December 16, 2011
A Tin Shop for the New Year.
Last week Colonial Williamsburg publically announced that the Tin Shop would be rebuilt as part of the Public Armoury complex. This is very good news, indeed, and we are grateful to Forrest Mars for extending his interest and financial support to include the new building.
The initial plan for the Armoury envisioned construction of five buildings on the Anderson property: a kitchen, blacksmith shop, tinsmith and two storage buildings. Collectively, these buildings functioned as the 1778-1780 Armoury. This summer’s continuing archaeological exploration revealed convincing evidence that the Armoury’s primary tin shop was located a few feet to the west of the Armoury, on a lot that we attribute, in the 21st century, to Mary Stith (Stith did not purchase the lot until 1785). Accordingly, plans have been modified to incorporate this new understanding of the broader Armoury complex by rebuilding the Tin Shop on the adjoining property, recreating the broad scope of work and diverse workshops at the site. The shop previously identified as the site of tinwork will be reconstructed as a general workshop for gun cleaning, gun stocking, leather and canvas work, file-making, and button-making.
What sort of evidence confirmed the presence of the Tin Shop? If you have been following the blog, you have caught bits and snatches of the archaeological case. First, there was documentary evidence. In 1813, Mary Stith penned a will in which she mentions “my house in the yard called the tin shop.” Her reference makes it clear that, while formerly a tin shop, the building is (in 1813) used as a house. The question then became how to link the building (which was reconstructed in 1940 on archaeological foundations) both in time and space to the Armoury. Put more simply, the questions were: “When was it a tin shop?” And “Was there a connection between the two properties.”
The physical connection between the lots became evident this spring when archaeologists began to uncover a line of fence post holes running diagonally from the northwest corner of the “Stith shop” to the south east corner of a building on the street (see image above). The apparent function of this fence was to gather up a single building, the “Stith shop,” and incorporate it into the Armoury’s secure core. This fence was built just as construction began on the Armoury complex, and was removed soon after the Armoury was abandoned in 1780.
On the east, or “Armoury,” side of this fence was a great deal of Armoury trash: coal and clinker (the waste product from spent coal), gun parts, gun flints, a couple of bayonet scabbard tips, button blanks (flat animal bone from which bone buttons were drilled), and the remains of meals served to 40 Armoury workers over the course of 2 years. There was also clear evidence of metal-working: scraps of sheet copper, brass, and a large crucible which contained copper, zinc, and lead (according to XRF, or x-ray fluorescence, analysis).
And, yes, there were scraps of tinned iron… unassuming, triangular fragments clipped from rectangular tinplate sheets as they were fashioned into various forms: camp-kettles, coffeepots, cartridge boxes, lanterns, mugs, plates, and speaking trumpets. Although they would not make for an attention-grabbing museum display, these tinned iron fragments were just the evidence archaeologists hoped to find.
In upcoming months there will some additional activity on the Tin Shop site as work to replace the building commences. Archaeological excavation under the shop floor will determine whether there is any remaining evidence to be examined before the foundations are altered. Architectural historians and digital modelers are already well through the process of conceptualizing the reconstructed tin shop.
Current plans call for construction of the Tin Shop to follow completion of two key buildings of the industrial complex, the kitchen and main Armoury building, both of which will open to the public in the spring of 2012. The Armoury’s Tin Shop will be the only reconstructed and operational eighteenth century tinsmithing operation in the United States. What an exciting prospect for beginning the new year!
Contributed by Kenneth Schwarz, Master Blacksmith, and Meredith Poole, Staff Archaeologist.