Archeology Dig at Watt House Uncovers the Past
Sarah Jordan, Sarah Boles and Maggie Tyler, under contract with Sweet Briar College, began digging up the lawns around the Watt House early in June. They have been searching for out-buildings that were part of the Civil War-era Watt Farm. When Ms. Tyler was interviewed at the beginning of June, she had just started to uncover the remains of a root cellar which had been filled in with trash from the main house and outbuildings. Tyler said that trash heaps are some of the best resources to find because they can give an archeologist a more complex picture of life on the site. Tyler pointed out pieces from a chamber pot and shards of an unglazed dish, as well as glass, colored cobalt blue and green.
The "two Sarahs", as they are referred to around Richmond National Battlefield Park, have been busy in an area closer to the Watt House. So far they have found brick foundations for some outbuildings, but have been unable to determine what those buildings were used for. Because of a dearth of artifacts, further research will hopefully determine their purposes.
A previous archeological dig conducted in the fall of 1999 found evidence of a structure 100 yards from the main house that is most likely one of the Watt barns. Tyler, Jordan and Boles will follow up to determine if it is a Civil War-era building. The archeologists are also looking for the site of the plantation orchard. The orchard is featured in many soldiers' descriptions of the battle, and its discovery will help determine precise troop movements essential to interpreting the battle story.
To begin their investigations, the archeologists relied on a geophysical survey conducted by Dr. Bruce Bevan in fall 1999 using ground penetrating radar. His report helped the team focus on areas that had the greatest archeological potential. The archeologists also used maps from the recently completed Gaines' Mill Battlefield Cultural Landscape Report that identified the probable locations of many of the site's important cultural resources. Tyler used these maps in her search for the Watt slave quarters. There have been many shovel tests to try to find those quarters, but to date no evidence of their location has been found. There were at least three buildings associated with the Watt slaves, one for the house servants and two for field hands. Finding these buildings will assist the Park in telling a more complete story of the site's inhabitants.
The archeological contract has been extended several weeks into mid-September to continue the investigation around the house and the search for the elusive slave cabins and orchard. If you are interested in more information on the Watt House findings please call Assistant Superintendent David Ruth at (804)226-1981.