Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How we're using GIS II

The process of putting a land patent into ArcGIS from start to finish involves several steps. I downloaded patents from the website “The Library of Virginia’s Land Office Patents and Grants.”  I searched for keywords, including geographical features like “Deep Creek”, and names, such as “Francis Eppes.”  I also set up a base map using georeferenced*  topographic maps and aerial imagery.  The patents were then placed on top of the base map.  After being placed on the base map, property boundaries were evaluated to see where other patents might be located.  For example, on Eppes’ patent, Henry Anderson’s line is mentioned, so I searched for his patent next.  I also had to taken magnetic declination into consideration.  Since magnetic north today is not the same as magnetic north was in 1730, I had to account for this by angling the patent a specified degree.  Finally, to evaluate the accuracy of the patent, I measured acreage. 

Patents were surveyed differently in the 18th century than they are surveyed today.  Land surveyors used a compass and a Gunter’s Chain, which consisted of linked chains.  Surveyors measured distances using the measurement of chains, poles, and links.  If a patent reads “West seventeen degrees North seven hundred and thirty four poles”, the bearing is seventeen degrees north of west 12,111 feet. Once a map was digitized, I made notes in regards to boundary references, such as “Anderson’s line”.  Through this process, I was able to digitize patents and their neighbors.

Fitting a patent onto the base map in the best possible relation to its neighboring patents was one of the most challenging and frustrating parts of the process.  In most cases, it was easy to see how a patent fit in relation with its neighbors. Pinning a patent to a specific point on the map, however, was more difficult. I used several control points, mostly creeks, to try to establish the most accurate location for the patents on the landscape.  Pinning a creek as mentioned in a patent to a modern day creek on an aerial image or a topographic map was sometimes problematic, especially if the modern creek had not maintained its historic name.  I contacted multiple government (local, regional, and national) agencies to try and identify smaller creeks not identified on modern maps, with no success.  My educated guesses placed creek names with modern creeks.  The accuracy of the patent placement depends on the correctness of creek names, making this a significant step in the process.  Historic roads referenced in patents or land transactions were also identified in order to give the area a proper context, and intersections of roads were used as control points where possible.

In addition to land patents, I also traced land transactions in order to obtain an overall view of the land.  I spent time searching through deed and will books from Goochland, Cumberland, and Powhatan Counties and put these finding into ArcMap. It was necessary to search three counties’ deed books due to the division of the area from one large county into smaller counties over time. Knowing a patent’s history and its division over time could help fine-tune a patent’s placement, particularly when specific geographic markers were used. Part of the overall complexity resulted from the difficulties of keeping track of the changing land owners.  Land was frequently divided.  This impacted property boundaries, as they were constantly changing. 

Inconsistencies and errors within the deeds themselves, in addition to illegible handwriting and missing parts of pages, sometimes complicated this process.  Several patents were simply incorrect, while others were impossible to digitize into ArcMap due to their lack of specificity.  Sometimes a distance or a direction was omitted.  In many patents and transactions the phrase “down the Branch according to the Meanders” appeared, which provides no distance or direction.  A related problem was a lack of specificity in the documents.  To illustrate, Eppes’ will indicates that his daughter Ann was to receive the lower end of the moiety, while Martha was to receive the upper end of the moiety.  What Eppes meant by lower and upper was unclear.  However, by keeping track of boundary references over time, this issue can be partially solved.  Another inconsistency arose involving incorrect statements in the transactions.  Issues like these complicate the process.  However, more often than not, I could successfully digitize patents and transactions into ArcGIS.

Crystal Ptacek

*tied to map projections or coordinate systems


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How we're using GIS

The work that I’ve been doing for the NEH grant has so far included many components.  Recently, most of my time has involved collecting historical information concerning the neighborhood surrounding the Indian Camp property and then putting this information into ArcGIS, a computer program that allows us to better see spatial relationships.  This historical research is an important component of archaeology. As we have not found any maps or documents that show the exact location of the original property or its original slave dwellings in relationship to the modern landscape, this research is important.  Searching for slave cabins is difficult enough with a map, and without one can be even more difficult.  Any piece of information that can help us narrow down our search, in this case, the location of property boundaries, can be immensely useful. More broadly, I have been digging through the records of the past (pun intended) to recreate a dynamic neighborhood and to explore the relationships between members of this neighborhood.

Indian Camp was once part of the Virginia frontier.  Francis Eppes had one of the earliest land patents in the area.  Eppes patented the Indian Camp property including 2400 acres in 1730, but never lived there. In his 1733 will, Eppes divided this plantation into two halves, giving his daughter Ann 1200 acres, or “the lower moiety”, while his other daughter Martha received the remaining 1200 acres, the “upper moiety.” The land that I have been researching includes both halves of the property in addition to the neighborhood surrounding this property.

Our first goal is to find slave cabins associated with this site from the time that Eppes patented the property in 1730 until Jefferson, who married Eppe's granddaughter, sold the property in 1777.  Our second goal is to understand the social context of this property through its owners and the slaves who lived there. Studying Eppes’ property and the land around it helps show how land was consolidated by individuals and by families and how landowners controlled access to roads and navigable waterways.

Putting patents and their subsequent divisions into ArcMap has allowed us to gain a better understanding of the neighborhood dynamics that we can’t really understand from the documents themselves – who had the largest parcel, who had the best access to transportation, who had the shiniest Cadillac and the greenest grass (or their 18th-century equivalents).  Young men living on one piece of property might marry young women living a few properties over, so land was exchanged and consolidated between neighbors. Landownership was also divisive: people went to court over land and property disputes.  All of these transactions were documented in court records, which are the records that I’ve been researching.  Members of this neighborhood was highly involved in each other’s lives.  Plotting land patents and deeds in ArcMap has allowed us to see just how this was so.

After I made a series of maps from the historical resources, I could start looking for patterns. Combined with additional research, relationships between neighbors are clearer.  I could conduct a basic analysis of who were the more influential and powerful members of the neighborhood based on acreage, access to navigable waterways, streams providing good tobacco land, and access to roads.  The length of time that a specific piece of property stayed in a given family can also be evaluated. I also did some research to find out landowners' social rank prior to moving into the neighborhood. Most lived in other counties in tidewater Virginia and their holdings around Indian Camp were outlying quarters.

ArcGIS has helped visualize these spatial relationships.  The next part of this process for me will require additional research into these families’ histories. Many of these men who settled the lands around Indian Camp did not come because of a lack of opportunity in their home counties or due to failure in business or agriculture.  Instead, it appears these patentees were quite successful.  Other questions that continuing research will help clarify are the length of time land stayed in a family and the ways in which families dominated portions of the neighborhood by acquiring land in proximity to other family members.  Long-term connections between family members through land ownership have already been made clear.  These connections were a consequence of the expansion of family ties with marriages, births, and friendships. A final part of the process will be attempting to put enslaved individuals and families back on the landscape to try to understand neighborhood from their perspective. Barbara Heath is working with me on this research and is currently collecting information from wills, inventories and tithable lists.

People's shared experiences, networks, relationships, and connections actually make a lot of sense when they are viewed in conjunction with maps produced with ArcGIS and augmented with documentary sources.  Useful tools such as ArcGIS can help archaeologists better understand the power dynamics of the past.

Crystal Ptacek

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Washing artifacts

Stephanie Hacker washing artifact
At the start of the Fall semester I knew very little concerning archaeology and the details involved outside a text book, but the opportunity I have been given to work in the historical archaeology lab under Dr. Heath has been a wonderful hands on learning experience. I lack field experience but through the archaeology lab I have gained a greater understanding of what is considered an artifact as well as how to recognize certain artifacts. For example, I feel that I now have the experience to distinguish between manmade materials and naturally occurring substances. The first day I spent in the lab I was convinced they had me washing a bag of rocks, until I was told that what I was washing was actually remaining fragments of daub (burned clay) from slave quarters. The difference between what I thought I was washing and what I was actually washing is quite significant.
            My main task in the lab is to wash the artifacts that are discovered by archaeologists in the field. The process is carried out simply with a toothbrush, a trough of water and a drying rack. Before the artifacts reach the lab they are placed into paper bags that record where on the archaeological grid they were found, which site they came from, the date they were found, and the initials of the person(s) who uncovered them. I empty the contents into the water or into a colander that sits in the water and gently brush the dirt off the artifacts until they are clean. Once the artifacts from a bag are is clean I place them into their own position on the drying rack along with the details from the paper bag where they sit until it they are dry enough to be bagged.  
Once the artifacts have had time to dry, they are ready to be bagged. The first task during the bagging process is to separate the artifacts by the material they are made of, for example, all nails together, all lithics together, all glass together, etc. This task is only required if more than one type of artifact was found in the same coordinate. Once the artifacts are properly divided each grouping gets its own small bag which is labeled with the site name, the date they were recovered, the person(s) who recovered them and their coordinates. It is important that an archival pen is used during the labeling process. The small bag(s) is then placed into a larger bag that is labeled as well. The bagging is done with each artifact or set of artifacts until all from that site are bagged. They are then stored in an archival box until needed.
Washing Artifacts
            Although the task is simple, I still feel involved in the work the archaeologists are conducting and gain a lot of pride in being a part of archaeological history. As noted earlier, I have learned how to identify the nature of artifacts since my work began in the lab. Overall, I have been quite lucky to get the experience I have from simply washing artifacts in the historical archaeology lab. 

Stephanie Hacker

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Finishing Up Field Work for the Summer

 The Wingos feature found on the "last day" had us back at the site the following Monday and Tuesday to expose, map, photograph and excavate it. It turned out to be filled with burned tree roots and charcoal, with no artifacts and nothing to tell us when it was formed. That's archaeology!

The last week at Indian Camp was much more interesting. We finished digging shovel test pits in the open land surrounding the house, and continued to find bricks, wrought and cut nails, bottle glass, and a variety of ceramics. One test unit in the western field came down on a feature--the bottom of the hole was filled with dark brown, charcoal- and ash-rich soil, and the number of artifacts was much higher than elsewhere. By the end of week 5, we had expanded our shovel test pit into larger units to expose a roughly 2 x 4 ft. shallow feature and two post holes. One appears to have been dug with a modern posthole digger, but the other was square, with a distinct mold and hole. We photographed and mapped everything, but did not dig the features out, as a piece of early to mid-19th century stoneware in the top of the feature fill suggests that it dates later than the slave quarters we are looking for. However, in the plowed soil overlying the features, we found British brown stoneware, a possible piece of German grey stoneware (Westerwald), a  wine bottle seal (unfortunately, the center of the seal that usually has the initials of the owner was missing), and some colonoware, suggesting that an earlier component of the site is somewhere close by.

Back in the woods, Brad did a metal detector sweep of the area with the light artifact scatter, and found a number of hits. He and Lauren only dug a few, and each contained a hand wrought nail. We mapped the location of all the hits and opened a few more test units at the edge of the field just south of the tree line. At 3:45 on Friday afternoon, we found the edge of a feature in one of the test pits. We'll have to wait until next summer to find out if it is a plow scar, or something more interesting. This area is promising, and we'll explore it further in 2012.

Although field work is complete for the summer, we've got lots to do in the lab and in the library. We'll continue to update our progress throughout the coming months.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wingos and Cows

At Wingos the resident cows (a mother and a baby) have been having fun with the units while we are gone. Features like the ones in this photo became a common sight after uncovering a unit in progress on a Monday morning!

This Friday was intended to be the last day of work at Wingos. As events turned out, it is not the end. We were cleaning out our last 5x5 foot unit for the season, ER 382, and turned up a feature that extended along the southern floor of the unit. This was not so surprising, because there was a large rock situated within the feature, which can be an indicator of buildings in the immediate vicinity. What really surprised us was a darker patch of redder dirt that appeared underneath cutting into subsoil as we cleaned out the feature. Alas, it seemed to run under the wall so we could not really tell what it might be. With the end of the workday approaching, those of us staying on to work at Indian Camp next week opened up a small unit to the south to try to solve the mystery of this new feature. The mystery remains unsolved, so Monday a skeleton crew will return to further open up the unit to the south. Thus far, all past features we have seen in the plowzone this season have been pegged as plow scars, tree roots, burned tree roots, or just inexplicable patches. We hope that this feature in ER 382 may be something substantial and eventually explicable!

The plowzone in the last 2 weeks at Wingos has yielded several sherds of colonoware, one sherd of Westerwald stoneware, two copper buttons, several fragments of clay pipes, lots of wrought nails, and many more prehistoric lithics and debitage. The colonoware was exciting to find, as we had not seen any all season. Both sherds actually came from the same unit with the unknown feature, ER 382, that took up so much of the full crew's last Friday together. There was definitely activity occurring in that area. Perhaps even another building footprint? We can hope…


Monday, July 25, 2011

French's Tavern

Lauren and Brandy testing
at Frenchs Tavern
French's Tavern, on the National Register of Historic Places, is located in the eastern portion of the historic Indian Camp tract. The tavern is really three structures linked together over time. A 2-and-1/2 story house fronts Old Buckingham Road. Attached to the west is a 1-and-1/2 story wing. A modern addition links the wing to a 2-story annex. Most of the house dates to the late 18th-century or early 19th-centuries, when Frances Eppes Harris owned a store there and Hugh French operated the tavern for which the property is currently named. Architectural historians who studied the house in the 1980s believed that the wing was the original structure on the property, and that it might date to the early 1730s, when Frances Eppes, the original property owner,  mentioned "ye house there lately built" on the land that he left to his daughter Martha in his will.

In the woods behind the house is a rock-lined spring leading off of a branch of Indian Camp Creek. North of the spring are the remains of an antebellum slave cabin that we tested last summer. We are currently testing the area between the cabin and the house, looking for evidence of original dependencies that might have served the 1730s house, including the elusive slave quarters. Last week, as the temperatures soared to 100 degrees, we dug test units in the woods and the modern lawn associated with French's Tavern. The property is littered with historic (and prehistoric) artifacts which we found during our recent testing. Many others have already been collected by both past and present property owners. One area in the woods yielded creamware, Fulham stoneware, and a wrought nail, evidence of a site dating to the second half of the 18th century. The remainder of the area tested so far contained pearlware, a ceramic that was first produced in 1779 (after Jefferson sold the property to his brother-in-law), or later-dating artifacts.

In the coming week, we'll start testing near the foundations of the wing, looking for clues about when it was constructed, and near another foundation that past residents of the property have identified as the "old kitchen." If the kitchen stood before the 1790s, an enslaved cook and her family may have lived there, and this site may prove to be important for our study of eighteenth-century slavery on the property.

Monday, July 18, 2011

36 Wingos shovel tests done!

Esther digging test pit
As of Tuesday morning, we completed thirty-six 2x2 foot shovel tests at Wingo's Quarter to check for any signs of activity north of the house site. We have already begun opening up 5x5 foot units near units opened during previous field seasons. Several of the shovel tests were done where a 2007 gradiometer survey showed magnetic anomalies, and several 5x5 units have been planned to check out other areas with magnetic anomalies.

Artifact wise, our thirty-six shovel tests did not net us much more than a few quartz lithic flakes , a wrought nail, and a piece of barbed wire (which is definitely of later vintage than the slave quarters). We found no features associated with the quarter, but plenty of plow scars and greenstone, an odd, soft, yellow rock. The tests over the magnetic anomalies did not show anything unusual. It seems residential activities at Wingos may indeed have been concentrated on the southern side of the hill. But, we will await the analysis of 72 bags of soil samples (one for the plow zone, one for the subsoil from each shovel test) back at UTK for certain chemical concentrations. We will look at the chemical data to determine whether there were any specific activities going on in the vicinity of the quarters. Despite the disturbances wrought on stratigraphic evidence (soil layers and artifact locations) by plows, we may be able to glean some information from the soil chemistry, such as potential locations of livestock pens and agricultural activity.

We currently have four 5x5 units open, and one underway just north and west of where two subfloor pits related to a dwelling were found in 2009. After thirty-six mostly empty shovel tests, we were all thrilled to see multiple wrought nails start showing up, along with the first few pieces of creamware! Due to the disturbances of plows, we are also unearthing prehistoric lithics including a quartzite point, quartz preforms, and flakes. Next week we will take a closer look at a feature of softer, darker soil we discovered on Friday within the subsoil of one 5x5 unit.

Esther Rimer
Esther is a graduate student at UTK

Monday, July 11, 2011

New Field Season Starts

Brad Hatch and Chelsea Coates digging shovel test pits
Our team from the University of Tennessee returned on July 5 to Indian Camp in Powhatan County and Wingos in Bedford to continue studying two eighteenth century slave quarters. 

Indian Camp began as a 1200-acre plantation in the 1730s. By the 1760s, John Wayles had purchased land south and west of the original property boundaries. By the time he died in 1773, Indian Camp and the adjacent land, which he sometimes called St. James', contained 3600 acres.

How do we find the sites we are looking for on such a large piece of property, with only a few weeks of field work per year? We've started with historic maps that show buildings about where they might have been, have looked at aerial photographs for clues to past land use, have talked to local residents, and, along with these sources of information, are beginning to examine places where people were most likely to settle--near existing roads, near springs where they could get fresh water, and on land that was probably marginal for agricultural purposes in the 1700s, but still level and dry enough to build on.

This week, we started in a large field in the northwest corner of the property, where a 19th-century map shows a group of outbuildings or slave cabins. Even though the map is later than the time period that we are interested in, it is possible that the cabins it depicts replaced an earlier slave quarter. So far, we have dug more than 75 small holes (shovel test pits) looking for artifacts or changes in soil color that will indicate that people lived in a particular area.