From Battersea, on today’s discussion re: some of the archaeology findings on the estate: This summer, archaeologists dug over 500 holes, 1 ft. wide by 2 to 4 ft. deep, on a 50 ft. grid encompassing the entire 37 acre site along the Appomattox River. They unearthed about 3,000 artifacts including an archaic point, coins, […]
From Battersea, on today’s discussion re: some of the archaeology findings on the estate: This summer, archaeologists dug over 500 holes, 1 ft. wide by 2 to 4 ft. deep, on a 50 ft. grid encompassing the entire 37 acre site along the Appomattox River. They unearthed about 3,000 artifacts including an archaic point, coins, buttons, buckles, objects related to industry, and fragments of pottery, glass and dishes that offer insights into what activities took place here over time.
Battersea’s story, as told through archaeology, begins about 4,000 years ago when Native Americans gathered quartzite stones from the Appomattox River and nearby creek beds for making tools. They returned to a campsite behind what is now the Battersea house, and as they chipped the stones, they left piles of flakes that were discovered by archaeologists this summer.
Josh Duncan, archaeologist for Culture Resources, Inc. who supervised the survey, said a stone point dates the earliest use of the site by Native Americans to about 2,000 B.C., during the Archaic Period when people moved about seasonally in small groups, hunting, gathering food such as goosefoot from nearby wetlands, and fishing for shad, perch and herring along the fall line of the river in autumn.
Duncan said the site was relatively undisturbed overall. Some pottery fragments and clay pipe stems indicate that colonists may have lived here around 1650, as the frontier moved west. Otherwise they did not find any evidence of permanent occupation until Banister built the house in 1767-1768. Banister was a member of the Continental Congress, signer of the Articles of Confederation, the first mayor of Petersburg, a lawyer and early industrialist.
He operated a mill and bakery on site, so he needed blacksmiths, millers and bakers to produce lumber, paper and gunpowder, and to mill grain and bake bread. He was also one of the largest slave owners in the area. According to historical records, he owned as many as 81 slaves.
Duncan said a cluster of artifacts including Colonoware, a type of ceramic often used by African American slaves, and recycled creamware, stoneware and green bottle glass, found on the western outskirts of the estate may mark the location of slave quarters at Battersea.
Handwrought nails, creamware and slag – waste from hammering impurities out of iron – found in the southwest corner near the railroad tracks probably indicates the location of an 18th century blacksmith’s shop.
“We’re also seeing Banister as a well-to-do figure,” Duncan said. “He had sets of dishes, where others only had a few.” In trash pits and scatters near the house, they found large quantities of broken creamware with decorative patterns and fragments of “fancy” ceramics including Jackfield, a black glazed ceramic with a deep purple body and elaborate molding.
During the Revolutionary War, when British troops occupied Battersea three times during the 1781 Battle of Petersburg, one soldier lost a silver button engraved with the initials “RP” and a king’s crown. Duncan said the initials stand for Royal Patrol and that style of button could have been worn by the Queen’s Rangers, a troop that was present at Battersea. The button, along with a silver pants leg buckle, bullets, lead sprue – droppings from bulletmaking – and other military artifacts discovered this summer, indicates that soldiers were camping on the eastern side of the house.
In another area behind the house toward the river, archaeologists discovered evidence of terracing, possibly to control the view of the river. “In 1824, when the estate transferred from Banister to John May, we know from the records that May increased the formality of Battersea’s gardens and made them ‘bigger and better.’ We suspect that this modification was part of his plan,” he said. May was a Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge and member of the General Assembly.
Archaeologists also documented and authenticated stone walls still visible above the ground as evidence of the canal built in the late-18th, early-19th century, as well as brick arches, which are probably from the mill tailraces used to return water to the river.
As details about how the site was used and developed emerge, Duncan said they are seeing that Banister’s choice for the location of the house, canal and railroad was no accident: “The Appomattox is the only river that flows to the Chesapeake Bay from this part of Virginia. He chose this site purposely with the intent to develop industry and connect the hinterland to the larger Chesapeake trade system.”
The archaeological investigation was made possible by a $30,000 grant from the Cameron Foundation, a non-profit devoted to benefit Petersburg and the tri-cities area.
Owned by the City of Petersburg since 1985, Battersea is one of the finest examples of a five-part Palladian house in the United States. A Virginia Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Battersea’s importance has been designated as “Nationally Significant” by the National Park Service.
For further information, call (804) 732-9882 or visit www.batterseainc.com.