A Fish for All Times – Atlantic Menhaden’s Long History in the Chesapeake



Figure 1. Mid-nineteenth century barrel excavated at the Brown’s Wharf site (18BC59).  Photograph courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

During the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology’s 1987 excavation of the Brown’s Wharf site (18BC59), archaeologists uncovered an unusual find—a complete wooden barrel whose staves were held together with split tree branch bands (Figures 1 and 2).  Barrels like this one, which dated to the mid-nineteenth century, were used for storing virtually anything, including grain, salted meat, cider, whale oil and dried and pickled fish.  And indeed, removing the soil filling the interior of this barrel, revealed – among other items like a metal funnel, a shoe, rope and a broken champagne bottle—sixty menhaden (Figure 3), whose bodies had been preserved in a tarry substance (Stevens 1989).

The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) is a native North American schooling fish in the herring family, ranging from Nova Scotia to Florida (Figure 4).  Small and oily, menhaden are not considered an appetizing meal for humans, but are prey for larger fish like weakfish, striped bass and bluefish. Menhaden’s primary food source is phytoplankton.

Figure 2. Unidentified archaeologist excavating the Brown’s Wharf barrel. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Menhaden have had a long and important history for the Chesapeake Bay region. Although long used by Native Americans as fertilizer, perhaps the earliest written record of menhaden was penned by Captain John Smith, who described them as “lying so thick with their heads above the water, as for want of nets (our barge driving amongst them) we attempted to catch them with a frying pan.” (Smith 1624).  Although not favored as a human food, menhaden have been used in paint, as a bait fish, for fertilizer, as animal feed, in human dietary supplements and as lamp oil (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019).  Large numbers of processing plants sprang up along the Atlantic coast for converting menhaden into these valuable products.

Figure 3: BCUA curator Louis Akerson and archaeologist Scott Simmons examining the contents of the barrel. Reprinted from The Evening Sun, Perry E. Thorsvik.

Almost four hundred years later, a time-traveling John Smith would be disheartened at the menhaden population in the Chesapeake Bay.  Once menhaden oil began to replace whale oil for lighting and as an industrial lubricant in the late nineteenth century, menhaden populations began to decline (Franklin 2008; Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019). These numbers continued to plummet as overharvesting went on throughout the twentieth century, with the menhaden fishery being the largest in the Atlantic.

Some conservationists refer to menhaden as “the most important fish in the sea”, since they form a vital part of the marine food web (Franklin 2008).  With menhaden numbers depleted, populations of phytoplankton, “a major cause of algae blooms and brown tides” (Carini 2017), explode, to the detriment of the coastal waters.  Studies by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) have shown the striped bass population suffering malnutrition because of the reduced menhaden population (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019).

Figure 4. The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Brevoortia_tyrannus1.jpg, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1674101

In an attempt to curb population reduction, the ASMFC voted in 2012 to cap the harvest of menhaden at 20 percent less than the previous three year’s catch (Carini 2017).  A population study completed in 2017 showed that menhaden numbers are increasing, but still not at levels considered healthy for the ecology of the Atlantic coastal ecosystem (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019; Carini 2017). Since the Chesapeake Bay is the source of almost 87% of the menhaden harvested in the Atlantic (with Virginia fisherman allocated over 85% of the harvest), the population recovery has not been as successful in the Bay (Dunn 2017).  Although small in size, menhaden loom large in the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem and conservation measures need to continue.

References

Carini, Frank.  2017.  Menhaden:  The Most Important Fish at the Moment.  EcoRI News.  Website site accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.ecori.org/aquaculture/2017/11/10/menhaden-the-most-important-fish-that-the-moment.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  2019.  Atlantic Menhaden; the Chesapeake’s Unsung Hero.  Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Website accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.cbf.org/about-the-bay/more-than-just-the-bay/chesapeake-wildlife/menhaden/.

Dunn, Joel.  2017.  Bay’s History Depended on Menhaden; Its Future Will as Well.  The Bay Journal.  Website accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.bayjournal.com/article/bays_history_depended_on_menhaden_its_future_will_as_well.

Franklin, H. Bruce.  2008. The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America.  Island Press, Washington, D. C.

Smith, Captain John.  1624. The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles. I.D and I. H. for Michael Sparkes, London.  Electronic version available at https://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/smith/smith.html.

Stevens, Kristen L.  1989.  An Investigation of the Archaeological Resources Associated with the Brown’s Wharf Site (18BC59) on Thames Street, Baltimore, Maryland.  Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology Research Series No. 28.  On file at MHT.

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One Small Sewing Thimble, One Giant Sewing Job!


Archaeologists working on domestic sites are almost sure to find at least one example of that most humble of artifacts—the sewing thimble. Whether manufactured from brass, iron, aluminum or silver, most of these thimbles are the familiar closed-top variety. But a small percentage are open-topped thimble rings.  

Figure 1.  This thimble ring from Oxon Hill Manor (18PR175) in Prince George’s County was found in a layer of soil deposited sometime during the 1800s.

Like a closed-top thimble, these sewing rings—as they were also called—were used to help push a needle through fabric. Thimble rings, which protected the side, rather than the top of the finger, were often used by tailors or individuals sewing heavy cloth, like canvas sails or leather (Holmes 1985).

Thimble rings would have been an everyday tool in 18th– and 19th-century Baltimore, when the city was renowned as a center for shipbuilding.  By 1809, there were nine shipyards in the city, many of them located in the Fell’s Point neighborhood. Before the advent of steam engines, ships relied on the wind and sails for power.  And where shipbuilding flourished, so too did the production of canvas sails.  Eleven sail makers worked in Baltimore in 1809; a number that had increased to 29 in the 1822 city directory (Matchett 1822).

The size of sails made it expedient for sailmakers to work in large, open floor plan workrooms known as lofts. Although the bolts of canvas used for crafting sails were thirty-nine yards long, they were only two feet wide, necessitating the piecing together of long strips of fabric (Allan 2018).  Some of the largest sails could weigh in at over a ton (Allen 2018). Standardized rules governed the profession of sailmaking and numerous treatises were published in the 19th century with guidelines for constructing different types of sails (O’Regan 2014).  And sailmaking was not just a dry land activity; all sailing vessels needed the services of a sailmaker on board for at-sea repairs.

Figure 2.  The Sail Loft by Ralph Hedley.  1908. (c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation.

While flax linen imported from Europe had typically been used for making sails, the introduction of new spinning and weaving technology in the early 19th century brought about the transition to cotton (O’Regan 2014).  Cotton duck proved to be a strong, tightly woven fabric perfect for creating sails. Cotton grown in the American South was imported to cotton mills along Baltimore’s Jones Falls and these mills found a ready market among sailmakers (Nettles 2019).

Within three decades of the 1843 development of steam-powered ships, “virtually all merchant and military ships had converted to metal hulls and steam power” (Nettles 2019). While it might seem that the advent of steam-powered vessels would have been a death knell for sailmakers, this was not the case.  Mid-19th century technological advancements in food canning and preservation brought about a boom in the oyster industry, with an attendant need for sails to outfit Chesapeake oyster boats (Brewington 1970).  During the Civil War, sailmakers found employment making tents for soldiers. 

Figure 3. Early 19th-century English Provincial School oil painting of a sailing ship.

Today, the use of sailing vessels is more of a sport and recreational activity, rather than economic or military necessity.  Technological improvements in fabric manufacture have advanced the art of sailmaking well beyond heavy canvas into a range of lighter weight polyester blends. Although Baltimore was once a center for shipbuilding and sailmaking, today that honor seems to have shifted south to Annapolis, where a search of the yellow pages reveals a number of companies specializing in sail design and production.

References

Allan, Philip K.   2018  Sails and the Art of the Sailmaker.   Blog of Philip K. Allen, Author.  Post dated July 9, 2018 at https://www.philipkallan.com/single-post/2018/07/09/Sails-and-the-Vanishing-Art-of-the-Sailmaker.  Post accessed June 5, 2019.

Brewington, Marion V.   1970  Chesapeake Sailmaking.   Maryland Historical Magazine Volume 65, Issue 2.

Holmes, Edwin F.  1985  A History of Thimbles.  Cornwall Books, New York.

Matchett, R. J.  1822  C. Keenan’s Baltimore directory for 1822 & ’23 : together with the eastern and western precincts, never before included : a correct account of removals, new firms, and other useful information. R. J. Matchett, Baltimore.

Nettles, Dean 2019   Shipbuilding and the Rise and Fall of Sails. Baltimore Industry Tours. http://www.baltimoreindustrytours.com/shipbuilding.php

O’Regan, Deirdre  2014  New Sails for an Old Ship—Building Sails for the Charles W. MorganSea History 147.  Summer 2014. https://www.mysticseaport.org/voyage/restoration/new-sails-for-an-old-ship/ Website accessed June 5, 2019.

Ouija, The Wonderful Talking Board– a Baltimore Original


Figure 1.   Metal game board spinner from the Aged Home for Colored Men and Women, Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the MAC Lab.

Winter is still upon us and what better way to spend a cold, dark evening than settled by the fire with a board game and a few friends?  Whenever I visit my 30-something nieces and nephews, we make sure to schedule time for a game night (which usually turns quite raucous as the evening progresses!).  Board and card game popularity has been on the rise over the last eight years, driven largely by millennials (Graham 2016).  It will come as no surprise to readers that this recent upsurge in interest is part of a long history of board games.

The period between the 1880s and the 1920s has been described as the “Golden Age” of board games in America (Hofer 2003).  Their popularity was enhanced by mass production, which made games inexpensive and easily available.  The game board spinner shown in Figure 1 was found among other artifacts from an 1870-1910 Methodist Episcopal retirement home for African American men and women. 

Not many people realize that Ouija, a board game still popular today, was invented in Baltimore in the late nineteenth century.  We’ve all come under its spell at one time or another – usually, I suspect, as young and impressionable children.  Who hasn’t fallen under the lure of a hushed candlelit room, a tingling spine and a table set with a Ouija board and its promise to put us in touch with the departed? 

Figure 2. The popularity of Ouija was celebrated on the cover of the
Saturday Evening Post in 1920.

The Ouija board was created by Elijah Bond, a Baltimore attorney, and produced by the Kennard Novelty Company.  Several years prior, spiritualists in the Midwest had begun using “talking boards” as a means to make communication with the deceased easier to understand (McRobbie 2013).  These talking boards were the precursors of the product Bond and his partners patented in 1891.  The Ouija board contains all the letters of the alphabet, numbers from 0 to 9, and the words “yes”, “no” and “goodbye”.  When players put their fingers on a small heart-shaped wooden or metal piece called a planchette, spiritual forces will guide them to letters and numbers spelling out a message from the beyond (Figure 3).  And Ouija was instantly popular: by 1892, the Kennard Novelty Company had gone from one factory to six: with two factories in Baltimore and the others in Chicago, New York and London. 

The invention of Ouija and its popularity can be attributed to the rise of belief in spiritualism in Victorian America and Britain (McRobbie 2013).  In America, this movement began in the late 1840s when the three Fox sisters convinced people of their ability to communicate with the deceased.  Adherents of Spiritualism believed such communication was possible and engaged in this activity through seances, automatic writing or gatherings where participants were seated around a table that would spin or shake through no apparent human intervention.  Some of the great intellectuals of the nineteenth century, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Dickens were believers in spiritualism.  Queen Victoria participated in seances after the 1861 death of her husband, Prince Albert, and was said to have received messages from him (Diniejko 2016).  Mary Todd Lincoln sought the assistance of spiritualists after the death of her son, William, in the early 1860s.

Figure 3. Players placed their fingers on the planchett and waited for spirits to guide it to spell out a message. Photo courtesy of Bettman/Corbis.

While the Spiritualism movement lost energy later in the nineteenth century as mediums were exposed as frauds, the popularity of Ouija board has waxed and waned over the years.  In times of economic uncertainty or turmoil, such as the years around World War I and during the Great Depression, the popularity of the Ouija surged.  Some people believed that the Ouija board was a bad influence and a court case was held in the 1920s to determine if it was a toy (Thorpe 2018). 

Unfortunately, no shaped wooden pieces that formed the earliest game planchets have been recovered to date from Baltimore archaeological sites, but it is surely just a matter of time before one is pulled from a privy or cellar.


Figure 4.  Elijah Bond’s Ouija-themed tombstone in Baltimore’s Green Mount cemetery. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/elijah-bond-s-ouija-board-grave.

Although Elijah Bond divested himself of his interest in the Kennard Novelty Company by 1893 (McRobbie 2013), Ouija boards continued to be made in Baltimore until 1966.  Bond died in 1921 and was buried in a grave whose location was lost over the years.  Ouija board collector and founder of The Talking Board Historical Society Robert Murch spearheaded an effort to relocate Bond’s unmarked grave in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery (Atlas Obscura 2019). Around 2007, Bond’s grave received a new and entirely appropriate head stone (Figure 4).

Interest in Ouija continues; in 2012 the Baltimore Museum of Industry held a temporary exhibit entitled “Let The Spirit Move You: Ouija, Baltimore’s Mystifying Oracle” and the Ouija board played a big role in the 2016 movie thriller Ouija, the Origin of Evil.

References

Atlas Obscura.  2019.  Elijah Bond’s Ouija Board Grave. Atlas Obscura. Website accessed February 26, 2019 at https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/elijah-bond-s-ouija-board-grave.

Diniejko, Andrzej.  2016.  Victorian Spiritualism.  The Victorian Web; literature, history & culture in the age of Victoria.  Website accessed February 27, 2019 at http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/religion/spirit.html.

Graham, Luke.  2016.  Millennials are Driving the Board Games Revival.  CNBC.  December 22, 2016.  at https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/22/millennials-the-board-games-revival-catan-pandemic.html. Hofer, Margaret.  2003.  The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games. New York:  Princeton Architectural Press.

McRobbie, Linda Rodriquez.  2013. The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board.  Smithsonian. com.  Website accessed February 27, 2019 at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-strange-and-mysterious-history-of-the-ouija-board-5860627/.

Thorpe, J. R.  2018.  The History of Ouija Boards, Where They Come From, & Why They’re So Freaking Creepy.  Bustle.com. Website accessed February 27, 2019 at https://www.bustle.com/p/the-history-of-ouija-boards-where-they-come-from-why-theyre-so-freaking-creepy-12279291.

Oblate Sisters of Providence: The First Order of African-American Nuns


This post was written by former MAC Lab volunteer Lauren Morrell.  Thank you, Lauren!

18CH216-Lot28

Front: Written in French, “O MARIE CONÇUE SANS PÉCHÉ PRIEZ POUR NOUS QUI AVONS RECOURS À VOUS” (Translation: O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee) around the Virgin Mary with rays emitting from her hands.
Back: 
Miraculous Medal motif showing the letter “M” with a cross over it, and under both are the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a crown of thorns, and the Sacred Heart of Mary pierced by a sword. Courtesy U.S. Army Garrison, Adelphi Laboratory Center.

This miraculous medal — a medallion that many Catholics believe was inspired by the Virgin Mary — was uncovered at Blossom Point farm in Charles County, Maryland (18CH216). The farm was part of St. Thomas Manor, which was patented in 1649 by Thomas Matthews and Father Thomas Copley, who were members of the Jesuit community. St. Thomas Manor has been owned by the Jesuits since then. The farm was rented to short-term tenants after the Civil War and this medal, which postdates 1832, was probably owned by one of the tenants.

Maryland has a long history with the Catholic religion. Founded in 1634 by Catholic Lord Baltimore, the colony became known as the cradle of Catholicity (Pyne 2008). The first Catholic church in the English Colonies was constructed in St. Mary’s City in 1667 (The Chapel of St Mary’s City, 2019). By the founding of the country, roughly ten percent of Maryland’s population were openly practicing Catholics, of which nearly 20 percent were slaves (Pyne 2008).

Baltimore has the distinction of being the birthplace of a Catholic religious institute that broke both racial and gender social norms. The Oblate Sisters of Providence were the first permanent community of Roman Catholic Sisters of African descent in the world; their mission is to “renounce the world to consecrate themselves to God and to Christian education of young girls of color” (Posey 1994). The title, Oblate Sisters of Providence, was given October 2, 1831, by Papal recognition as an official Catholic organization.

The community began in 1828 when Elizabeth Lange, a free woman of color, and Father James Nicholas Joubert, a white Frenchman, bonded over their shared French culture, Caribbean refugee status, devotion to the Catholic faith, and their commitment to providing education to black children (Morrow 1997).

Elizabeth Lange was born in the Caribbean around 1784.

lange-med_290_282

Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange

She immigrated to Baltimore in 1813, joining the growing community of free people of African descent. Baltimore, at the time, was the “free black capital” of 19th-century America, with a vibrant and involved community (Morrow 2000). Elizabeth saw a need to educate French- speaking children, so she and another Caribbean emigrant, Mary Balas, opened a school for children in their home (Morrow 2000). Continue reading

Several Centuries of Baltimore Bakeries


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Extract bottle found in a privy associated with early 19th -century Baltimore baker, Henry Dukehart.  Photo courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Most of us probably pick up a loaf of bread from the supermarket when we purchase our other weekly grocery supplies.  But before large commercial bakeries began to appear in the late 19th century, most baked goods were produced and sold from small family-run bakery shops (what we would probably call “artisanal” bakeries in today’s parlance).  Because they were smaller operations producing baked goods at a neighborhood scale, there were many commercial bakers spread throughout large urban areas.  The City of Baltimore boasted 48 bakeries in its 1803 business directory, a number that had risen to 94 in mid 1830s.  By that date, Baltimore was the second largest city in the United States.

From around 1780 to 1807, Henry Dukehart operated a small bakery from a building at 13 Baltimore Street that served as both his home and his business.  The main baking operations occurred in the street-front rowhouse, but the building’s rear yard was also a workspace.  Archaeological excavations in this yard found evidence of a paved work surface containing an ash-filled brick pit that may have been part of a small oven.  While too small to serve as the primary bake oven, it could have been used for drying flour or in the final drying and crisping process for hard breads like biscuits or zwieback (Weaver 1990).  Another possibility is that the pit was associated with a still for making fruit brandies or flavored extracts. Continue reading

The Non-Importation Movement


plate

Figure 1.  This reconstructed creamware  plate was recovered from the Dalrymple Privy at the Albemarle Row House site (18BC50) in Baltimore.   

Refined earthenware ceramics produced in the Staffordshire region of England are among the most ubiquitous artifacts recovered from late 18th- and 19th-century archaeological sites in Maryland.  The plate to the left, molded with a rim motif known as shell edge, was made of creamware, a type of ceramic first produced in the 1760s.   Thanks largely to the ingenious marketing savvy of its creator, Josiah Wedgwood, creamware was a huge commercial success in England, Europe and the American colonies (Towner 1978).

Creamware’s rise to popularity coincided with rising economic tensions between England and the thirteen American colonies.  To raise funds to support the defense of the American frontier, the British government passed in early 1765 The Stamp Act, a tax on printed materials like newspapers, legal documents, ship’s papers and more (Brugger1988).  American colonists viewed this act, which was passed without their consent, as an ominous precedent for future taxation.  Continue reading

Avoiding the Spread of the “Wasting” Disease


funnel two

Figure 1: Refined white earthenware funnel for a spitting cup. This funnel was recovered from a privy that was filled in the second quarter of the 19th century.

This odd little funnel is a recent addition to the collections at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (Figure 1).  It was discovered in the 1980s in a Baltimore privy (18BC66) filled in the second quarter of the 19th century.  The shape of the rim, measuring 4.00” in diameter, suggested that it was meant to fit over another vessel. I speculated that it might have been used in the kitchen for filling jars with foodstuffs like preserves.  But then I found a match for this vessel, paired with a mug, in a circa 1830s English pottery pattern book (Figure 2).  Since the funnel and mug were shown on the same page as a bedpan, I began to suspect the funnel had a different type of utilitarian function.  A quick call to English ceramic specialist George L. Miller suggested that it was a spitting cup.

machine adn potts

Figure 2.  Page from the Machin and Potts Waterloo Works pattern book that depicts a spitting cup.  The pattern book is undated, but probably dates to the second quarter of the 19th century.

Continue reading