Just off of Del. Route 1, along Barratts Chapel Road in Frederica, archeologists are getting a glimpse into what life was like in the mid to late 1700s. The Delaware Department of Transportation and A.D. Marble & Company, a cultural resources firm out of Pennsylvania, are working together to excavate a site that they believe was the home of tenant farmers around 1750.
The project came about because DelDOT plans to build a grade separated intersection on Del. Route 1 south in Little Heaven, north of Frederica. In order to be able to use federal funds for the project, DelDOT has to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which includes conducting archeological work to ensure that historic sites in the direct path of the proposed roadway aren’t disturbed.
A.D. Marble & Company has been working in the Route 1 corridor for more than two years. This site is just one of many that DelDOT and A.D. Marble have investigated. Historically these sites were referred to as The Downs. The half-acre plot off Barratts Chapel Road will be the last one investigated for this project said David Clarke, DelDOT’s chief archeologist.
That site is still in its preliminary phases but archeologists are already learning a bit about the people who lived there. They traced the parcel as a whole back to a man named John Brown with the help of a probate record. No records have been found identifying any structure at that specific spot off Barratts Chapel, said Richard White of A.D. Marble and Company.
“That tells us that we’re looking at something … that occurred for a very short period of time and was unlikely to be anything of substantial construction,” White said. “We are thinking that definitely one or possibly two structures stood out here at one point. Not necessarily at the same time.”
One structure may have been built and then fell into disrepair, leading to a second structure being built. The artifacts found in the two pits that mark these two buildings are from the same time period though, White said.
The people that actually inhabited the site were most likely tenant farmers who weren’t there for much more than a year.
This is a pretty rare find, said Michael Lenert of A.D. Marble.
“This is a pre-revolutionary war site, this is 1740s or 1750s, there is nothing later going on here,” Lenert said. “It’s a pretty tight timeframe, maybe one or two generations. It’s not a real long occupation, so what we get is a real detailed look at a specific time frame. It’s almost like a time capsule.”
Page 2 of 2 - Some of the artifacts being uncovered are shards of fine china and other higher end items. Frank Dunsmore of A.D. Marble has a theory about how tenant farmers ended up drinking their tea from Wheildon Ware.
“The people that are living up in the plantation want the latest stuff,” Dunsmore said. “They’ve got all this old stuff from the last three or four years and they don’t know what to do with it so they give it to their servants and people who work for them.”
In three weeks when the archeological crew packs up and leaves the site the soil that was dug away to reveal artifacts and signs of previous structures will be pushed back into place to make way for the coming roadway.
DelDOT will do community outreach as part of the project, which could involve lectures in schools, the creation of a booklet or setting up interpretive displays.
The shards of earthenware, shoe buckles and other artifacts collected from the site will most likely be taken to the state museum and the site will just be a memory, said Dunsmore.
“I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s just going to be a neat place next to the road,” he said. “It will just be some place that I drive down the road and say, ‘Hey I did some work out there.’”