Maryland’s Shipbuilding Past – the Steward Shipyard Dogshore

The Stephen Steward Shipyard (18AN817), located on the West River in Anne Arundel County, is one of state’s best-documented and preserved eighteenth-century shipyards.  Steward’s thriving enterprise was both large and complex, including workshops and storage buildings, as well as housing for the free craftsmen and laborers, indentured servants and slaves employed there.  During the second half of the century, Steward and his workers constructed seagoing vessels ranging from 20 to 270 tons for both the transatlantic and Caribbean trades.

The MAC Lab’s Chief Conservator Nichole Doub takes measurements of the Steward Shipyard dogshore.

The MAC Lab’s Chief Conservator Nichole Doub takes measurements of the Steward Shipyard dogshore.

Archaeological excavations conducted at the site in the 1990s revealed this impressive artifact – a dog-shore.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines dog-shore as “each of two blocks of timber used to prevent a ship from starting off the slips while the keel-blocks are being removed in preparation for launching”.  This dog-shore, fashioned from a branching tree trunk, is an ideal object to represent the shipbuilding industry in our state.

Thomas Paine perhaps most clearly stated the importance of our nation’s shipbuilding industry in Common Sense (1776):  “Shipbuilding is America’s greatest pride and in which she will, in time, excel the whole world” (Paine 2008:53).  Because they benefited from the colony’s ability to produce seaworthy craft, shipbuilding was the one colonial industry that England did not attempt to regulate (O’Neill 2010).  Building and owning ships was also appealing to American colonists, not only for the economic benefits of the industry, but also because it provided American merchants with greater commercial independence from the British.  In the Chesapeake, ships were important for transporting the region’s primary crop—tobacco—to Europe. Continue reading

Erin Go Bragh! “Home Rule” Tobacco Pipes and Ireland’s Struggle for Independence (from March 2013 Curator’s Choice)

The following article is part of JPPM’s ‘Curator’s Choice’ series.

During the mid-19th century, Irish immigrants flocked to  America to escape the Great Irish Potato Famine (Figure 1).  The famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1852,  was brought on by potato blight, a disease that devastated the potato harvests  across Europe.  In Ireland, where  approximately one third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato  for food, the famine reduced the population by almost two million, many of whom  immigrated to the United States (Irish Potato Famine 2012). Continue reading

Poplar Forest Artifacts

Recently, artifacts from Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation near Lynchburg, Virginia, have arrived at the MAC Lab. One of two homes that Jefferson designed and created for his own use, Poplar Forest has been designated a National Historic Landmark and the plantation house is operated as a historic house museum. Archaeological excavations on the property continue every year and the artifacts being treated by lab conservators are just a tiny sample of what archaeologists are discovering as they continue to provide information for the restoration of the rest of the plantation’s property.

Treating metal artifacts with tannic acid

Biscayne Figurines in Conservation

Between 1765 and 1770, a 70 foot New England ship carrying a large cargo of British ceramics sank in what is now Biscayne National Park in Florida. Conservator Cait Shaffer has been treating several coral covered ceramic figurines from the ship, nicknamed the English China wreck, using chemical cleaning techniques as well as a sonic descaler (the same instrument your dentist may use to clean your teeth). Cait has made a fantastic time-lapse photography presentation showing the removal of the encrustations from one of the figurines, and you can see it by clicking here.

2 of the Biscayne Figurines:

Presidio La Bahia Update

Our new conservator, Virginie, is working hard treating artifacts from Presidio La Bahia in Texas. A Spanish frontier fort, Presidio La Bahia (“Fort on the Bay”) saw six National Revolutions for independence and is the most fought over fort in Texas history. Previously, conservators at the MAC Lab treated several copper alloy kettles from the Presidio, and Virginie is now working on more “everyday” artifacts from the fort, including eating utensils and gun parts.

Removing dirt and corrosion from a pistol butt plate

Close up of butt plate

Just a sampling of the many objects from the Presidio (before treatment)

Mending Tin Glaze Vessel for Exhibit

Curators not only have the responsibility of organizing and properly storing artifacts, they also often select objects for exhibit. And if the objects destined for display need cleaning or mending – well, sure, they can do that too. Curator Erin Wingfield is currently cleaning and mending a tin-glazed earthenware chamber pot to go on exhibit at The Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site, a property occupied by the Todd family from the late 17th century through the 1970’s. The chamber pot dates from the late 17th – to early 18th – century occupation of the site. Tin-glaze is both white and opaque, and Europeans from the 16th to the 18th centuries found that this glaze made a great base for decorating with colors such as blue, green, brown, purplish brown, and yellow.

Erin preparing the vessel for mending

Cobalt decorated tin-glazed earthenware

Conservation of Smith’s St. Leonard Artifacts

Various metal objects from the cellar feature of the Smith’s St. Leonard site are being treated in the conservation department of the MAC Lab. Among them are buttons, thimbles, spoons, buckles, hinge parts, and a piece of a furniture escutcheon (a plate or flange that protects the wood of the furniture from being struck by the handle). There are also a couple of unknown objects, the cleaning and conservation of which may help archaeologists identify them. In addition to the metal objects being treated, conservators have also begun working on the portion of a foldable fan discovered in the cellar. The ivory fan “sticks” (the part of the fan that would be held in your hand) will be cleaned, and the copper alloy “rivet” (the piece that fastens the sticks together) will be treated to stabilize the metal.

One of the unidentified metal artifacts

Archaeologist delicately removing remains of the fan from the cellar feature