Changing Settlement Patterns and Identity in Late 18th/Early 19th Century Ferryland: Summer 2017 Fieldwork Plans

1 Feb

This month’s blog post describes plans for 2017 summer excavations at Ferryland, which will be conducted as part of my Masters research at Memorial University under the direction of Dr. Barry Gaulton.

While much of the archaeological research at Ferryland has focussed on the substantial and incredibly well-preserved remains of the 17th-century colony, evidence over the years has demonstrated continuity in occupation in the centuries following this critical fledgling period. In fact, the Pool has remained permanently occupied right up until the present day. After the French raid of 1696, settlement increasingly expanded to include other parts of Ferryland Harbour as well. As the population and town expanded, the Pool remained an important centre of activity. Excavations over the past five years have yielded evidence of two intriguing domestic occupations in the Pool dating to the second half of the 18th century and into the 19th century.

Interestingly, one of these occupations took place within the abandoned and ruined shell of a Calvert-period kitchen (part of Lord Baltimore’s Mansion complex) (see Figure 1). Material recovered dates this later occupation to the late 18th/early 19th century (see Figure 2). The later occupants thus took advantage of the existing infrastructure in their reoccupation of the building. This reuse included the excavation of a 14-foot well in the southwest corner of the building (see Figure 3). A nearby root cellar also appears to have been used at the same time (see Figure 4).


Figure 1
Figure 1 – Lord Baltimore’s 17th-century kitchen in the process of being excavated. The structure was opportunistically reused and reoccupied at the end of the 18th century. The well shown in Figure 3 is located at the lower left hand corner near the timber supports.


Figure 2
Figure 2 – Fragments of a transfer-printed pearlware vessel (dating to the late 18th/early 19th century) – evidence of the reoccupation of the structure – being excavated inside the Calvert-period kitchen.


Figure 3
Figure 3 – The 14-foot well dug into the corner of the 17th-century kitchen. Note the complete wine bottle (in the excavator’s hands) found near the bottom of the well.


Figure 4
Figure 4 – A rubble-filled root cellar located just to the east of the 17th-century kitchen and apparently contemporaneous with its reuse at the end of the 18th century.


At the eastern boundary of the original palisaded 17th-century settlement, a large building (again dating to the late 18th century and occupied well into the 19th century) was constructed atop the infilled defensive ditch which protected the eastern approaches of the 17th-century settlement (see Figure 5). Excavations to date have uncovered a substantial stone fireplace (the biggest yet uncovered in Ferryland) in addition to a rich midden deposit (see Figure 6). The identity of the occupants will be a subject of further research, but a large number of fishhooks and other fishing equipment indicate that they were directly involved with the fishery (see Figure 7).


Figure 5
Figure 5 – A substantial stone fireplace, constructed atop the infilled 17th-century defensive ditch towards the end of the 18th century and occupied well into the 19th century.


Figure 6
Figure 6 – A 19th-century ‘spongeware’ bowl discovered in the midden associated with the large fireplace above.


Figure 7
Figure 7 – A selection of fishhooks uncovered in association with the fireplace.


These recent discoveries of extensive later material in the Pool provided the impetus for my current Masters research which will examine changing settlement patterns and identity at Ferryland during the period of approximately 1760-1830. This represents an important period in Newfoundland history for several reasons. Significant changes in population demographics were occurring, particularly associated with the increasingly large numbers of Irish immigrants permanently settling in Newfoundland. Most of these migrants sailed to Newfoundland to find work in the fishery, which was becoming a resident Newfoundland-controlled industry (as opposed to the migratory fishery practised by various European nations in previous centuries). A population that had been dominated by English Protestants in the 17th and early 18th century was thus transformed into an Irish Catholic majority by the 19th century (and even earlier in some parts of the island such as Ferryland). Increasing permanent population also led to the development of more formal systems of local government. I hope to examine some of the changing settlement patterns and interactions that were occurring in Ferryland as a result of these demographic, economic, and political changes.

My major fieldwork project will actually take place outside the Pool, at a site located on the meadowed headlands known as the Downs (east of the Pool). This particular site has been known to archaeologists for some time, as it is characterized by large piles of stone rubble and sizeable pits and ridges of various shapes – a sure sign of an archaeological site! Based on the apparent large size of the archaeological footprint, it seems very likely that this site represents a house occupied by someone of considerable status. A map dated to around 1837 (see Figure 8) depicts a substantial Georgian-style house labelled ‘Wm Carters Stone House’ in approximately this area. It would thus appear likely that this is the site of the house of Judge William Carter, a judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court who lived in Ferryland between 1751 and 1840. Two other 19th-century sketches provide further detail about the structure (see Figures 9 and 10). The Carters were prominent members of 18th and 19th century Ferryland society, who immigrated to Newfoundland from southwest England in the mid-18th century. Judge William Carter was part of the first generation of Carter children born in Ferryland. No archaeology has ever taken place at this promising site, which makes this season’s work particularly exciting.


Figure 8a(1)
Figure 8a – A detail of a map dated to ca. 1837 depicting William Carter’s stone house (indicated by the letter ‘L’). (PANL MG 247, File 1)
Figure 8b(1)
Figure 8b – The accompanying legend to Figure 8a. (PANL MG 247, File 1)


Figure 9(1)
Figure 9 – An undated architectural section plan labelled ‘The Judges Old House in Ferryland’. (PANL MG 31.74)


Figure 10(1)
Figure 10 – A caricature sketch of the Carter House, watermarked 1822. (PANL MG 31.73)


The work will first involve surveys and mapping of the surface of the site in an attempt to better determine its layout from the visible surface features. A test pitting survey will then follow to locate the boundaries of the site and identity refuse areas and architectural components. Finally, unit excavation will take place to sample identified midden areas and to expose some of the architectural plan of the site. Of course, the six-week time frame of the excavation will not allow for the complete excavation of this substantial site. The goals of this preliminary excavation are to obtain a sample of material to be able to characterize the different occupants of the site, as well as to reveal some of the architectural layout of the site. The majority of the site will be left unexcavated for future work.

I plan to then analyze the recovered material and compare it to the two contemporary occupations in the Pool described above. While Judge Carter was certainly a member of Ferryland’s upper class at the time, the Pool occupants may have come from a more working-class background and been directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the fishery. It is likely that some of them belonged to the large group of Irish migrants who crossed the Atlantic in search of economic opportunities in the lucrative Newfoundland fishery. Analysis of the artifacts recovered will hopefully resolve some of these questions.

This research will add to our knowledge of another important chapter in Ferryland’s dynamic history and contribute another dimension to the interpretive program currently in place. In addition to my excavations, Dr. Barry Gaulton’s crew will be conducting excavations in several areas of interest identified in 2016 (see January posting) and fellow graduate student Robyn Lacy will continue her search for the 17th-century burial ground (see December posting). All in all, it should make for a busy and exciting summer in Ferryland. Don’t miss your chance to see these various projects in action!


-Duncan Williams
Graduate Student, Department of Archaeology, Memorial University