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Ongoing Archaeology Projects

Many of you have been keeping up with the archaeological projects at Custis Square and at the site of the Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg on Nassau Street—but did you know that excavations are happening behind the scenes too? Each time Colonial Williamsburg’s historic landscape is modified, whether it’s to make way for infrastructure improvements or for the placement of a new interpretive experience, our archaeologists are working to ensure that archaeological resources are identified and preserved. This year, we’ll be conducting several small-scale excavations that will help us to understand parts of the historic area that have never been fully explored and will inform how we protect and interpret those resources in the future. The next time you visit Colonial Williamsburg, keep an eye out for archaeology in unexpected places and, in the meantime, take a sneak peek at some of our ongoing projects below!

Brickyard Survey Project

Beginning in early May 2021, archaeological excavation near the corner of Botetourt and Franklin Streets will explore the future site of Colonial Williamsburg’s brickyard operation. The work is expected to extend into mid-June.

The purpose of this project is to identify surviving archaeological deposits that should be avoided in establishing the new brickyard. Archaeologists will excavate 50cm by 50cm test units every 10 meters across the property, screening all soils and collecting artifacts to reveal past activities. Previous excavations indicate that this area was plowed and put under cultivation in the 19th century. This agricultural activity mixed and disturbed most of the near-surface soil layers. Deeper intrusions however, like building foundations or fencepost holes, are likely to have survived beneath the plowzone. If any large features such as these are uncovered in the small test units, we will expand the size of the unit to fully identify and record them.

The area that we will be excavating includes the backlots behind the Davenport House and the Willie Baker House. Both structures were built along Nicholson Street in the early 18th century and were occupied into the 19th century. Previous excavations in this vicinity identified 17th century (Middle Plantation) domestic use of the area, although no pre-1699 structure has been identified so far.

The Frenchman’s Map (1782) does not depict any late 18th century building foundations on these backlots, however buildings dating earlier or later may exist on the property. Early in the 20th century the James City County Training School, a segregated school for Williamsburg’s Black residents, occupied the area where the Carpenter’s yard now stands. Our excavations will likely encounter evidence of the Training School (demolished in 1940) and other associated activities tied to the Botetourt Street corridor. Like earlier archaeological deposits, these will be recorded and preserved where appropriate

Randolph Stable Project

From early May through mid-July archaeologists will be excavating next to North England Street just north of the intersection with Scotland Street. The purpose of this excavation is to locate any surviving archaeological evidence for a large structure depicted in this area on the Frenchman’s Map.

This building may have served as the stable associated with Peyton Randolph’s estate in Williamsburg. Goals for the current excavation are to determine the size and location of the building, and to learn more about its use. To this end, we will be surveying the area with ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and excavating square test units in search of undisturbed historic deposits and features.

Evidence that the structure is the Randolph Stable comes from both documentary and archaeological sources. In 1783, a year after the Frenchman’s Map was drawn, the late Peyton Randolph’s property, including a stable with enough room for 12 horses and 2 carriages, was sold at auction. Significant archaeological excavations have taken place across much of Peyton Randolph’s property but to date, no stable has been identified. In the 1930s, trenches excavated along the edges of North England Street found tantalizing hints of structural foundations, but no photographs or detailed field notes were recorded. The upcoming project will involve re-excavating this area to examine these deposits more closely. At the same time, we will take advantage of the re-paving of North England Street to excavate beneath the asphalt for the first time. Since the majority of the structure lies within the bounds of the modern roadbed, we hope to discover never-before-seen evidence of the building that stood in this area in 1782.

Other Archaeology Projects

Custis Square

Our archaeologists are in the middle of a 5-year exploration of Custis Square, the 4-acre pasture across from the Art Museums where the 18th-century home and gardens of John Custis IV once stood. Learn more.

First Baptist Church

Colonial Williamsburg archaeologists are also excavating the site of First Baptist Church, one of America’s oldest churches founded entirely by Blacks, under the guidance of the congregation. Learn more.

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