Someone making this dish, however, would be taking the time to painstakingly create almond quills and currant eyes.  This dessert was made not out of necessity, but out of a desire to have something pretty and fun on the table.   Glasse suggests serving her hedge-hog on a “dish.”  We know this term is wide open to interpretation, so we’ll take our cue from Colonial Williamsburg here (see the wonderful photo of a hedge-hog dessert from their website!) and highlight this creamware plate from Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

Take two pounds of sweet almonds blanched, beat them well in a mortar, with a little canary and orange flower water, to keep them from oiling.  Make them into a stiff paste, then beat in the yolks of twelve eggs, leave out five of the whites, put to it a pint of cream, sweeten it with sugar, put in half a pound of sweet butter melted, set it on a furnace or slow fire, and keep continually stirring till it is stiff enough to be made into the form of a hedge-hog, then stick it full of blanched almonds slit, and stuck up like the bristles of a hedge-hog, then put it into a dish.  Take a pint of cream, and the yolks of four eggs beat up, and mix with the cream: sweeten to your palate, and keep them stirring over a slow fire all the time till it is hot, then pour it into your dish round the hedge-hog, let it stand till it is cold, and serve it up.  This is a pretty side dish at a second course, or in the middle for supper, or in a grand desert.  Plump two currants for the eyes.


I am not particularly fond of cooking and usually find meal planning tiring and uninteresting.  I look for quick and easy recipes online but have never been a much of a cookbook person.  These centuries-old cookbooks, however, were, delightful.  I devoured (pun intended) the descriptions of “pretty little sauces” and cooking over “a gentle fire” with ingredients like pearlash and rosewater.  I am always searching for new ways to bring the objects I work with to life, and the recipes in these books do just that.  They connect creamware plates, pearlware pitchers, and porcelain tureens to hard-working hands that cooked by an open fire and served food to family and friends.  Next time I’m racking my brain for dinner ideas, I’ll remember the home cooks who came before me.  For me, a lifelong student and lover of history, there’s something magical in that continuum.

*Historic recipes are fascinating and fun, but I wouldn’t know how to go about following these directions.  If you’re looking for modern adaptations, I found great ones online at Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and Old Sturbridge Village.  Please note these websites are not managed by the NPS.

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Gettin’ Wiggy With It: A Close-Up Look at Wig Curlers

Bad hair day?  At least you’re (probably) not balancing one of these getups on top of your head!  The latter half of the 18th century was a wild time for hairstyles.  Although the Coiffure a la Belle Poule, pictured here (left), may look ridiculous, it was par for the course in fashionable 18th-century circles.  European and American women took their cue from the French court and wore their hair big, high, and as elaborately embellished as their means would allow.  In addition to ships, some women commissioned model cities, flower gardens, windmills, and even people to be worn atop their heads.  Less extravagant styles called for feathers, paste gems, ribbons, or flowers.  Ladies piled their hair over cloth rolls and wire cages in order to achieve the desired height, which was sometimes as much as two feet or more.  Historians report that even in rural American towns, women strove to adhere to this trend of big, ornamental hairstyles.  For those of us who struggled with curling irons and hair spray in the ‘80s:  we were not the first to want really big hair!

hair styles

Over-the-top 18th-century hair!  Left:  “Coiffure a la Belle Poule,” Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.  Right:  “Miss Prattle, Consulting Doctor Double Fee about her Pantheon Head Dress,” Colonial Williamsburg.

Men’s hairstyles in the 18th century can be summed up in one word:  wigs.  While some women wore wigs, this fashion trend was largely a male phenomenon.  Wigs were an essential part of a gentleman’s dress, and those who did not wear them often styled their own hair to resemble wigs (George Washington a famous case in point).

This brings us to these two small objects from the archeology collection at Minute Man National Historical Park.  These wig curlers were recovered at the home of David Brown, leader of the Concord Minutemen at the dawn of the American Revolution.  Wig curlers are made of white kaolin clay (think tobacco pipes) and when complete are shaped a bit like stout Q-tips.  Although some display maker’s marks, these are unmarked.  According to my research, historians agree that wig curlers were used exclusively on wigs, not to curl someone’s own hair.  What can these modest-looking artifacts tell us about David Brown’s family and life in 18th-century Concord?


Wig curler fragments from the archeology collection at Minute Man National Historical Park.

Men started wearing wigs for purely fashion reasons in the second half of the 17th century.  What probably began as an attempt to cover hair loss and/or rashes caused by syphilis caught on quickly as a fashion trend.  Wigs were all the rage throughout the 18th century, and quickly fell out of fashion by the turn of the 19th.  Wigs and their upkeep were expensive, and therefore indicative of wealth and social standing.  Some historians suggest that comfort and convenience, surprisingly, may have come into play as well.  18th-century folk did not bathe in our sense of the word, and shampoo was not used until a century later.  It may have been harder to keep natural hair free of dirt and lice than a wig, which could be boiled clean.

This engraving from Diderot’s Encyclopédie provides a detailed look inside a wigmakers’ shop, which often also served as a barbershop and/or hairdressing establishment.  The second print shows some tools of the wigmaker’s trade, including wig curlers similar to those found at Minute Man.  So how did they work?  Sections of a wig were rolled in strips of paper around the curlers and tied in place.   The wig was boiled like so for about three hours, dried and baked in an over, and voila!

diderot 1 for blog

Plates I and III from Diderot’s Encyclopédie.  Found on MIT Libraries’ website (see references).  Highlight added by author.

Once a wig had been purchased, it had to be maintained.  According to one article I read, this was no easy task: “wig styling and shaping each curl was unpleasant, messy, and required a great deal of skill” (Small Finds p. 10).  In his enjoyable book At Home, Bill Bryson (yes, Bill Bryson!) suggests that wigs were sent out to the wigmaker or hairdresser about once a week to have their curls reshaped.  Many men also powdered their wigs regularly, a task that could be accomplished while the wig was on the wearer (see below, left) or on a wig stand (check out this fabulous example from the museum collection at Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield).

powdering wig

Left:  “While the Wig is Being Powdered,” Pehr Nordquist, Nationalmuseum (Stockholm)/Wikimedia Commons, public domain.  Right:  Wig stand, Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield.

Researching for this blog post introduced me to this curious object that I had never seen before and that surely would have stumped me if I’d come across it randomly:  a wig (or powder) bellows.  This example from Winterthur dates to the mid-18th century and is made of leather, wood, and metal.  This tile (also from Winterthur) shows a bellows in action, and looking again at Diderot’s engravings, I spotted one there as well among the wigmaker’s tools.



Archeological evidence suggests that wigs were sometimes maintained at home, instead of always at the shop.  About 150 wig curlers were discovered archeologically at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s childhood home.  Clearly someone was hard at work on wig maintenance there!  The recovery of these curlers from the David Brown House site in Concord suggests that wigs were treated there as well.  Who was doing this work, and how often, are fascinating questions that we cannot answer here.  Did wigmakers or hairdressers visit homes to refresh wigs?  Did domestic servants or slaves perform these skilled tasks?

Some historians maintain that wigs were uncommon in rural areas, and the 1986 Archeological Collections Management Report for Minute Man National Historical Park states that despite the discovery of the curlers at the David Brown House site, “it does not seem likely that many Concord colonists wore wigs” (p. 235).  In a 2012 article, however, historian Mary Babson Fuhrer argues that Concord in the late 1700’s was a wealthy, developed, and cosmopolitan commercial center.  Its four warehouses and its shops stocked imported finery including “wigs, millinery goods, goldsmith’s ware, and fine cabinetry” (p. 101).  Considering this information, it seems likely to me that some Concord residents were wearing wigs in the 18th century.   Any why not David Brown, a successful farmer, town selectman, and civic leader who held multiple town offices during his lifetime?  Since David Brown’s house was built in 1750 and wigs were largely abandoned as a fashion statement by the turn of the 19th century, it makes sense that the wig curlers may be associated with David Brown himself (who died in 1802) or one of his sons.  These artifacts indicate that Brown and/or his family were interested in keeping up with what was considered the height of gentlemanly fashion at the time.

Learn more about Revolutionary-era Concord by visiting Minute Man National Historical Park!  Check out the park’s website for hours and other helpful information. 


Bryson, Bill.  At Home:  A Short History of Private Life.  Doubleday, 2010.

Devlin, Sean.  Boiling, Baking, and Curling 18th-Century Wigs.  Mount Vernon blog:

Fuhrer, Mary Babson.  The Revolutionary Worlds or Lexington and Concord Compared.  The New England Quarterly, LXXXV, No. 1 (2012).

Galke, Laura. How Many Curlers did a Harried Hairdresser Need? Let’s Do the Math!  Ferry Farm blog:

Galke, Laura.  Perukes, Pomade, and Powder: Hair Care in the 1700s  Ferry Farm blog:

Hume, Ivor Noel.  Artifacts of Colonial America.  University of PA Press, 2001.

Laver, James.  Costume and Fashion:  A Concise History.  Thames and Hudson, 2002.

Muraca, David, John Coombs, Phil Levy, Laura Galke, and Paul Nasca.  Small Finds, Space, and Social Context: Exploring Agency in Historical Archaeology.  Northeast Historical Archaeology, Volume 40, 2011.

Towle, Linda A. and Darcie A. MacMahon, editors.  Archeological Collections Management at Minute Man National Historical Park.  Volume 4, 1986.

White, Carolyn.  American Artifacts of Personal Adornment, 1680-1820.  Roman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005.




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Archeology ABCs

It’s that time of year again: Back to School! As the kids head back into the classroom, we thought we’d have a little ABC fun archeology-style! For the next 26 days, we’ll share with you an artifact that’s passed through our lab here at NMSC. The challenge for us? This is alphabetical show and tell!



Today, we bring you the letter A and a lovely ASTBURY teacup from Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Astbury is characterized by a thin, dense, red earthenware body and a lead glaze. It was popular in the mid-18th century and was often engine-turned, like this example.


B is for BUTTON MOLD. This super cool steatite button mold is from the archeology collection at Minute Man National Historical Park and was probably used in the 18th century to make pewter buttons. We’re intrigued by the distinctive, geometric design on this mold!


C is for CROTAL BELLS. Crotal bells (often called sleigh bells, rumble bells, or jingle bells) have been used for safety purposes for hundreds of years. (Heads up! Horse and carriage – or sleigh – coming through!) Since “Jingle Bells” was written in the 19th century, popular culture has since associated them with holiday cheer and winter wonder. These examples are from the archeology collection at Saratoga National Historical Park.


D is for DOT, DIAPER, AND BASKET! White salt-glazed stoneware plates with the molded dot, diaper, and basket pattern (like this one from the archeology collection at Minute Man National Historical Park) were popular in the mid- to late-18th century. Dot, sure… basket, yes… why diaper? You might not associate the word “diaper” with dinner plates, but before it was used to refer to baby care, it meant a repeating diamond pattern.


E is for… EAGLE! This pressed glass saltcellar from the archeology collection at Petersburg National Battlefield was probably made by the Sandwich Glass Company in the 1830s or 40s. Despite Benjamin Franklin’s opinion that the eagle was a “bird of bad moral character,” the bald eagle was adopted as an American symbol shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, American material culture was awash with patriotic symbols including the eagle.


F is for FEATHER EDGED. This beautiful creamware plate with molded feather edged design is from a collection from the African Meeting House. The African Meeting House is managed by the Museum of African American History, a partner of Boston African American National Historic Site. Feather edged creamware was produced from the 1760s until the 1790s.


G is for GOBLET! This love-ly pressed glass goblet is from the archeology collection at Lowell National Historical Park. Produced by the Tarentum Glass Company in 1898, the pattern is called “Heart with Thumbprint,” “Columbian,” or “Hartford.” Picture this – it was also made in ruby, green, cobalt, and custard!


H is for HOOK. This iron fish hook is from the archeology collection at Petersburg National Battlefield. It has a spade end (as opposed to an eye, which became common in the 18th century) and a single barb at its point. Appomattox Manor (part of Petersburg National Battlefield) sits at the confluence of the James and Appomattox Rivers – surely a prime fishing spot throughout history!


I is for… INKWELL! This small inkwell was recovered at the Abiel Smith School, which operated as an all black school in Boston from 1835 until 1855. The inkwell, which is made of pewter and has a glass insert and a hinged lid, would have fit into a student’s desk. This is one of several identical inkwells in the Smith School archeology collection. Today, the Abiel Smith School is managed by the Museum of African American History, a partner of Boston African American National Historic Site.


J is for JAR! This beautiful covered powder jar is from the archeology collection at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Called the “obelisk” shape, it dates to the 1930s and was sold in blue and pink as well as green. We think it’s deliciously art deco!


K is for KNIFE. This bone-handled knife, and its handsome friends, are from the archeology collection at Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The knife shown here exhibits the bulbous blade typical of 18th-century table knives, although it lacks the “pistol grip” style handle you might expect.


This brass letter F is from the archeology collection at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park and was likely once worn by a Civil War soldier to designate his company.


is for MUSICAL INSTRUMENT. This fragment of some kind of musical instrument is from the archeology collection at Hampton National Historic Site. It is made of wood and has metal keys. Our best guess is a clarinet – do you agree?


N is for NET SINKER! This example is from the archeology collection at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Bi-notched net sinkers like this one were common during in the Mid-Atlantic region during the Early and Middle Woodland periods.


O is for… OSTRICH, of course! This plate from the archeology collection at Saratoga National Historical Park features an ostrich hunt in progress. The pattern was produced by Enoch Wood & Sons of Burslem, Staffordshire between 1818 and 1846 and was sold in red as well as blue.


P is for PROJECTILE POINT! These beautiful points are from the archeology collection at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. DEWA’s collection includes projectile points from the Archaic to the Woodland periods that are made of chert, argillite, and quartzite, among other rock types.


Q is for QUACK! This little brass duck waddled through our lab a few years ago, and appears to be the face of a pin or pendant. A little research hints that ducks with hats and canes were popular motifs for pins in the first half of the 20th century. (Who knew!) Have you seen a dapper fellow like this before?


R is for RING! This finger ring with red paste gem inset is from the archeology collection at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Paste jewelry is basically glass cut to resemble gemstones. It was popular in American in the 18th century and by the 19th century was mass produced, widely available, and affordable to many. This one probably dates to the Victorian period.


S is for SHELL! This cowrie shell was excavated at the Abiel Smith School, which operated as an all black school in Boston from 1835 to 1855. (The Abiel Smith School is managed by the Museum of African American History, a partner of Boston African American National Historic Site.) Historically, cowrie shells have had significant cultural value among African men and women, who often incorporated them into clothing and hair adornment. The coral-colored leather embedded in this shell suggests that it may have been used in such a way.


T IS FOR TANKARD. This creamware tankard with transfer-print design is from the archeology collection at Minute Man National Historical Park We’ve identified the design as “Neptune and Amphitrite,” which was based on a print made by Francesco Bartolozzi in 1777. Classical themes like this were common when creamware was at the height of its popularity at the end of the 18th century.


U is for UMBRELLA! What do you mean this doesn’t look like an umbrella? This small copper alloy item from the archeology collection at Petersburg National Battlefield is actually an umbrella or parasol tip, as you can see in the photo we’ve posted to the comments. Umbrellas and parasols were used in 18th-century America, and by the 19th century any well-dressed lady would not be seen without her parasol.


We hope you’ve been enjoying Archeology ABC! V is for VIAL! This vial from the archeology collection at Saratoga National Historical Park dates to the late 18th or early 19th century. It is (beautiful!) free-blown glass with a flanged lip and most likely once held medicine. We love to see these delicate artifacts survive intact in the archeological record!


W is for WIG CURLER, and these examples are from the archeology collection at Minute Man National Historical Park. Wigs were mainstays of male dress in the 17th and 18th centuries, and curlers like these were used to create the curls on new wigs and to refresh the curls on worn wigs. Want to know more about wig curlers? Watch for a new post on our blog in the next few weeks – we’ll be featuring a fun and brief artifact highlight!


We hope you’ll forgive us for a bit of a reach with today’s Archeology ABC post! X is for XRF technology and some small, significant sherds from Petersburg National Battlefield! A few years ago while cataloging an archeology collection from PETE, we were surprised to see scratch-blue decoration on several small sherds of creamware. We used XRF technology to confirm that the chemical makeup of the sherds matched that of creamware, not white salt-glazed stoneware, which is usually associated with scratch-blue decoration. Pretty cool stuff!


Y is for YELLOWARE! This plain yelloware nappy is from the archeology collection at Saratoga National Historical Park. We know plain yelloware might not seem exciting, but we’re happy to have a reason to highlight these unsung heroes of the material culture world. It’s not fancy, but we love utilitarian yelloware like this because of how much it was used and depended on in everyday life in the kitchen. Considering the upstairs and downstairs worlds, yelloware was a tried and true bastion of the latter!


Many thanks to all of you who have tuned in for our Archeology ABC show and tell! We hope that you have enjoyed seeing these artifacts as much as we have enjoyed sharing them. We’ve made it to Z, and Z, of course, is for ZEBRA! This pearlware plate from the archeology collection at Salem Maritime National Historic Site is decorated with a wonderful transfer-printed design of a zebra. This pattern is associated with Rogers of Dale Hall in Staffordshire, and dates to the first half of the 19th century. And there you have it, your NPS archeology collections from A to Z! 



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