This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site
Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury
January 28, 2013
At the end of November, as the north storage building was receiving its final touches in view of the webcam, Kerry commented: “Nice to see the paint on the new storage building. My question is: did smaller structures not use beaded siding like those of larger ones? Also there was much activity about the paint on the kitchen. Is the white correct for these small buildings? And what color will the tin shop be?”
Edward Chappell, the Shirley H. and Richard D. Roberts Director of Architectural History, supplies the following answer:
The varied finishes on the outside of buildings in the Armoury and Tinsmith shop complex reflect the varied dates and functions of the original buildings. Hand-manufacture and importation of materials made oil paints expensive in the 18th century. Pine tar and limewashes were more economical choices.
Pine tar strengthened with iron-oxide red pigment was a common choice for riven (split) clapboards and shingles. We have found it microscopically on the earliest frame parts of the Thomas Everard kitchen, applied before the walls were rebuilt with brick in Everard’s tenure. The only painting contract to survive from early Williamsburg calls for tarring the roof of St. George Tucker’s kitchen with pine tar and iron-oxide pigment. Applying this information to the Armoury property, we know that the tinsmith shop and the [Anderson] kitchen were built before the Revolutionary War and the rest of the Armoury complex. They are the kind of ancillary buildings most likely to have been tarred.
The main Armoury building and workshop (not yet reconstructed) are perceived as being better-built during the Revolution than the smaller contemporary buildings like the storehouses. Here there is a distinction is between higher and lower status, with oil paint on the principal buildings (the main Armoury building) and whitewash on the smaller and more cheaply built ones (the storehouse).
You may read more about the use and study of early paint in Williamsburg in the three first chapters of Architectural Finishes in the Built Environment, edited by Mary Jablonski and Catherine Matsen (London: Archetype Publications, 2009). The story of Williamsburg paint will be given more attention and broader context in The Chesapeake House, a book by Colonial Williamsburg architectural historians on early building in the region, to be published by University of North Carolina Press in March.
-Contributed by Edward Chappell, Director, Architectural and Archaeological Research
January 11, 2013
While Colonial Williamsburg’s carpenters are still hard at work on the Tinsmith Shop, the modeling team in the Digital History Center has nearly finished its virtual reconstruction. In this blog post, we bring you a preview of the building known in the late eighteenth century as the “Tin shop.”
As blog followers recall, the Tinsmith Shop is part of the growing Public Armoury complex and, once completed, will allow guests to explore the Revolutionary War period activities of tinsmiths.
But the Tinsmith shop was not always a tinsmith shop.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the building was constructed sometime around 1760, long before the Public Armoury was a necessity. It was, in all likelihood, constructed as a small, rather unprepossessing tenement, built right up to the fence-line on the east side of lot 17 (Fig.1). Located on the side of a ravine, the tenement occupied a marginal (and not the most salubrious) location. All evidence points to a low status building of cheap construction, with little by way of expensive treatments. The close-up of the reconstruction (Figs.2 & 3) shows how the tenement may have appeared in 1776, before work began on the Public Armoury. The building is a small one-room single-story tenement with very simple sliding shutter windows, and a basic set of steps leading up to the front door (Fig.2).
Within the next three years the building underwent a significant transformation. As Armoury construction began (in 1778) on neighboring lot 18, the fence separating the two lots was relocated, drawing the tenement into the complex for use as a Tinsmith Shop (Fig.4). The virtual reconstruction reflects that change. Larger windows were added to allow more sunlight (Fig.5). The interior images show how work benches were placed under these expanded windows to maximize usable light (Figs.6 & 7). The fireplace not only kept the workers warm in winter, but was used year-round to heat coals for the braziers used in the manufacturing process. The shop’s tin products: kettles, coffeepots, saucepans, and speaking trumpets, were made from sheet metal which was cut with shears, bent to shape, and the joints sealed with solder melted on a soldering iron which had been heated in a brazier.
Incorporation into the Armoury complex also meant greater security for the Tinsmith Shop. It is thought that the whole Armoury complex was bounded by a “secure perimeter” protecting the valuable arms and materials within, and perhaps serving as a barrier to escape by the prisoners-of-war who worked there. A diagonal fence was constructed, connecting the Tinsmith Shop to another former tenement on lot 17, and contributing to the Armoury complex’s secure core. Archaeological evidence indicates that by 1779 steps on the west side of the Tinsmith shop had been removed, inhibiting access to the front door since this entrance was now outside the secure perimeter. This process of controlling access to the site and buildings may help to explain why the Armoury shop was built between the kitchen and Tinsmith shop, rather than on the more open areas of the site to the south.
Removal of the steps then raises the question: how did the workers get into the Tinsmith shop? With the original door closed, and the chimney located on the building’s south side, two options remain. Either a new door was opened on the north side or an opening was cut on the east side, connecting the Tinsmith Shop directly to the Armoury building. Both hypotheses have their merits, their drawbacks, and their supporters, and unfortunately no definitive archaeological evidence has survived for either possibility. We have elected, therefore, to physically reconstruct the Tinsmith shop with a door on the north end–the configuration that allows our guests the easiest access from Duke of Gloucester Street, and our historic trades people the best traffic flow through the shop. In the virtual model, however, we will show the alternative interpretation, with access through the Armoury. That’s the beauty of the virtual world: we can visualize multiple hypotheses and the evidence supporting them! (click on images below to enlarge).
Contributed by Peter Inker, Digital History Center
January 7, 2013
On December 21, 2012, the Armoury Tin Shop took a great leap forward as Historic Trades raised the walls of this new structure. Watch the wall raising and learn more about how the tinsmith will join the hive of activity at Anderson’s Armoury.
December 26, 2012
Under leaden skies and whipped by a fierce December wind, our intrepid Historic Building Trades crew raised the frame of the Tinsmith Shop last Friday. If holiday activities drew you away from webcam coverage of the event, here’s a taste of how it happened. Click on images to enlarge .
December 14, 2012
Webcam watchers will notice that they have a freshened perspective on the Armoury project. The roving camera is now trained on the Tinsmith Shop where Historic Trades Carpenters, this morning, capped the foundation with sills and floor joists. Frame-raising is scheduled for next Friday, December 21st. Beginning around 11 a.m., and wrapping up at around 4, Garland and crew will raise the west, south, and north walls, set the plates, and place the rafters…a full day’s work.
If you happen to tune in between now and then, you may catch the carpenters building the east wall. To accommodate the very tight fit between the Armoury and Tinsmith Shop, and to avoid damage to the chimney, this east wall will be built in place, before the rest of the frame is raised.
So as you find breaks in your busy holiday schedules, please join us either in-person or via the roving webcam to admire the progress being made at the Tinsmith Shop!
November 20, 2012
Early in November archaeologists began wrapping up work at the back of the Armoury lot. It has been a long and challenging field season, culminating in a heavy soaking by hurricane Sandy (and earlier, by some of her lesser-known cousins). The image below, a final photo taken on November 2nd, after the final clean-up, shows some of the fruits of our labors. It should also help you to visualize the site’s layout.
Curiosity about fences was the primary motivation for this summer’s project…not just where they stood and how to rebuild them accurately, but how the margins of the Armoury were treated. Were they well-maintained or left untended? Did workers cram activity onto every inch of available space, or did the Armoury’s busy core peter out toward the edges? And with 40 Armoury workers employed on half an acre, how seriously was the property boundary regarded, anyway? Is a fence really important during wartime? And what was happening on the other side of the fence? Was the grass really greener?
The archaeologists in the image (at left) are acting as props. They are standing in postholes that once supported a fence at the western edge of the Armoury property. To the right of this human “fence” is the Armoury lot. To the left is Lot 17, the mid-18th century ownership of which is still unclear. You’ll notice, as well, that there are lots of “unmanned” holes. Over the course of the summer we encountered, excavated, and recorded many, many, (many) postholes representing numerous incarnations of a fence that marked the same boundary over hundreds of years. Only one of those fences was standing between 1778 and 1780, when the Armoury was in operation. Sorting out which is the “right” fence..the one that James Anderson might have claimed… has been a considerable puzzle, and one that we think we are close to solving.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of this dutifully maintained fence is that it was virtually disregarded by those who worked at the Armoury. This summer’s excavation showed that both sides of the fence were used for Armoury activities. On the west side of the boundary, on land whose ownership in 1778 has not been clearly established, we discovered a large pit, now half-excavated, but tentatively identified as a sawpit. We hypothesize that it was used by teams of sawyers to prepare plank for the Armoury’s construction…one sawyer above the pit on a platform, and another below, with a pit saw in play between them. Once construction of the Armoury was complete, the pit was no longer needed and was filled. Indeed, we found that the pit was filled soon after its abandonment with an assortment of the Armoury’s waste… clinker from the forges, French gunflints from the repair of weapons, and partially completed iron objects.
Next summer we will return to complete the excavation of this feature, and to determine whether our working hypothesis about its function holds up to any additional information we might uncover. In the meantime, we have filled the sawpit with sand to stave off any mid-winter collapse…and to provide us with a healthy warm-up activity for next spring!
Another “Armoury related” feature is a privy that was discussed in a recent blog post (as you may recall, it was the raspberry seeds in the fill that gave its function away!). Like the pit feature, the privy, was located on the adjacent property. And like the pit feature, it contained Armoury garbage. So it seems clear that the Armoury was making use of space beyond what James Anderson owned.
One final discovery that bears mentioning: the southern end of the Armoury lot was notable for the number of 18th century dog burials it revealed. The remains of seven dogs were uncovered along the Armoury fenceline…on both sides of the fence. Three of these (and likely a 4th that was not completely excavated) were found in discrete, purposely dug graves. The remains of three other dogs were found in a single pit. They ranged in age from less than a year, to mature, to “older-mature” (with evidence of arthritis, and significant tooth wear). In our experience, it is uncommon to bury dogs in the 18th century, so this unusual treatment. The dogs have been removed from the site, and are now being studied in the Zooarchaeology Lab.
Like many archaeological endeavors, the Armoury project has answered some questions, and raised others. The end of the excavation hardly signals the end of the research, however. Over the winter, artifacts recovered from the site will be washed, numbered, counted, measured, and evaluated. We will use them to help us to affix dates to soil layers and to postholes, and to help us to identify the function of certain features. Iron artifacts encrusted in rust (and there are many, given the nature of work on this site) will be x-rayed and conserved in an effort to better understand the nature and variety of work taking place at the Armoury. Soil removed from pits of all sorts will be tested for plant remains and for chemical signatures that provide information about landscape and land use. Individual field maps will be digitized and transferred to site maps where larger patterns may become evident. And the dogs…all of those dogs….will be studied some more.
In closing, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to express our gratitude for the dedicated and determined archaeologists and interns who helped to excavate the Armoury site this year, often under adverse conditions: Lucie, Matt, Wes, Jeff, Andy, Meredith, Sarah, Loretta, Walt, Mike, Ron, and Dessa. We are grateful for the opportunity to conduct this research, and for all of you whose interest and investment in Colonial Williamsburg allows us to move forward. Most significantly, we are grateful to Mr. Forrest Mars for his commitment to the Armoury project. Thank you….and Happy Thanksgiving!
Meredith Poole, Staff Archaeologist
Funded by a generous gift from Forrest E. Mars Jr., of Big Horn, Wyoming.