Category Archives: Archaeology In America

Fire & Fury


Too much heat has melted and exploded two stacker jugs – now fused together.

The process of making pottery, from watery mud to something that endures for centuries, belies the fire and fury that is invested in the final piece. This is especially so for fine china, but even when it comes to the utilitarian stonewares of South Carolina’s Old Edgefield District, it is hard to imagine the violent process that produces the jugs, bowls, pitchers and other forms that are now so avidly collected across America.

As archaeologists, we delve into waster piles – the mountains of broken and damaged vessels that the buying public never sees. Once in a while we come across so something so spectacular that even we are in awe of the fury and energy that is the firing process. Photographed above is such a piece. It is a fragment of what looks like an Albany slip glazed half-gallon stacker jug. Welded to it is a fragment of a one or two gallon jug. We can see that this firing got way out of control. Temperatures and the green ware began to fuse, as it should, but then went on to actually melt. The result was a collapse of wares inside the kiln, perhaps even an explosion. After the kiln had cooled the potters removed all the damaged wares and tossed them on the waster heap.


The finished product – but even this handsome three gallon ovoid was thrown away!

The field portion of our work on 38ED221, where Joseph Baynham last worked, is long over. It generated a vast amount of material. Work began on the site in 1996 after an earlier archaeologist had written the area off as a product of Northern Ohio Valley potters. This despite general local knowledge that it dated to the 1860s. Thus informed, the owners had bulldozed some of the most important parts of the pottery. When we returned to re-assess the site, a written agreement was made with the owners that we would receive 50% of every intact vessel found, along with 100% of all the diagnostics we could recover. These would form part of the research collection for display and publication. Diagnostics are spouts, neck, handles, rims, anything part of the broken vessels that would tell us what form it originally had. Pot hunters had been picking over abandoned Edgefield potteries for half a century, so we did not, in fact, expect to find any intact pots. These are damaged vessels that pot hunters can repair with bondo and sell to unsuspecting collectors. The owners, Dr. Michael and Kim Fulford, asked that we try to find at least two intact pots, one for each of their two children.

To this day we are puzzled by exactly how much work the earlier archaeologist did. Our first preliminary survey and testing work uncovered a rain washed gully that Baynham filled with over 1,000 intact and broken pots!

Documenting the gully finds (left) Field archaeologist Nick Nichols excavates a profile. (Upper right) Aerial view of one of the excavation units. Aerials were shot of the entire gully. (Lower right) author draws a profile.

They ranged in size from magnificent five gallon alkaline glazed ovoids to small half gallon Albany slip glazed stacker jugs.


A selection of vessels recovered from the ‘gully’.

We spent an entire summer carefully excavating the deposit and cleaning, photographing and cataloging the entire assembly. The find amounted to possibly the single most important discovery in the history of Edgefield pottery, perhaps even in the history of American ceramics.


Property owner Mrs. Kim Fulford was a constant presence during the dig and helped document and catalog the finds.

We knew then that taking half of the collection was not an ethical option. A collection of such size and importance had to stay together. Dr. Fulford agreed, undertaking to store and eventually display or donate the vessels and promising never to sell any to the collector market. Instead of breaking up the collection, we opted to take a representative sample of each vessel type from the five gallon ovoid to the small stacker jug (we never received a five gallon ovoid). Also, we sampled bowls, cream risers and chamber pots. Some of these were published in later articles including Ceramics in America.

Armed with our new knowledge of exactly what was being made at the site from the early 1860s to 1906, we also started buying vessels in junk and antique stores from Virginia to Florida. Joseph Baynham, and especially his son Mark, were exceptionally effective in marketing their pots in an age when only rail and horse and cart were available for transportation.

The artifacts recovered from the Trenton site ranged from pottery to Henry cartridges, small copper tags and a large number of South Carolina Dispensary and wine bottles. Evidently alcohol consumption was a necessary part of pot production! There were also many patent medicine bottles, including “female regulators’, indicating that women were part of the workforce.

While this assemblage is the stuff of eventual technical publications, it also gave us a ‘feel’ for the lives of the pottery workers. One of them was an African, Ward Lee, whose original name was Cilucangy. Lee was brought to Georgia in 1858 aboard the slave ship Wanderer, the last to bring enslaved Africans into the southeastern states. As part of our Edgefield research we spoke on numerous occasions to his descendants. They still own property in the Trenton area and, like many Wanderer descendants in the US, they retain and celebrate the details of their ancestry.


Ward Lee.

Much of this information was sent to novelist Jack Rees, a friend living in California. It is, of course, impossible to know exactly what life was like for workers in the Edgefield pottery industry, but, using the information we provided, we asked Rees to write a creative piece we could include in our upcoming media work on the potteries. This is what he sent us:

Burning Kiln…

Jack Rees 1998.

The sun had not long sunk below the pines, the crimson sky was fading to violet blue and the final burn began. The younger men worked furiously as the kiln master ordered them to load the firebox with smaller splits of pine. Even in the cold November air they were sweating, it had been a hard three days and nights and now the kiln was nearing its final searing crescendo of heat.

The old man lowered himself carefully in the battered chair set off to one side of the kiln. He watched and listened as the wood in the firebox exploded. Sheets of flame, first dull crimson, then bright red and finally yellow began to roar from the short chimney stack at the end of the groundhog kiln.

He remembered the very first time he had seen potters burning kiln. It was a few short years after he had walked down Plank Road from Hamburg to Trenton in the midst of South Carolina’s piedmont pottery industry. His name was Cilucangy in those days. He was one a several hundred fellow Africans who had survived the barracoons of the Congo delta, the horrors of the forced passage across the ocean and the secretive arrival off Jekyll Island, Ga. Two months before he had been a carefree child working a field with his mother. He first became a captive and then, once delivered to Georgia in 1858, he became a slave.

The memory faded momentarily as light shone brighter through the cracks of the brickwork of the arched roof of the kiln. The bands of wire cable stretched over the roof and turn buckled tight were now beginning to strain as the entire kiln began to expand like some fearsome creature straining against its bonds. The men worked to feed the fire as it consumed the pine and fat lighter. The pottery was in darkness now but the fierce light of the firebox bounced off the sweating faces of the men, both white and black as they fought to keep the fire alive and hot. As a young boy, Cilucangy was convinced this was a scene from the white man’s Hell.

Cilucangy. Now his name was Ward Lee, a white name to be sure, but one of his own making. The kilnmaster looked across the kiln at him. Ward scanned the flames from the chimney and the color of the light from the kiln cracks. He shook his head from side to side. More heat. The kiln master signaled to the men at the firebox. They knew to start plying the fire with smaller, faster burning wood.

As a boy he watched this process with a wide-eyed mixture of fear and fascination. He had seen the ngangas of the village in the Congo make iron with their magic and tiny smelting kilns, but this…it was an entirely different kind of magic. As the temperature increased the air began to roar from the firebox to the chimney. It passed over the mouths of the stoneware jugs inside the kiln and they began to hum. The faster and hotter the air, the higher the pitch. The kiln was buckling, straining and now moaning like a thing alive.

“Sing to me,” thought Ward Lee, “tell me when you are ready to be saved from the fire!”

The old man heard the singing of the women folk long before they rounded the corner of the dirt road leading through the pines to the kiln. They were coming to the men to celebrate the end of the four day burn with barbecued chicken and pork, collards, beans and some pine needle tea. Later there would be more singing by lantern light and perhaps a little moonshine as well.

The children gathered around the old man. They had run well ahead of the womenfolk as soon as they had seen the light of the kiln fire. Ward smiled and patted heads here and there and soon the children sat on the ground to watch the last minutes of the firing.

The kiln master looked once more at Ward. The old man groaned and hauled himself out of the chair. He looked into the firebox, then he walked along the low side of the groundhog kiln. One of the younger men bent to pull a small brick out of the wall. A bright yellow shaft of light spotlighted Ward’s coal black skin and white beard. He squinted and peered into the kiln. There, in the midst of the searing light, he could see massive ten gallon storage jars and stacks of quart whiskey jars and clabber bowls, their surfaces glistening as if wet. Ward nodded and the brick was replaced. He stepped down to the end of the kiln and another brick was removed. He groaned as he bent his knees and peered inside. Yes, now the back of the kiln was as hot as the front and the pots glistened alike. They were ready.

Ward held up five fingers. The kiln master nodded to the men at the firebox. They were watching and fed the fire for five minutes more. Then each man grabbed a firebrick in each hand from a stack by the firebox door and began to brick up the entrance. In a minute or two the kiln fell silent, the roaring of the fire ceased, the hum of the pottery necks died to a whisper and the light faded from the chimney stack above them.

The women lit kerosene lanterns and began to serve the food and tea. The men collapsed on the ground, most of them too tired to eat.

Ward eased back into his chair as his granddaughter Ocea sat at his feet, “Tell us about slavery time Granpa Lee. Tell us about the Wanderer!”

“Hush chile, you know better, we doan talk about them days…” Ocea’s mother snapped her long apron in disapproval. Ocea, chastened dropped her face to the ground. Then Ocea looked up and smiled, “Granpa Lee, tell us about Africa! Tell us about home!”

Ward Lee smiled broadly, planted his cane between his knees and leaned forward with his hands crossed over the finely carved handle.

“Children, did I ever tell you the story about how the soles of our feet and the palms of our hands got to be lighter than the rest of our bodies?”

The children clapped their hands and laughed, a new story!

“Well,” said Lee, “There is an old legend about Okolun who heard the prayers of the villagers in the very first village ever there was in the Congo land… ”


Our research into Ward Lee led into many interviews and archival searches into the origins of the enslaved Africans aboard the Wanderer. We learned that some 200 of them came to the Edgefield potteries. We accumulated hundreds of newspaper accounts, letters and other documents. We also invited many descendants to meet with us at the Schomberg Institute in Harlem, New York City, where we video-taped their personal stories. In some cases invitees had no idea who their descendants were. We were able to track them down by name and then, at the Schomberg, tell them their history, even down to the villages in the Congo where their ancestor came from. It was a very emotional afternoon.

As we started creating Internet media through which we could publish our findings, we sought ways in which we could bring these ancestors ‘alive’. A New York recording studio was used to make recordings of some of the letters we had found, all made by recent African immigrants, the accents of the voices were electrifying! Listen on our upcoming YouTube Channel “Archaeonaut” as an actor reads a letter Ward Lee sent to a local Edgefield newspaper. He desperately wanted to return home…





Lives In Clay: Lewis Miles

The enslaved potter Dave learned to write and read at Landrum’s newspaper, The Hive.

In our last post we related how the Dr. Abner Landrum established the first pottery business in the Old Edgefield District at Pottersville or Landrumsville. The business was obviously successful for his brother Amos and John both established their own potteries soon after Pottersville. Lewis Miles married into the Rev. John Landrum family and for a while worked with his brother in law, Benjamin Landrum. When John Landrum died in December of 1846 a major part of his estate went to Lewis Miles. 

John Landrum’s will bequeathed Dave to B. F. Landrum – a harsh slave owner.

Lewis Miles owes much of his fame to the ownership of the enslaved potter Dave. Dave doubtless learned to read and write when he worked on the Abner Landrum’s newspaper, The Hive, in Edgefield. He later worked at the Abner’s Pottersville factory and appears to have written his name and date on his first pot in 1834. According to Landrum’s will, Dave became the possession of Benjamin Landrum. Yet it is clear that at some point this ownership was transferred to Lewis Miles. Dave wrote on one pot “Dave belongs to Mr. Miles…” And of course, there is a vast inventory of Miles ware on which Dave wrote dates and couplets.

“Dave belongs to Mr. Miles…”

In the early stages of archaeological investigation into the Edgefield potteries the location of the Miles pottery was considered the grand prize. In 1859 Dave inscribed a large pot with the words “Made at Stoney Bluff for making lard enuff.” New Orleans archaeologist George Castille and his assistant Carl Steen began a survey of potteries following preparatory grant work by State Archaeologist Stanley South and myself. Finding the location of Stoney Bluff would have been a major discovery in view of the great interest in Dave. 

Castille and the rest of the archaeological community were unaware that one avid collector had already found the location and was keeping it a tightly guarded secret. Lewis Miles had, in fact, created potteries in a number of areas east of Edgefield. The reason for this is believed to the availability of stoneware clays and the large quantities of wood needed to fire kilns.

Miles, we know, worked on Horse Creek and Schoolhouse Creek, and of course, on Stoney Bluff. in 1862 Miles announced that he had relocated and consolidated his business interests on “the Beaver Dam” four miles from Pine House – the spot where today’s Highways 19 and 25 cross. Many collectors and researchers have assumed this location was at a place called Sunnybrook  (or sometimes Miles Mill)- a point where an old railroad line crosses the Aiken county and Edgefield county line. Lewis Miles stopped a train at this location that carried freight for his Beaver Dam pottery – and this is the source of the Miles Mill name attached to the Sunnybrook location. We know now that the pottery at “Beaver Dam “was in fact located some distance away from Sunnybrook.

The Beaver Dam location today.

As the mid-1980s survey of Edgefield potteries was being conducted, archaeologists and researchers were busily engaged in the search for documents relating to the potters. One source provided insights into Lewis Miles the man, and his slave, Dave. A German potter by the name of George Flesher (actually Fliescher, he changed his name just prior to World War I due to the unpopularity in America of the Kaiser and Germans) gave a pottery making demonstration at the Charleston Museum in 1930. Museum staff recorded Flesher’s recollections of his early days working in the Edgefield potteries. He described working at one pottery where Dave had worked (we believed this to be the Beaver Dam location) and was told that Dave had only one leg. The famous slave had died a few decades before this. Flesher described Miles as a “Fine looking man who dressed like General Jackson.”

General Jackson – Miles shared the high forehead.

He said he always gave generously to the poor. Miles, according the Flesher, was aware that the Civil War might not go well or the south. He asked Dave to make some narrow jars with small necks and in these he stored gold and silver coins. Several of the jars were found by descendants after Miles’ death – so clearly he did not recover all of them after the Civil War. It is believed that not all of the jars were found – Miles’ grave at the Baptist Springfield Church Road was violated in later years by looters in search of more jars.

During Castille’s initial survey of Edgefield pottery sites in the mid 1980s, his assistant went to a pottery site known to have been used by Joseph Gregory Baynham. The site was near Trenton and Eureka, South Carolina. The assistant walked over the area once occupied by Baynham – and then told the landowners that the pottery was typical of late 19th Ohio valley pottery and was of no historical value (Personal Communication, Dr. Michael and Mrs. Kim Fulford, June, 1996). With this assurance, the landowner had a contractor bulldoze most of the site to create fill for a pond dam that was increased in height by some four meters.

The dam raised by 12 feet with fill from the Lewis Miles site upstream from the Beaver Dam.

In fact, it was well known at the time that Baynham had been making pottery on the site since about 1870. Baynham’s grandchildren and great grandchildren were residents of the area and the family history was well known at the time. Even colleagues of the Castille team were aware of this history.

In 1996 I returned to the Baynham site with the Georgia Archaeological Institute  to do a proper assessment of its historical value. On top of the new dam I found pottery sherds that were completely unlike anything Baynham was known to have produced. It was then that it was learned that most of the site had been destroyed and used as fill for the dam based on the comments of Castille’s assistant.

We then conducted test excavations on what remained of the site. We found that beneath the Baynham pottery there was another earlier one. It dated to to the 1860s. We reviewed archival research, most specifically Lewis Miles statements about the location of his last pottery – and realized to our dismay that this area, not SunnyBrook was the location of Mile’s last pottery at the Beaver Dam. The Beaver Dam was in fact a short distance from the Miles pottery. We found that it had been built with several chutes designed to take power from the head of water in the pond behind the dam. We also found nearby a large pit filled with cow bones. It was clear to us that this was the area where Miles operated his tannery and saw mill. The pottery, a fire hazard for a saw mill, was located at the opposite end of the same pond.

As we excavated further we began to find intimations of Dave’s presence, sherds with sgraffito drawings and capacity marks and handles with his massive thumbprints. Our search for vessels in collections turned up a jug with an entire letter written on its base! We were also told by local informants that two Scottish potters worked at the site, and that Mile’s son, John Lewis Miles, operated the site for a short period after his father’s death.

Dave sgraffito.

Dave Thumbprint.

Another Dave “l” mark.

Capacity sgraffito attributed to Dave.

Very flat, wide-lipped necks were a distinctive feature of the pottery from this site. The vessels were skillfully made, the glazes were some of the most beautiful green and brown glazes I have ever seen. Interestingly there is only one other place I have seen this flat neck – on Speyside whiskey jugs that I photographed in Scotland. We have yet to find archival confirmation of these Sottish potters tho.

Speyside whiskey jug with flat top neck.

Typical flat top neck at Miles Beaver Dam site.

During this period I also worked closely with Joe and Fred Holcombe of Clinton, S.C. Fred was the collector who had discovered Stoney Bluff. With Joe and his wife, Fred had spent years combing the Edgefield area, building up a massive inventory of diagnostic sherds and purchasing whole vessels made at each of the pottery sites. The contractor who bulldozed the dam on the last Miles pottery sold Fred a number of Miles pots from the site, some seventeen intact pots had been found during the construction. The Holcombes also suggested that this site was also the source of many of the face jugs that had been seen in collections as early as the 1900s. The reason for this was the flat lip necks that the Holcombe had seen on intact jugs recovered from the site by the contractor who bulldozed material for the new dam on Mathis Pond. These necks, the glazes and the body clays were the same as those seen on the face jugs that had been documented in northern collections as early as the 1900s.

Surely enough, as we expanded our random test pits over the Baynham pottery, we encountered one spot where we found waster sherds from the same type of face jugs documented in the early collections. We were the first to discover the manufacturing source of the intriguing Africanized face jugs. There will be a complete article on these face jugs in a future post and Archaeonaut Channel program.

Face jug with same flat top neck, glaze and body clay as the Miles Beaver Dam site jugs.

Face Jug frag (one of several thousand frags) recovered at face jug production site near the Miles Pottery.

The video program on Lewis Miles can be found at Archaeonaut Channel,

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Introduction to Edgefield Stonewares

This is the transcript of the first program in our YouTube series on the stoneware potteries of the Old Edgefield District of South Carolina (Link)

Stoneware pots…might not sound interesting to many people…but then when you consider pots that are the most collectable in America, pots that are the most rare and valuable…pots that are considered an early American art form…pots that connect us directly to the magic and pathos of Western Africa in the 19th Century, and even spring from industrial secrets stolen from ancient China…then you have some stories you might want to hear.

My name is Mark Newell. I have searched, collected and excavated stoneware potteries for more than thirty years. Over the next few programs I will introduce you to the fascinating story of stonewares made in the potteries of the Old Edgefield District in South Carolina.

In each program I will introduce you to the major potteries and show you a range of the wares they produced. We will look at the features that distinguish one pottery from another, talk about the richly colored  glazes, the pottery marks, capacity marks and more. The programs will give you a basic overview of the Edgefield potteries, the men – and women – behind the pots – and the stories that make these unique vessels sing to us about the rich traditions of Edgefield’s chapter in the story of Southern Pottery.

Landrumsville – also known as Pottersville on the outskirts of Edgefield

The first stoneware pottery was built  in an area called Pottersville doubtless to meet the growing need for utilitarian storage vessels for everything from whiskey to turpentine, preserves and even bear meat. In those days this was the American frontier and finished goods from Europe were hard to come by.

Typical storage jar from Landrum’s pottery.

That first pottery I mentioned was started by Abner Landrum around 1800  just outside the town of Edgefield .  When the site was finally excavated recently it was discovered that Landrum had built a 100 foot long Chinese style  ‘dragon’ kiln.




Image showing the footprint of Landrum’s kiln at Pottersville (Christopher Fennell)

Chinese dragon kiln in Jingdezhen Province China (

Loading a Dragon Kiln (Pinterest)

Prior to this excavation there had been much debate about how Chinese style ash glazes came to be used in South Carolina in the 1800s.

Chinese ash Glaze (Pinterest)

Many collectors liked to believe it was American co-invention. In fact a Jesuit priest in China, Father d’Entrecolles sent highly detailed information about porcelain manufacturing back to Europe in 1722.

d’Entrecolles letter published in France 1722.

The English trade directory that reproduced a translation of d’Entrecolle’s letter in 1755.

That information was published in an English dictionary of trade of commerce – and this almost certainly was the source of Landrum’s knowledge.[Insert trade Dict picture]. Landrum was initially interested in producing porcelain – but does not appear to have ever been successful at it with his Dragon Kiln. He respond to the demand for utilitarian stoneware though – and so started the expansion of the pottery industry in South Carolina. Within a short while of the start of the Pottersville operation, Landum’s brothers Amos and John started their own operations on Edgefield’s Horse Creek – the remains of finely bricked waterways can still be found at these sites.

Landrum’s first pottery also saw the beginning of unique vessels created by an enslaved potter by the name of David Drake, known to most of us as simply ‘Dave.”

Inscribe pot thrown by Dave in 1858

Dave may have worked at Landrum’s  Edgefield newspaper “The Hive” and it is thought that it was here that he learned to read and write – supposedly an illegal activity for slaves at the time. We know his story because he often wrote dates, his owner names and even short poems on many of his pots. Some of them were very large – up to 40 gallons.

Large storage jar made by Dave and inscribed with a couplet.

They are among the most highly prized vessels by collectors and museums. We will devote an entire program to Dave later on in this series.  Landrum. it is clear, was very liberal in his views..something that made him unpopular in The Old Edgefield District which was firmly committed to the institution of slavery. As a result, Landrum moved to Columbia, South Carolina in 1830 and started a new pottery and brick operation – and a newspaper there. His most famous potter, Dave, remained in Edgefield, becoming the property of Landrum’s son-in-law, Lewis Miles – the next Edgefield Potter we will discuss.

There are many Landrum Potterville pots to be found. They are most often large ovoid posts with a rich, runny glaze and a double collared neck. Some pots, such as this storage Jarappeared to be crude, even made by inexperienced hands. This pot is attributed to Dave and may be one of his earliest pieces.

Next program, Lewis Miles – and the loss of two of his pottery sites to pots hunters and bad archaeological judgment.

Last of the Riverboat Gamblers

“…Jack of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds,

You robbin’ my pocket, of silver and Gold..”

(19th Century Alabama work song)


Steven Davis grew up on the Savannah River.  He was born at a time when the river was still important – the turn of the century when it was a major highway for just about anything headed for the port of Savannah, Georgia or back up to Augusta and beyond.  The railroads and the superhighways were killing the traffic on the old waterway and over the span of his lifetime, Steven Davis was destined to be a witness to the passing of this era.  He also became a part of the legend of the river.  To most who knew him, Steven Davis was a simple hand on a riverboat called the “Kathryn S” that ran on the river from Augusta to Savannah. He would tend the engine, tidy the passenger cabins, haul cargo on and off at places like White Woman’s Landing and Kill Devil Bend.  To a select few, however, he is still remembered as something more – the last of the river boat gamblers.


The Riverboat ‘Katie” – the Kathryn S would have looked much like this on the Savannah River
Stern wheel of the Kathryn S on the riverbank at Sandbar Ferry below Augusta Ga.

Davis was a tall black man – half African American, half Indian, with a palsied right arm and hand.  When the sun set on the Savannah and the “Kathryn S” pulled to the bank to moor for the night, the passengers and the crew would sit at a table in the big captain’s cabin on the second deck. By the light of kerosene lanterns they would drink whiskey and talk of cotton and politics.  When the conversation and the whiskey waned, out would come a deck of cards.

Davis was in his thirties when he began to crew on the “Kathryn S.”  By that time he already knew how to handle a pack of cards.  For most of his life he kept these skills a secret – a ploy that made him appear much less dangerous to the passengers who fancied themselves as skilled players.

The “Kathryn S” was a stern wheeled paddle boat built on the remains of an Augusta Canal barge in 1932 by “Gummy” Harrison and named for his wife.  Montgomery Harrison was the town’s only millionaire during the Depression.  The riverboat was an engine room, a galley and half a dozen tiny cabins.

The boat ran the river for more than twenty years under its Captain, Reggie Dales.  In the 1950’s Gummy sold her to “Big Roy” Simkins, another Augusta businessman. Big Roy ran the “Kathryn S” for thirteen more years, using it to haul general cargo and to pull snags from the river. By now the old riverboat was showing her years of hard use – her hull sagging at the bow and stern.

Big Roy took advantage of the flood of 1963 to drive the old riverboat onto the bank below Augusta.  When the flood was over, Simkins planned to overhaul her. Time passed and the work was never done.  The “Kathryn S” continued to sit on the riverbank under the watchful eye its only crew member – caretaker Steven Davis. Even though the old riverboat was hard aground, Davis continued to profit from the cards.

Throughout the sixties and the seventies, it was well known around Augusta that the game in town was the one that started every Friday night on board the “Kathryn S” down at SandBar Ferry.  Steven Davis ran a high stakes game that wasn’t open to just anyone.  You had to be a pretty well heeled businessman, or one of Augusta’s growing community of doctors from the Medical College or an Army officer from Fort Gordon’s Signal Corps to get an invite to the game.

By late Friday night, the air was thick with kerosene fumes, cigar smoke and the smell of the sweat of the early losers. Davis would coax his marks along with consummate skill.  The lightweight pockets were emptied by well into the night.  By Saturday, only the well-heeled players were still in the game. Over the next twelve hours Davis would coax them into staying with a pot here and there – but by dawn on Monday – most of them would wearily step off the side of the “Kathryn S” with barely enough cash to buy coffee and grits on Broad Street before starting their workday.

Davis always saw to it that once in a while a big winner walked off the boat.  These were the gamblers that spread the news of the game and convinced other would be players that it was honest.  Sometimes there was a sore loser.  If he couldn’t be convinced that Lady Luck had dealt him a bad game – Steven Davis would reach back into his pocket with lightening speed and brandish a small nickel plated .32 caliber pistol.  The only time his palsied hand held real steady – was when the little peacemaker was pointed at another gambler.  No one argued with Davis once that gun was in his hand.

Few people were ever close to Steven Davis. Once in a while, during those last years before he disappeared and when weekend long poker games were becoming a thing of the past, Davis would boast about his skill with the cards.  He would pull a fresh pack from the pocket of his denim overalls, break the seal, and shuffle. His hands would spin the cards out across the tabletop, usually five hands plus his own.  He would then describe each hand and how many cards each ‘player’ would draw to try and better it.  Then he would describe the hands again – all the time the cards were laying face down.  Players one and four have a short stake – they will only play a sure thing to conserve cash to ante up. Player two has two low pairs – he will raise to get a feel for the other hands being played.  Players three and five have a full house and a high two pairs between them. The dealer will match their raise to stay in the game – they will both think he’s bluffing. Player two will fold.  The game will go at least two more raises before three and five realize the dealer may have something.

Davis would then lay over his hand – a royal flush. Then he would turn over the other five hands – they would be exactly as he described them.

Davis did pretty well with his gambling from all accounts.  Each Friday morning he would send a messenger to a bank in Augusta to bring him $75.00, never more, never less.  On Monday that same messenger would carry back anywhere from $3000 to $6000 to be placed in four or five different accounts – Davis liked to spread his risk even when it came to banks.

Big Roy died some time ago and so did the money for the upkeep of the old riverboat.  As it fell into disrepair an aging Steve Davis was forced to move.  He disappeared from Augusta – and people figure he must be dead by now.  There are some who wonder if he was ever a cheat or a card sharp, doing as well as he did. Most people hope not – they would like to think that the last of the riverboat gamblers on the Savannah died standing pat.

Stern construction of the Kathryn S – exactly matches the drawings for Augusta Canal barges
Bow construction and cabin features for the Kathryn S from my field notes

North Carolina Wreck Puzzles Officials

The ‘early 18th century’ wreck recently discovered off the coast of North Carolina may not be what it appears to be. The wreck was discovered by Duke University biology researchers using Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute equipment to search for a lost instrument buoy. An early press release labeled it as early 18th century or possible Revolutionary period (a pretty wide span of time in any event). Examination of photographs from the site, beneath 6,000 feet of water on the continental shelf, tell an even more confusing story.

Partially covered octant lies beside a large ceramic jar. This would date the site the mid 18th C. (Credit: Wood Hole Oceanographic Inst.)
Partially covered octant lies beside a large ceramic jar. This would date the site the mid 18th C. (Credit: Wood Hole Oceanographic Inst.)

Bruce Terrell, chief archaeologist of NOAA’s Marine Heritage Program, told the Archaeology Hour yesterday: “We can clearly see what appears to be an octant in one photograph. Yet in other photographs we can see bottles that appear to have a form normally dated to the early decades of the 19th century. Obviously we have issues when it comes to dating the wreck.”

Terrell notes other questions raised by the evidence in the photographs. “There is very little rigging hardware to be seen. The hull structure of the vessel is gone completely but from the size of the ballast pile and the rigging hardware we can see it appears to be a very small ship; maybe 40 to 60 feet long.” This might indicate a Bermuda sloop or a small coasting schooner. Coasting vessels typically hugged the coastline and operated in shallow waters and riverine areas – this site is 180 miles out on the Blake Plateau.

The current information draws immediate comparisons with the wreck of another small coasting vessel found by sport divers in the Black River, South Carolina in 1971. This reporter spent a month working on the vessel in the 1980s and later on its reconstruction at the Georgetown Rice Museum where it is now on display. This vessel also appeared to be a small coasting schooner dated to the mid 18th century – and it also contained an octant.

Sir Isaac Newton in vented the quadrant in the 1690s, the octant appeared in the 1730s. Philadelphia inventor Thomas Godfrey and English mathematician John Hadley invented it simultaneously. The instrument enabled navigators to take sightings of both the sun and stars. It’s presence on the North Carolina wreck points to a mid-18th century or possibly earlier date for the wreck. The dating contradiction arises from bottles that appear in another photograph of the site. The shapes of the bottles appear to be typical of the very late 18th or early 19th century. “It is highly improbable that two wrecks are mixed here, “said Terrell. “This is not very likely in 6,000 feet of water.”

Ballast stone and brick (similar to the Brown's Ferry Vessel) and at left a late 18th-early 19th C bottle. (Credit: Wood Hole Oceanographic Inst.)
Ballast stone and brick (similar to the Brown’s Ferry Vessel) and at left a late 18th-early 19th C bottle. (Credit: Wood Hole Oceanographic Inst.)
Bottles have shape consistent with late 18th C date. (Credit: Wood Hole Oceanographic Inst.)
Bottles have shape consistent with late 18th C date. (Credit: Wood Hole Oceanographic Inst.)

Clearly, more information is needed from the site. It is likely that more research will be done as the site adds important new information to North Carolina’s maritime history. “I am not sure what will happen next, “ says Terrell. “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is the Federal Agency responsible for the continental shelf and the decision on next steps will come from them. Hopefully an archaeologist will be appointed and a survey of the site will be completed.”

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Tricky, Sticky–and Dangerous


Tar, a by-porduct of gas production at the turn of the century. Source: good
Tar, a by-product of gas production at the turn of the century. Source:

Plus This:

A fused Confederate ball-if it's water tight-lit's live! Source: live
A fused Confederate ball-if it’s water tight-lit’s live! Source: live

It’s going to be very tricky. A river bottom near downtown Columbia, S.C., covered with Confederate era munitions dumped by the Federal Army in 1865. You might imagine that, being underwater for that long, there would be little danger involved in handling rebel grenades and shells and cannon balls. No so. In the 1970s divers found a similar dump behind the Confederate Powder Works on the banks of the Savannah River at Augusta Georgia. A lot of the shells were inert, the water had leached away the powder inside years before. Then again, a lot of them were very much alive—and even more volatile than when they were first made. Colonel Washington Raines, the man who built the Powder Works, was famed for the quality of his gunpowder. When such gunpowder sits undisturbed it ‘matures’ becoming more volatile over time. As the Augusta divers discovered, the powder inside the intact shells they recovered was still capable of exploding.


Ketchum grenade with Raines type detonator. Thousands were made at the nearby Augusta Powder Works in Georgia. Source:
Ketchum grenade with Raines type detonator. Thousands were made at the nearby Augusta Powder Works in Georgia. Source:

“We were totally stupid, “ one them told The Archaeology Hour (forty years later he still wants to remain anonymous). “We carefully cut one of the smaller shells open without cutting into the powder, we then made a small hole and got the powder out. We shot pictures of the result—it blew up like crazy!”

In the near future work will begin to recover the munitions in the Congaree River near Columbia. As if the danger of an explosion is not bad enough, there is another complication. Tar. Not only are the munitions underwater, sand and mud—there is also a two foot thick layer of tar over the entire deposit as well!

The river, the tar, sand, mud—and live shells. And it all has to be removed. This is going to be a good story! Scuba divers, probably seeking to repeat the finds of the Augusta divers decades ago, first discovered the ‘tarry substance.’ It was most recently reported to authorities by a wading kayaker. South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control decided the mess needed to be cleaned up.

Tar and pils were first discovered by divers and recently by kayakers. The environmental hazard required cleanup order by DHEC--and SCE&G stepped up to do the work. Source:
Tar and pils were first discovered by divers and recently by kayakers. The environmental hazard required cleanup ordered by DHEC–and SCE&G stepped up to do the work. Source:

The result is that responsibility for the problem has fallen into the lap of South Carolina Electric & Gas. Eric Boomhower, Director for Public Affairs for SCE&G, told the Archaeology Hour, “The tarry substance is consistent with coal tar created by manufactured gas plants that operated throughout Columbia more than a century ago.

“One of those gas plants, located at Lincoln and Lady Street, was owned and operated by the Columbia Gas Light Company.  At the time of closing in 1906, its production was replaced by the output of a new MGP at Huger and Taylor Street (the “Huger Street Site”).  Note that the Huger Street Site was operated during its operating history by the Columbia Railway, Gas and Electric Company (a predecessor to SCE&G), thus giving rise to SCE&G’s liability for that former MGP site.  In 1925, Columbia Railway Gas & Electric Company merged with the Broad River Power Company Inc. to form the Broad River Power Company.  In 1937, the name was changed to South Carolina Electric & Gas Company.   It appears that this particular deposit may have originated from the Huger Street Site. “

In accepting responsibility for the problem SCE&G is showing great corporate citizenship. They have hired environmental firm TRC Solutions out of Atlanta, Georgia to handle the decidedly dangerous clean up job.

“TRC’s primary job will be to do the archaeological recovery, they have done this type of work for us before in similar situations,” said Boomhower. “It should be understood though, that our primary concern is the safety of everyone involved.”

While the historical record states that this is the area where Sherman dumped Confederate munitions, Boomhower says that it is by no means certain that live ammunition will in fact be encountered. “If it is—if we encounter anything that has the potential to be live and dangerous—then the bomb disposal experts will immediately take control of the work.”

A further complication is that the Confederate munitions also constitute part of the state’s archaeological heritage. This brings in Jim Spirek, State Underwater Archaeologist at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA). Spirek told The Archaeology Hour, “Historical research suggests this area of the Congaree River was one of several dumping sites of Confederate war materials by troops under command of General William T. Sherman following the capture of the city in 1865.

“Recovery of various Civil War artifacts in this location in the 1930s by the then mayor of West Columbia and later under salvage licenses issued by SCIAA in the late 1970s and early 1980s also provides archaeological corroboration of the historical record. A series of bores was conducted from the Gervais Bridge to the Blossom Street Bridge. The stratigraphy of the river in this area consists of bedrock buried under several feet of sand and mud close to shore with exposed rocks further out in the river, along with sediment filled pockets in deeper areas. The tar like substance (TLS) is approximately two feet thick at its deepest and thins out downstream.

“Presumably the Civil War-era and earlier artifacts rest below or perhaps intermingled with the TLS. More recent artifacts including hubcaps, beer cans, shopping carts, etc. are included in the upper levels of the site stratigraphy, or perhaps scoured in deeper due to periodic flooding.

“At the areas excavated to remove TLS from the river there will be 100% artifact recovery. Artifacts of historic and archaeological significance will undergo conservation treatment. Modern items will be cataloged and then disposed of. Plans call for the conserved items to be curated at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, although some artifacts may be sent to other appropriate cultural institutions for display and interpretation.

In handling possible live ammunition, the ordnance experts will make the call on whether such items will be destroyed by safe detonation or preserved by being defused and rendered inert. These will then be among the ‘conserved items’ that Spirek refers to.

This adds even more complexity to the project. SCANA and TRC have submitted a plan to the State for the work. Spirek told us, “Various remediation scenarios were offered by SCANA at a public meeting held in Columbia on 21 March 2013. DHEC preferred the 100% recovery of the TLS by damming the river in three sequential segments. Recently, the US Army Corps of Engineers has asked SCANA and DHEC to reconsider the damming option and to prepare a revised remediation action. Presumably in the next several months SCANA will provide their modified plan to remove the TLS from the Congaree River.”

There is no word yet on what the new plan will involve. It is thought it will be a modification of the earlier “dam and dig dry” plan. In any event, watchers await with considerable interest to see exactly how this sticky, tricky and explosive project will finally be handled. Archaeologically–whether the project were done underwater or on ‘dry’ land or not—standard procedure would require artifacts (possibly cartridges, shells, grenades etc.) to be carefully excavated, photographed in situ, then delicately removed, cleaned and conserved. Whether this is done or not may be the case by case call of a live ordnance recovery expert working alongside the archaeologist.

The Congaree ‘tar’ project will be featured on an upcoming podcast edition of The Archaeology Hour with audio interviews and more background information.

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Dark water diving & artifacts on the CSS Georgia

print of the CSS Georgia
Contemporary print of the CSS Georgia (pubic domain)

Archeologists are now working to remove small artifacts and map sections of the wreckage of the massive Confederate Ironclad CSS Georgia in Savannah Harbor prior to heavy lifting operations, expected to be completed by the end of this summer.

According to principal investigator Julie Morgan, an archaeologist with the Corps of Engineers, divers will be working in zero visibility conditions guided by an underwater acoustic positioning system and  “a navigation web of transit lines that helps the diver move around the site.”

Even so diving on the wreck will not be easy or safe. The ship was scuttled by the Confederates as Sherman’s Union forces marched on Savannah on the Georgia coast at the mouth of the Savannah River. The wreckage sat on the edge of the ship channel and has been struck by vessels and dredgers over the years. The protective covering of the upper structure, the casemates, were constructed of railroad iron. Over the years since its sinking, the wreck has become a tangled mess of iron and accumulated debris brought downriver by swift currents.

“The current is abated by diving at slack tide only.  All the divers have extensive experience working in black water environments and work only under the supervision of the Corps’ dive inspector.  Safety is the Corps’ top priority. No more than two divers will be in the water at once for safety reasons,” said Morgan.

effrey Pardee, Panamerican diver tender, examines diver James Duff's equipment and topside air supply during an initial dive event Jan. 22, 2015, on the Savannah River near Old Fort Jackson. Duff, a Panamerican diver and maritime archaeologist, used a rope to connect sections of the CSS Georgia wreck site scuttled on the river floor. A network of ropes connects wreck site artifacts and assists divers to navigate through the murky underwater floor of the Savannah River. CSS Georgia recovery is the first action begun under the construction phase of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Chelsea Smith.)
Jeffrey Pardee, Panamerican diver tender, examines diver James Duff’s equipment and topside air supply during an initial dive event Jan. 22, 2015, on the Savannah River near Old Fort Jackson. Duff, a Panamerican diver and maritime archaeologist, used a rope to connect sections of the CSS Georgia wreck site scuttled on the river floor. A network of ropes connects wreck site artifacts and assists divers to navigate through the murky underwater floor of the Savannah River. CSS Georgia recovery is the first action begun under the construction phase of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Chelsea Smith.)

Once the divers have completed mapping, tagging and recovery operations, the US Navy will recover heavy materials. “The archaeological data recovery phase is expected to last until early summer 2015.  Upon completion of that phase, the US Navy will set up on site to recover ordnance, large artifacts, the casemate sections and miscellaneous railroad iron using large mechanized machinery.  A lift plan that details where cuts will be made, placement of straps and slings, and type of lift structure will be developed for each artifact and casemate section in the next couple of months, ” said Morgan.

According to Ms. Morgan, earlier surveys have been used to plan the operation now underway, “The Georgia has periodically been investigated since the late 1970s as funding became available.  In 1979 a site assessment was conducted to determine the approximate site size and degree of integrity. Ordnance, small artifacts and two cannon were recovered in 1986 by Savannah District after the vessel was damaged by a dredge.  In-situ investigations were conducted in 2003 to fully map the site and document conditions.  Most recently multibeam and sidescan sonar surveys were completed in 2013 to document site changes since 2003.  The results of those surveys provided the base map for the current data recovery effort.  Also in 2013 a small casemate section was recovered during a test recovery exercise.”

It is now believed that nothing of the hull of the Georgia remains. The massive upper works may have crushed the wooden hull beneath it. This, coupled with teredo worm damage in the salty estuarine water, may have resulted in the complete disintegration of the hull. Morgan states: “Studies conducted in the 1970s thought that the hull was buried underneath sediments.  In the 1980s, it was thought to be underneath one of the casemate sections.  In both instances, it was never seen, only THOUGHT to be there.

“It was not until 2003 when Panamerican Consultants, Inc. conducted in-situ investigations and confirmed that there is no indication that any of the hull exists on the site.  This was verified in 2013 by the multibeam and sidescan sonar.  What happened to the hull?  It is difficult to tell.  It has been hypothesized that, if it were fairly intact, it may have been  recovered during the salvage attempt in the late 1860s-1870s.  Alternatively, it could have been badly damaged as a result of the salvage attempt and slowly deteriorated and/or was carried off the site by currents.   Regardless, there are no remains of the hull.  We hope that the edges of the casemate sections and any fasteners will provide clues as to what the hull was like.”

Given the presence of heavy silting and the resulting anaerobic environment, it may be possible that some heavy timbers, such as live oak frames, or the very bottom strakes of the hull, have survived. Whether or not this is so remains to be seen.

The Archaeology Hour asked Morgan about the disposition of any artifacts that might remain in the wreckage. According to Morgan there is no archival record of anything having been removed from the ironclad before it was scuttled. If the ship was abandoned in haste ahead of Sherman’s army, it may therefore contain artifacts.

“The archaeologists are currently recovering small artifacts from the wreck site.  No personal items have been found.  It is unlikely that we will find anything else due to the lack of sediments and the current,” added Morgan.

“The Corps has contracted with Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University to conserve the artifacts that will be retained for curation and exhibit.  All of the large artifacts, i.e., cannons and power plant parts, as well as ordnance, casemate sections and other small artifacts with unique or diagnostic features will be conserved.  There are no loan agreements in place at this time, but several museums of have expressed interest in exhibiting the artifacts.  Final decisions regarding the disposition of the artifacts will be made by the US Navy as that agency is held accountable for CSS Georgia,” Morgan said. The entire property of the Confederate States of America, especially its fleets and weapons, became the property of the Federal Government following the defeat of the Confederacy.

The Archaeology Hour hopes to broadcast an audio interview with Ms. Morgan in the coming weeks, followed a video segment later in the year.


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Pilot on Track for March

The Pilot for The Archeology Hour is on track as we schedule interviews with archaeologists and investigators as far afield as Egypt, Italy, Sweden. the UK and the US. In addition new segment producers (upcoming announcement) are working on news and features on archaeological travel, major museum exhibits around the world, archaeological volunteer projects and reviews of major new historical and archaeological books. Our first book will be “The Lost Papers of John Bell Hood” by author Sam Hood from Savas-Beatie and hailed as having major revelations on the history of America’s Civil War.

Planned for the pilot and upcoming broadcasts will be news direct from the archaeologist in charge of an exciting new discovery at Sheikh Abd el-Gourna in Egypt. There two archaeologists have discovered a complex of tombs beneath a smaller tomb found in 1887. The early explorer missed a maze of chambers and shafts designed to mirror the legend of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld. Mila Sosa and Irene Morfini sent the last season completing a pre-disturbance survey of the complex, recording wall inscriptions, a statue of the God Osiris and the remains of numerous mummies destroyed and tons apart by early tomb robbers. In an upcoming interview, Morfini will discuss the upcoming season starting on October. This will mark the beginning of excavations inside the tomb complex and we will learn how the two archaeologists plan to proceed.

Irene Morfini: The Min Project
Mila Sosa: The Min Project

In the UK we will be talking to Vincent Drost, the Project Curator of the  Romano-British coin finds at the  Department of Coins & Medals at the British Museum. He is studying the Seaton Down Hoard – a massive cache of Roman coins found by a metal detectorist last year. The dates on the coins cover a hundred year period and were buried long before the Romans left Britain and viking and saxon hordes–which raises  many questions. Why were they buried? Who buried them. Why would they have been saved over such a long period of time?

Some of the Roman coins being studied, cleaned and evaluated by Drost. Source: The British Museum
Some of the Roman coins being studied, cleaned and evaluated by Drost. Source: The British Museum

In the US we will be looking at the recovery of the CSS Georgia, a Confederate gun boat sunk on the edge of the channel into the harbor at Savannah Ga. This is a daunting project. Over the past forty years the archaeologists with the US Army Corps of Engineers have dived on the wreckage to study it and gather information on its eventual removal. The wreck is mass of tangled iron and debris accumulated over the hundred and fifty years since it was scuttled by retreating Confederates.

The massive ship was built in Savannah with $115,000 raised by the “Ladies Gunboat Association.”  The hull was 120 feet long and its armor was made from railroad ties and a cladding of railroad iron. The 1,200 ton proved far too massive for its engines–so the Confederates was moored of Fort Jackson below Savannah as a gun platform. By the 1980s, when Archaeology Hour producer Mark Newell dived on the wreck it was a tangled mass of distorted iron and smashed lumber. “I would grade it as one of the most dangerous wreck dives in the Savannah River, “said Newell. “No wonder the Corps has waited until now to tackle it.”

The Corps will remove the wreck as part of a harbor and channel expansion project. The work will be under the supervision of Corps archaeologist Julie Morgan. Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell tells the Archaeology Hour, “We have begun to remove some pieces of the wreck and some loose material around it. The main work will take some time.” We hope to bring you an interview with Julie Morgan in the near future and will post video on our YouTube Channel.

The CSS Georgia as it looked shortly after its launch (COE)
The CSS Georgia as it looked shortly after its launch (Coe, Today).