BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (AP) - An excavation is subtly shifting the story of colonial Brunswick Town, on the west bank of the Cape Fear River.
For the fifth summer in a row, East Carolina’s Archaeology Field School is working at Brunswick Town-Fort Anderson State Historic Site, off N.C. 133 between Wilmington and Southport.
In past summers, student archaeologists have dug at the old waterfront, in the vicinity of colonial merchant William Dry’s wharf, and have uncovered a bakery oven, said site manager Jim McKee.
This summer, however, the school is unearthing a probable tavern.
“We’ve uncovered a lot of bottle glass, pipe bulbs and stems, a lot of drinking vessels and stoneware — the kind of stuff you’d find at a tavern,” said Charles R. Ewen, an ECU professor of anthropology and supervisor for the project.
Dating the 15-by-25 foot structure has proved elusive, Ewen said, but he guesses it could have been active from the 1740s to the 1760s.
The tavern is a bit of a surprise, McKee noted, since it does not appear on Claude Joseph Sauthier’s 1769 map of Brunswick Town. Ewen speculates that it might have burned down before the map was drawn. An Irish halfpenny, dated 1766, found at the tavern site, might suggest how late the building was there.
The tavern is rather unusual in other ways. Unlike most buildings in the town, its short side faces the street while its long side faces the river, McKee said.
Also, the foundations are built of brick — unlike almost every other structure in Brunswick Town, where foundations were built of ballast stone.
Ewen, who has been working at Brunswick Town since his days as a graduate student, guesses the bricks might have come from one or two nearby local brickworks, or they might have been shipped to the site as ship ballast. Chemical tests should provide clues on where the bricks originated, he added.
The volunteers — two graduate students and 10 undergraduates — have been working on the site since May 16 and will likely wind up the dig this month. Among a horde of artifacts, they have found lots of nails, shards of Delft china, the winding key and glass from a pocket watch and a pair of cufflinks, Ewen said.
When the dig is finished, the crew will re-cover the site with plastic and dirt, since the bricks, softer than modern ones, probably couldn’t survive long exposure to the weather, Ewen said. Signage, however, will mark the site.
Settled by South Carolina planter Maurice Moore in 1726, Brunswick became port of entry for Southeastern North Carolina and prospered during the colonial era as a shipping point for “naval stores” (tar, pitch and turpentine). The newly discovered tavern sits near a building noted on maps as “Nat Moore’s front.” In the 1760s, “front” often meant a store. Nathaniel Moore was a brother of Maurice Moore and of Roger Moore, the founder of Orton Plantation.
Brunswick Town was burned by British soldiers in 1776, and traditional interpretations claim it died off soon afterward. Now, however, scholars believe the site remained active well into the 1820s, McKee said.
“Oh, the ‘important’ people may have moved to Wilmington, but laborers remained here, many of them slaves,” Ewen said. “We’d like to know more about them.”
Only about 25 percent of Brunswick Town has been excavated, Ewen said, including most of what might be called the commercial district.
“We don’t know everything about Brunswick Town,” he said. “This building wasn’t even on the map. What else of importance was gone by the time Sauthier got here?”
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