New York State Office of Parks, Recreation
and Historic Preservation
Archeology Unit, Bureau of Historic Sites
Peebles Island, Waterford, N.Y.
Test units also were excavated further to explore areas near the east wall of the
Hall in advance of planning for new handicapped access into the basement of the
building. These tests revealed many modern disturbances but also yielded
information about methods used in the past to deal with drainage problems.
The most exciting finds generated by this project were:
As part of this project, as is customary, the Archeology Unit interpreted their
work to the public on a daily basis. In addition, a special Archeology Day was held
at the site during which numerous guests, both invited and uninvited, examined the
artifacts that had been found and learned of the results of the project.
The foundation wall in Unit 24 was dry-laid and was partially interrupted by a
20th-century utility trench. However, enough of it remained to suggest it once was 2
feet wide. Unlike the foundation wall in Unit 30, however, this area had not been
newly disturbed in the 19th century. The soil placed over this wall once it was torn
down dated between 1775 and 1790 (Cat.#1614). This means the structure existed
prior to that or during Johnson's Era.
The foundation wall in Unit 30 was constructed of large boulders, the usual
method employed during Johnson's time. The wall had been built by digging down
into the pre-Hall soil layer (Cat.#1676); thus, it was constructed at the time the Hall
was built or slightly thereafter. Unfortunately, when it was torn down is less clear.
The soil over the wall dated to the second half of the 19th century (Cat.#1675) due to
a different disturbance created at that time period in the same location.
Drawings of the layout of Fort Johnson clearly show smaller buildings in front of
each of the two larger flankers off the main house. Archeology at Johnson Hall in
the 1950s revealed a similar small building situated in front of and to the side of the
west stone flanker. It is very plausible to interpret the newly found walls in front of
the east stone flanker at Johnson Hall as evidence of a small, previously unsuspected
building once located there. This would be consistent with the 18th-century sense of
Georgian symmetry and with Johnson's ideas about spatial layout. The problem with
this interpretation is that while the newly discovered structure would only be 10 feet
wide, its "match" to the west measured 16 feet wide. However, the locations of each
in relation to the flankers and the Hall are almost identical, lending support to the
theory; the structure found in the 1950s (and interpreted by the author as Johnson's
study) was located 38 feet from the Hall and 17 feet from the west flanker. The
newly found structure would have been located 40 feet from the Hall and 17 feet
from the east flanker. This seems not to be a coincidence. Perhaps the structures
were different sizes, or perhaps the one discovered in the 1950s actually was smaller
since its size was determined only later by analyzing and scaling from photographs
of the excavations, always a dubious process.
At Fort Johnson, smaller structures located in front of the flankers are judged to have been about 14 feet wide, based on conceptual drawings done by the firm of Mendel, Mesick, Cohen Architects (1978: 43). No judgment of length is possible since the information is based on the two-dimensional Guy Johnson drawing. This 14-foot measurement is not greatly different from the suggested 10-foot and 16-foot measurements for two such structures at Johnson Hall.
Contrary to what some historians have written, Johnson Hall is not much larger
than Fort Johnson in size. The Hall measures 55.5 feet by 38 feet while the Fort is
60 feet by 33 feet, a difference of only about 110 square feet larger for the Hall. The
east and west flankers at Johnson Hall are slightly larger than the dimensions given
by Sir John Johnson for the Fort's flankers(Hall: 36 feet by 22.5 feet; Fort: 30 feet by
18 feet). Johnson's consistency in the size of the buildings suggests that the spatial
layout at the Hall probably closely mimicked that of the Fort. A second small
structure may have existed in front of the flanker on the east side that mirrored the
one known to have existed to the west, and the walls discovered archeologically in
Units 24 and 20 may be remains of that structure.
The piece of wall found in Unit 20 had been disturbed by a 20th-century utility
line, but enough of it remained to determine that it had wall trenches on each side.
The material in the wall trenches (Cat.#1556) definitely dated its construction to the
18th century. An 18th-century ground surface was already in existence when the
wall was built (Cat.#1557, 1558), and soils dating to ca. 1790-1850 (Cat.#1555)
were over the top of the wall trench on the downhill side. All of this evidence
suggests the passageway dates probably to the last quarter of the 18th century and
was torn down ca. 1800. It may have been built during Sir William Johnson's time,
but the evidence is stronger that it was built after ca. 1774.
More of this feature was found in Unit 4. One section was found in the east
extension of Unit 4 where it had been cut through by the later east wing wall. But on
the west side of this east wing wall interruption, the feature was found to continue
toward the Hall. The wall was discovered here when the excavators broke through
the cement floor of the east wing interior; the wall was intact under the floor! This,
of course, dates the feature to earlier than the pouring of the cement floor and
probably earlier than the construction of the east wing. The feature wall was found
to have been constructed working from the south side so that its north side was less
well finished. A 1-inch wall trench existed on the north side but it contained only an
oyster shell. More conclusive was the dating of the ground surfaces that would have
been inside the passageway/corridor/- building. These ground surfaces would have
been sealed off by flooring inside the structure and the sequences of strata were as
follows: a post-1777 stratum (Cat.#1572/3-hand-painted pearlware present) over
Johnson-era strata (Cat.#1563) over a pre-Hall layer (Cat.#1575). All of this
evidence suggests a 12-foot wide passageway was created by the construction of a
wall about 40 feet long from the southeast corner of the stone flanker to the Hall. A
wood board was found lying just outside the section of the wall in Unit 20,
suggesting the possibility that the passageway was constructed of wooden walls set
on a stone foundation.
The east side of the east wing wall was uncovered in Unit 25. Here it was found
to have been built from a layer dating ca. 1790 to ca. 1850 (Cat.#1617), or before the
1866 fire. The wall trench was dug down into earlier Johnson-era layers (Cat.#1618).
Occupation strata dating to the entire years of the 19th century and early 20th century
had built up next to the structure (Cat.#1614/15, 1613). The 1790s-1850 layers were
found to include both the construction of the wing and attempts to landscape the area
around the building by the addition of fill to level the hillside. Evidence of the
blockhouse fire was found in strata dating to the second half of the 19th century
(Cat.#1615). The top of this stratum contained occupation artifacts, but the rest of it
consisted of plaster, charcoal, cobbles, rock chips, and mortar, all debris from the
demolition of the flanker nearby.
The east wing wall portion found in Unit 20 connected directly to one found in
the next unit, Unit 4. Here, the east wing wall cut through the earlier dry-laid
passageway wall described above as being 12-feet wide. The east wing wall passed
directly through this passageway wall and continued to the south. Its extent to the
south was determined by the section of wall uncovered in Units 3 and 3A. Here a
large block of stone was found that probably was the corner stone, as the rest of the
east wing wall continued west from here. The wall trench was unclear here; the
excavators chose not to remove some large rock that was buttressing the foundation
corner just to find the wall trench. But it appeared to be filled with soils dating to the
first half of the 19th century (Cat.#1410, 1415), the same soil layer that built up
around the wall immediately after its construction. Also found in Units 3 and 3A
were less-well-built foundations for the large porch that was south of the east wing.
These foundations rested on subsoil (not intrusive as was the wall) and abutted the
wing wall foundations. They were of smaller stone and had moved slightly downhill
from the pressure of the soil. The porch footers were about 18 inches wide.
The section of the east wing wall found in the sewer trench dug in 1980 was
aligned with that found in Test 3, thereby confirming the identification of the wall in
Finally, despite the numerous disturbances encountered in Trench 2, a small piece
of the east wing wall was found there. It also was aligned with that in Unit 1-80 and
In some of these units, the cement floor of the east wing was encountered on the
north side of the wall. During monitoring for the removal of the gas tank (1989), a
brick floor was found under the cement floor. The brick floor probably was installed
when the wing was built ca. 1800.
Unexplained is a single rubble wall found in Unit 4 running at a right angle to the
12-foot wide passageway wall. This wall, too, was found under the cement floor of
the east wing, thus dating it earlier than the floor. The wall trench for this rubble
wall, however, contained artifacts which date the wall to after 1790 (Cat.#1570), the
same date as the east wing wall. It is possible that this small wall represents an early
partition wall inside the ca. 1800 wing that later was removed and covered over when
the cement floor was installed. However, the soil layers built up next to this rubble
wall dated earlier than ca. 1790 (Cat.#1572/73/74), suggesting the rubble wall was in
If this rubble wall was earlier than either the east wing or the 12-foot wide
passageway, it would date to Johnson's Era. Excavators in the field thought the 12-
foot wide passageway wall cut through this rubble wall, meaning the rubble wall
already was in existence, and they thought the method used to build the rubble wall
would indicate it was earlier. If so, then the wall trench of the rubble wall was
compromised when the east wing wall was built. This is possible if the builders
decided to reuse this old wall as part of the new wing or even if they accidentally
disturbed the existing wall trench during construction. If the rubble wall is earlier, it
may represent a passageway installed by Johnson himself between the flanker and
the Hall. The rubble wall runs parallel with the wall of the Hall and at right angles to
the flanker, suggesting a passage that was about 10 feet wide and 30 feet long.
Unfortunately, the east wing wall construction and the oil tank installation destroyed
remaining pieces of the rubble wall to the north.
The faunal collection from this area of the site was analyzed in 1994, thus
informing the discussion of the types of foods consumed by the 18th-century
occupants. The conclusion is that Johnson and his family ate like Englishmen,
despite their location on the frontier. Although wild game is represented in the
assemblage, the overwhelming number of food bones are from domestic animals
such as cow, pig, and sheep. The faunal collection from the Hall was compared to
that excavated at Schoharie Crossing (Fort Hunter), and the contrast is striking. The
occupants of Fort Hunter, also located on that same frontier, were utilizing much
wild game and only a few domestic animals. Johnson's wealth obviously made the
difference. He could afford to obtain and maintain the animals needed to provide the
food he preferred.
Excavating in the area between the Hall and the east flanker proved highly
challenging and rewarding. Because of the many activities that had taken place over
time, many layers had accumulated, and many trenches had intruded into earlier
occupation layers resulting in extremely complicated statigraphy that had to be
carefully sorted out and analyzed. The results, however, although fragmentary, were
very satisfactory. New information about structures that once occupied this area and
the activities associated with them was gained. The sections which follow describe
these finds in more detail.
With the completion of these units, the proposed route between Hall avenue and
the Caretaker's House for the gasline installation was declared to pose no threat to
archeological resources. The actual installation of the line was monitored by
archeologists; no new features were found. The gasline between the Caretaker's
House and the east flanker has not yet been installed although that route also was
declared in 1993 to have no impact on archeological resources.
Unit GL1-91 was the 2-foot by 8-foot trench excavated just north of Unit S1-86
(see map). In 1986, while monitoring the installation of a new sewer line, the
archeologists discovered a buried wall under the driveway to the Caretaker's House.
They just had time to record the location of the wall and take a small sample of
artifacts associated with it before the pipe was installed. Therefore, in 1991, Unit 1
was positioned so as to examine the wall without intercepting the sewer line trench
backfill. Unfortunately, only the remains of the base of the wall was found. It was at
a depth of about 4 feet below the present ground surface. The upper section of the
wall apparently had been dismantled when the Caretaker's House was constructed in
1916. Two layers excavated immediately northeast of the wall base contained
remnants of the interior floor of the structure. Pieces of board were found as well as
machine-cut nails, brick, and coal. These artifacts date the use and abandonment of
the structure to the late 19th/early 20th centuries. The wall trench was located for the
wall but was devoid of artifacts that would help determine its construction date.
Therefore, the identify and initial construction date of the structure remain elusive. It
is likely that the remainder of the wall toward the Caretaker's House also was
destroyed in 1916; the section under today's driveway was spared. Excavations
ceased in Unit GL1-91 at about 5 feet below present ground surface when subsoil
was reached under the interior floor of the structure.
From the Caretaker's House southwest to Hall avenue, Units GL3 through 10
contained soils mixed by plowing. The artifacts were a collection of 18th-, 19th-, and
20th-century materials, suggesting the plowing occurred in the early 20th century.
Indeed, in the records of the Johnstown Historical Society are entries for ground
preparation and plowing in the 1920s. The same soil conditions were found in Unit
11; however, a great many more artifacts were found in these soils. Because this had
not been the previous pattern, additional excavation units were placed around Unit 11
(Units 11A, 13, and 14) to explore this unusual occurrence. The result was a
collection including 116 creamware fragments alone! The Distribution Map for
creamware shows the area around Unit 11 was a "hot spot" for artifacts. The records
and inventories from other units excavated previously in the immediate vicinity (P3
and 9-75; S13-80) reveal that this pattern did not continue beyond the vicinity of
Unit 11. Subsoil near Unit 11 was found at a depth of about 18 inches below ground
surface; subsoil in the other units in the area was at about 12 inches. This suggests a
shallow depression in the environs of Unit 11, a linear depression about 25 feet long.
Artifact-bearing soil could have been deposited here to fill the depression. It is
possible the shallow depression developed above a much deeper feature, perhaps
even a wall. However, no wall was found when the gas pipe installation was
monitored. More excavations to the "south" of Units 11, 10, and 13 might be
With reference to the Distribution Map for creamware, it is clear that two activity
areas appear between GL18-91 and GL12-91. One is the previously-discussed area
around Unit 11; the other is around GL7-91. As shown on the map, Unit GL7 was
expanded by the excavator because of the types and numbers of artifacts that were
found and because another nearby unit, S9-80, dug previously, had exposed a large
boulder feature that seemed to date to the 18th century. The boulder feature was
devoid of artifacts when it was excavated in 1980 so that its function could not be
determined although it is thought to have been the base of a garden feature. Despite
the unusually large number of artifacts in GL-7, the plowing mixed them so that it
was not possible to relate this collection to the stone feature found in 1980.
The two "hot spots" described above were identified by totaling the numbers of
creamware fragments near Unit 11, the 19th-century whitewares both there and near
Unit 7, and the utilitarian wares in both locations. Pearlwares also were relatively
numerous in the two places. Thus, although the creamwares suggest an 18th-century
feature near Unit 11, the other artifacts suggest 19th-century activities in both
locations, specifically activities having to do with food storage and/or food
preparation. The nails, both 18th-century hand-wrought and 19th-century machine-
cut types, were few in number, but their very presence suggests the possibility of
structures. More archeological exploration of both areas is suggested.
GL units 16, 17, 18, and 21 revealed no new information and relatively few
artifacts. Once the excavators reached the area north of GL18, however, the strata
became complicated, features were found, and large numbers of artifacts were
The following strata were identified as those dating from before the Hall was
|25-92||1621||board, wood posts, wood chips|
|20-91||1559/60||land clearing, few artifacts|
|30-93||1676/77||lower part of Stratum D|
|4-92||1574-76||around rubble wall|
|24-92||1642/43||wood, wood ash; underlies e-w wall|
|29-93||1671||ash, charcoal, burned & unburned wood|
|19-91||NA||not dug to this level|
|28-93||1664||burned soil, wood, no artifacts|
|Balk||1695/96||thin layer over pit; pit fill|
|23-92||1623/24||layer over pit; pit fill: ash, shell, bone|
|26-92||1636||ash deposit continues; no shell, no bone|
|27-93||1687||limit of ash deposit|
The layer was assigned its early date (ca. 1754 to ca. 1763) because it lacked
creamware and because it characteristically contained heavy amounts of charcoal.
The American elite ordered their tableware directly from London and were eager to
have the latest fashion available. Therefore, creamware, a ceramic type introduced
by ceramicist Josiah Wedgwood about 1762, quickly appeared on American sites, at
least those associated with the wealthy. Martin(1994) recently has studied the
appearance of creamware in the Chesapeake, both in retail store records and in
archeological sites. She discovered that such wares did not become available to
"middling folks" until the late 1760s and became popular with them by the early
1770s. However, she is careful to point to shipments of creamware that did reach
America earlier (1994: 177-178). Partly because such wares were used by the elite,
the middle class wished to emulate their "betters," and they purchased creamware
once it became less expensive and available through retail stores. It is likely that
Johnson had access to goods such as creamware almost as soon as they became
available. Thus, using the absence of creamware as a dating tool for occupations
prior to 1763 is justified for this elite site.
The great amounts of charcoal found also lend support to the dating of this early
layer. Clearing the estate for planting and for building the Hall complex would have
required burning off the brush and trees already present in this partial wilderness.
Archeologists working at Johnson Hall have been looking for evidence of this
ground preparation for some time; this is the first evidence of such a layer on the site.
At the south end of the gasline trench, traces of this early layer (Cat.#1687) were
uncovered in Unit 27. The deposit probably once continued farther south but had
been removed or disturbed in the late 18th century. From there "north," however, the
layer was found to be continuous except where interrupted by modern utility trenches
in Units 24 and 30.
At the south end of the pre-Hall deposit, excavators found that the soil layer
began as a small mound; the bottom of the layer in Unit 27 then abruptly dropped
down and undulated across the hillside where it rose again against a cluster of rocks
in Unit 28 (Cat.#1664). All of this soil contained patches, streaks, and thick deposits
of wood ash, sometimes an almost pure gray-white deposit and sometimes with
much charcoal and burned bark, perhaps even wooden boards (Cat.#1624 in Unit 23)
mixed in. Between the south edge of Unit 23 and the rocks in Unit 28, the
depression was thicker and filled with burned boards and charcoal chunks
(Cat.#1624, 1690, 1664) as well as 18th-century artifacts. A pile of rocks surrounded
the deposit at each end; soils dating to Johnson's period were found over the top.
More wood was found in Unit 28, but a lesser amount than in Unit 23. A large
sample of charcoal was collected.
Also collected were over 72 mammal bones, most of which were calcined, that is,
burned white from cooking fires. These bones were submitted for analysis, along
with many others from 18th-century layers at Johnson Hall. Only three of those
found here were identifiable, and they all were pig mandibles. The pigs were
estimated to be about 2.5 years old when slaughtered (Rick 1995: Appendix A).
Landon has compared faunal assemblages from both urban and rural areas. He found
that most animals were slaughtered before they were fully grown. This was
especially true of pigs which were raised only for food. None of the faunal
assemblages he studied contained evidence of pigs older than 30 months, suggesting
that pigs were always killed at or before this age (Landon 1995: 96-97). The
Johnson Hall sample reinforces Landon's hypothesis.
Two porcelain fragments were found, one a hand-painted blue and white cup with
a hatched design around the interior. The other is a plain body sherd. Construction
debris included 3 hand-wrought nails, 22 red brick fragments, 10 lime mortar
fragments, and 4 white claypipe stems. The measurable bores of the pipe stems are
4/64 inch diameter, a common mid-18th-century size.
Thus, the 72 fragments of bone greatly outnumbered any domestic artifacts, and
this, together with the ash, charcoal, and wood, suggest that the depression was filled
with the debris from cooking fires, perhaps from food consumed during one of the
Indian conferences conducted at the site of "Castle Cumberland" before the Hall was
To the north of the small rock pile that formed the north end of the depression, the
early ground surface dipped down in Unit 29 and again in 24 (Cat.#1671, 1643).
Unit 19, excavated in 1991, early in the survey work, was not continued deep enough
to encounter this early layer. Later, it was deemed not efficient to return to that
excavation as originally planned. Then in Unit 29, it thickened until a deep pipe
trench located in Unit 24 interrupted it. Here, also, a wall, discussed earlier, had
intruded down into this early layer. The pre-Hall layer continued again in Unit 24
beyond the pipe trench disturbance. In Unit 30, the deposit (Cat.#1676/77) thickened
considerably to the east and was intruded into by another wall, the base of which
remained. This wall runs parallel with the section found in Unit 24. Beyond the
wall, in Unit 20, the early soil layer (Cat.#1559/60) rose and flattened before being
interrupted by the 1960s excavations for the rebuilt blockhouse.
In Unit 25, excavated uphill from the gas line route, the pre-Hall layer
(Cat.#1621) lay over a red-colored, burned clay subsoil layer (Cat.#1622). This
redness was due to the burning off of brush and trees prior to the building of the Hall.
The early occupation above this reddened subsoil was a very dark gray brown silty
loam with charcoal and gray ash. It was located about 5 feet below present-day
ground surface. Found in the soil layer were a burned carbonized board and wood
chips as well as fragments of what probably were three posts. One post was next to a
rodent burrow, but wood found inside this void showed that the rodent had reused
the postmold for the first 14 inches of its burrow. The other posts were found lying
on their sides but not near postmolds. Large chunks of charcoal were present in the
layer as well as a thin lens of yellow-brown sand which overlaid two of the post
sections. The posts were not large enough to have been stockade posts. They had
been left there by Johnson's people as evidence of a now-unknown activity. The only
postmold found was disturbed by the rodent activity.
The soils that comprise this early deposit in all units ranged from yellow-brown
clay to red-brown sand and were mixed with burned soil, charcoal, wood, and gray-
white wood ash. Over 600 artifacts were recovered in addition to the samples of
charcoal. A sample of the soil was chosen from Unit 30 for flotation. Flotation is a
technique for passing soil through fine screens, using a stream of water. This often
results in the recovery of small items that pass through the normal-sized screens.
The purpose of the flotation was to determine if types of materials would be found
that are different from those represented in the general population of artifacts
collected using the usual excavation methodology. Because only more examples of
the already-known and recovered types of material were recovered (of eggshell, fish
bones, seeds, and white claypipe fragments), no further flotation, which is extremely
time-consuming, was undertaken.
The many fragments of bone recovered from the early layers other than those
found in the depression in Unit 23 also were analyzed by a zooarcheologist (Rick
1995). The bones were identified as pig, cow, sheep/goat, duck, chicken, fish (either
salmon, trout or whitefish), and unidentified bird, hoofed animals, mammals, and
fish. The most common find was cow. Most of the bones from this early layer were
domesticated fauna; the people at the site were well supplied with food and were not
forced to go in search of it. Indeed, Johnson already had his garden established here
by 1760 (Day 1909: 105) under the supervision of Thomas Flood so that food was
being supplied from this source as well. Traces of wild game were found in other
layers on the site (for example, passenger pigeon, deer, turtle), but there as well as
here the majority of the faunal remains were from domesticated animals. Even in
what seemed to be a wilderness, the English gentleman maintained his beef diet.
Other artifacts found in this early deposit also were food-related. They included
eggshells, dark green wine bottle glass, porcelain teawares, white salt-glazed
stoneware and delft tableware. Trade items included white and purple wampum
beads, a mirror fragment, a gunflint chip, white glass seed beads, and almost 40
whiteclay tobacco pipe fragments, some marked with the Robert Tippet mark. The
Tippet family were English pipe makers in business from the last quarter of the 17th
century until ca. 1720. Pipes bearing their mark continued to appear on sites after
1720, although they were not necessarily manufactured by the Tippet family. Dates
of manufacture from 1740 to 1780 for these have been suggested, based on examples
at Fort Michilimackinac (Stone 1974: 404). The marks on the Johnson Hall
examples from this early layer were RT, RT surrounded by the watch-wheel
decoration, and R/TIP/PET in a circular cartouche with rays extending from the
edges. The one complete bowl, marked RT inside the cartouche, was heel-less.
Heel-less pipes were made during the 18th century in Bristol specifically for the
American trade; such pipe bowls are rarely found in Europe. The pipe form that was
used by Indians when the Europeans arrived did not have a heel; therefore, in order
to provide their customers with what they preferred, European pipe makers started
making heel-less trade pipes. The other pipes in this Johnson Hall collection
probably also were of that type. One pipe fragment found in Unit 25 (Cat.#1621)
was a split stem which had not been successfully pierced through during
manufacture. A piece of fired clay still blocked the smoking hole, rending it
unsmokable. The stem probably was broken in an attempt to remedy the problem.
Several small artifacts were found in this early layer. Tableware included
fragments of dark green wine bottle and one chip of very dark yellow creamware.
The creamware piece was very small (less than . inch) and does not by itself negate the dating of
this layer to before the Hall was built. The heavy charcoal and ash is so
characteristic of this pre-1763 soil deposit that the one tiny fragment of creamware
was disregarded for dating purposes and is considered intrusive.
Also included in the collection are 41 fragments of medicine bottle, all probably
part of one vessel. The glass is a blue-green color with hand-blown stretch marks
showing in the glass. One neck piece is included with a flat lip and a diameter of 1.
inches. There are no basal fragments. All of the pieces are thin and of well-made
glass. There also were a few scraps of pewter and droplets of lead. The pewter might
have been used to wrap flint for flintlock guns; the lead drops are probably evidence
of musket ball manufacture, a common home industry in the 18th century. Finally,
other than the wooden post fragments, other finds associated with structures were
fragments of red brick, hand-wrought nails, limestone, window glass, and lime
mortar. The only complete hand-wrought nail is 2. inches long, a size used for light framing,
clapboarding, and flooring. The material recovered from this layer,
however, indicates people were present on the site even before the Hall was built and
that trading activities were occurring.
Based on the soil types, it was occasionally possible to differentiate between the
time periods 1763-1775, roughly Sir William Johnson's tenure, and 1775-1800, the
occupation period for Sir John Johnson and subsequent owners prior to the arrival of
the Aikens in 1803. Where this was not possible, the types of artifacts that were
found were used as a basis for the differentiation. Pearlware, a lead-glazed
earthenware patterned after creamware but introduced later, appears on American
sites during the American Revolution. After the war, pearlware flooded into the
American markets from England. Therefore, its presence can be used as a time
marker for strata deposited after Sir William Johnson's death in 1774. Machine-cut
nails were developed in the 1790s, at first with hand-made heads. Later, the heads
also were made by machine. Machine-made nails with hand-made heads thus act as
a time marker for occupations before ca. 1820.
The following strata were identified as those directly associated with the
occupation of Sir William Johnson and his family:
|4-92||1571/2/3||surface sealed off by floor in passageway|
|25-92||1618-20||stone chips from construction of Hall|
|20-91||1556-58||18th-century surface; fill to level slope|
|30-92||1676||upper part of Stratum D|
|24-92||1642||limestone rock, overlying pre-Hall layer|
|19-91||1514||stone trimmings from Hall construction; refuse deposit in a saucer-shaped hole dug down to subsoil|
|28-93||1660-63||level from which part of a depression ca. 6 feet in length was filled; large amounts of food waste|
|Balk||1693-64-8||also part of depression; large amount shell and bone|
|23-92||1598/99/1622||oyster shells and charcoal|
|Balk||1638||balk between 23 and 26|
|26-92||1635||mottled soil with no artifacts except one large oyster shell|
The stratum in Unit 30 was dated to the 18th century because it tied into other
18th-century strata on either side of the unit. Stratum D (Cat.#1676) was excavated
as one deposit, and the artifacts indicate that it was a deposition earlier than 1763.
However, the upper parts of Stratum D in Unit 30 and Stratum E in Unit 29
(Cat.#1672, where no artifacts were found) both connect to 18th-century layers
dating to Johnson's time. Therefore, some of the material found in Unit 30's Stratum
D (Cat.#1676) was deposited after the Hall was built.
Eighteenth-century layers dating to Johnson's time did not extend beyond the
north half of Unit 27 due to disturbances and deposits dating to after Johnson's
occupation. The Johnson-era ground surface was fairly level across the excavation
area and was up to 3 feet thick in some units. In some places, features were found; in
others, the soils simply had built up over time.
Beginning at the south end, Units 22 and 27 had no layers dating to Sir William's
occupation, probably because those layers were disturbed by activities relating to Sir
John's occupation or that of Silas Talbott, occupations dating between 1775 and
1800. In Unit 23, however, two layers were differentiated. A deposit of oyster
shell(Stratum X, Cat.#1598) was found overlying the top of Stratum XI (Cat.#1622).
Stratum XI was covered with a thin lens of charcoal. The rest of the soil, however,
had little. Then below that, the early ash and charcoal(XII) was found above the
subsoil. At each end of Stratum XI there were stacked rocks which appeared to
define the limits of the oyster deposit on top. The oyster deposit was thick in the
center but thin at the north and south ends as though deposited in a depression. The
soil contained a mixture of artifact types, but most numerous were the bones. Of the
44 bone fragments, all mammal, 35 were burned white and thus represent cooked
food. They included beef, mutton, and the wood turtle (also the pond turtle but that
probably was not eaten). Most of the burned bone was not identifiable. However,
the numerous fragments of food bone and the heavy deposit of oyster shell suggest
they were the remains of a large feast which were thrown into a depression on the
The deposition of oyster shell waste over the slope of the hill next to the Hall
apparently occurred commonly during Johnson's Era. In Unit 20, for example, 18
complete halves were found; 106 fragments, 36 of which were complete halves, were
excavated from Unit 19; 28 were collected from Unit 28, 10 of which were complete
halves. These oyster shells are much larger than the shells of oysters consumed
today, most being about 6 inches long. Oysters obviously were a favorite food,
brought in barrels from Long Island for the many gatherings Johnson sponsored.
There were no clamshells found in soils dating to Johnson's occupation.
Unit 28 also contained more than one layer dating to the occupation of Sir
William Johnson's family. Together they formed a deposit about a foot thick with
no features, although the soil rested against the stacked rock that helped define the
oyster shell deposit to the south. The north end of the oyster deposit was found in
this unit. Artifacts in the Johnson-era layers in Unit 28 included a mixture of types,
with red brick(44 fragments) dominating the assemblage. Two interesting finds were
a white wampum bead and a fragment of mirror glass, both probably trade items.
There were only a few piece of oyster shell and bone.
Stratum XII (Cat.#1514) in Unit 19 presents a problem in interpretation. At its
south end, it connects to layers dating to the occupation of Sir William and his
family; at its north end, it connects to a layer dating after ca. 1775. Stratum XII itself
contains no artifacts and, therefore, it is difficult to determine its deposition date. It
is highly unlikely that the post-1775 deposit to the north started exactly where the
next unit was dug. Therefore, the fact that this layer contains no artifacts probably
indicates it was not associated with the busy Johnson household but instead was
introduced later. No features were found here.
The next three units contained the most disturbances found along the gasline
route. Unit 29 had thick deposits. The lower two contained no artifacts but
stratigraphically were associated with layers dating to Johnson's time. The two
upper layers dated to after ca. 1775 because of the presence of pearlware, a ceramic
available only after ca. 1775, found in the lower one of the two. Therefore, these
layers (Cat.#1668, 1669) are interpreted as representing activities conducted after Sir
William's death, probably by Sir John. At that time, the newer ceramic wares were
introduced into the previous soils already there. No dug pits were found but the
newer waste may simply have been mixed in with shovels or rakes. Cat.#1668 and
1669 also contained many artifacts dating to Sir William's time.
Immediately to the north, in Unit 24, was a large 20th-century disturbance, a deep
trench which had a drainpipe lying at its base. Unit 24 was located almost directly
opposite the cellar entrance into the basement of Johnson Hall. The drainpipe found
here no doubt is part of a drainage system installed in the 20th century which
connects with the grate at the base of the stairs inside the bulkhead. Soils in Unit 24
to the north of this modern disturbance were similar to those on the south side. The
top layers date to after ca. 1775, while one underneath (Stratum XI, Cat.#1642) dates
to Johnson's time. However, only eight artifacts were found in Stratum X: some
lime mortar, a single white claypipe stem, and some limestone chunks as well as
several fragments of charcoal.
A continuation of the William Johnson-deposit was found in Unit 30, to the north,
but above that, the post-1775 deposits were truncated by other disturbances. The
deepest of these disturbances remains unidentified, but it removed most of the early
deposits in Unit 30 and left soils containing coal in their places. The coal dates the
disturbance to after ca. 1850; the disturbances may relate to work on the east wing
after the blockhouse fire. As previously discussed, found here was a 7-inch diameter
red tile drainpipe which may have served the wing. The second drainpipe, the black
one . inch in diameter, was dug into the same location. The result of all of this activity was that
most of the soils dating after ca. 1763 were removed.
In Unit 20, the 18th-century Johnson-era deposits were found again (Stratum XII,
XIII, Cat.#1557, 1558).
The deposits of oyster shells described above were part of the food remains from
Johnson's Era. Dumped along with the oyster shells were many food bones, almost
400 fragments. This collection also was studied by Rick (1994). The sample almost
all came from mammals, and almost all of those were hoofed animals. These
included cow, pig, and sheep/goat as well as birds such as chicken, duck, grouse,
passenger pigeon and turkey. A more exotic bone was from a wood turtle. Non-food
bones included pond turtle, rat, horse, and dog (assuming the last two were not
eaten). Many of the bones were unidentifiable beyond the mammal/hoofed level.
Rick concluded that "the species list is fairly narrow, and domestic animals dominate
the assemblage. Cow was the most frequently identified animal, followed by pig,
sheep/goat, and chicken" (Rick 1994: 5). A large quantity of butchering waste
appeared in Unit 20 (Cat.#1599). The majority were extremity bones, a jaw bone,
and teeth. The chop or knife marks present on the bones indicate secondary
butchering, that is, the removal of meat from the bones. Many of the bones showed
chew marks, probably from Johnson's many dogs (Burch n.d.). Although age at
time of death could be determined for some pig, cow, and sheep/goat bones, there
were too few to determine average ages except to say that "some pigs and cattle were
well into their second year or older before they were killed" (Rick 1994: 8). Rick
concluded that the assemblage represents a European-style household that, despite
its location on the New York frontier, was dependent on domestic animals. She had
expected to find a variety of wild food animals both because of the location of the
site and the site's early date. Rick pointed out that Johnson Hall contrasts sharply
with Schoharie Crossing, location of another faunal sample she has analyzed. The
Mohawks living there existed in "the same sort of environment and faunal deposits
date to a similar period...The Enders fauna included many wild animals...there is a
marked contrast in food habits between their occupants" (Rick 1994: 9-10). Thus,
the faunal evidence demonstrates that frontier living did not necessarily mean
frontier eating. Although Johnson could live and interact with frontier people, in his
own home he continued to eat the way English gentlemen were expected to, despite
the inconvenience and expense of having to import the foodstuffs he wanted. This
new evidence is particularly interesting in light of what Judge Thomas Jones had to
say about dinners at Johnson Hall. Jones described the food served as "produce of
his estate, or what was procured from the woods and rivers"such as venison, bear,
fish, and wild birds. Perhaps Jones feasted at the Hall during the time of year when
such foods were plentiful, in contrast to the more normal diet. Or perhaps Jones was
so enthralled with the life here, which must have been very exotic compared to what
he was accustomed to seeing in New York City or on his own estate on Long Island,
that he tended to exaggerate the differences.
Johnson also did not hesitate to pay the price of importing the tableware needed to
display the proper foodstuffs. Twenty-five of the fragments were Chinese porcelain
vessels, a very expensive ware. Many of the fragments were part of teacups. Other
were flatware, probably saucers. The majority were hand-painted blue and white
designs, but at least one was an overglazed enameled piece, a more costly process
usually done in Europe after the wares were imported from China. The porcelain
appears to have functioned as tea service rather than as dinner ware. Appearing on
the dinner table was creamware of which 90 fragments were found here, mostly
plates and platters decorated with featheredge and plain designs. A specialized kind
of creamware marketed after ca. 1759 was Whieldonware. One sherd found in layers
dating to Johnson's occupation had the typical raised molded Whieldon design
common on teapots; the second was a crabstock handle, probably also from a teapot.
Joining the creamware were 26 sherds of white salt-glazed stoneware, again mostly
from plates and platters. White salt-glazed stoneware was replaced in popularity
with creamware after ca. 1763, and Johnson's collection thus reveals a combination
of the two in use. Delft also was represented by hand-painted plates/platters and
bowls, probably all serving pieces.
Rounding out the table settings category was glassware. The most unusual pieces
in this collection were Bristol glass fragments. "Bristol" glass was
derived from the inclusion of a small quantity of tin oxide in the mix...it is Bristol
that became famous for it..." (No.lHume 1970: 196). Production of Bristol glass was
accelerated for the twenty years after ca. 1745 and thus was very popular during
Johnson's lifetime. All of the Bristol glass found here (Cat.#1558, 1573, 1618,
1660) were small pieces (2 inches or less), and all were body fragments so that it was
not possible to determine their vessel types. One fragment, Cat.#1573, may have a
trace of a hand-painted colored design near one edge, but the rest are plain. Bristol
glass, however, frequently was hand-painted much like porcelain (Robertson 1969:
93). Other tableware glass found were fragments of plain lead glass, probably parts
of wineglasses, and parts of dark green wine bottles, the small types placed on the
table. One of the wine bottle pieces (Cat.#1599) was part of a bottle type
manufactured in the 1750s when bottles were more short and squat. It may have
been deposited here before the Hall was built.
The rest of the glass container fragments were not tablewares but parts of medicine
bottles and another piece of bubbly green glass that probably was part of a
flagon(Cat.#1557). Blue-green glass assigned Cat.#1573 may be parts of an inkwell.
Because the gasline route was located close to the location of the kitchen in
Johnson's time, more heavy adulator fragments were expected. However, this did
not occur. Instead, almost all of the ceramic and glassware fragments were
tableware, although there was one fragment of redware crock (Cat.#1676). The
deposits most closely related to food preparation were the shell and bone, the
garbage waste. These artifacts would be associated with kitchen activities; the bones
showed evidence of meat removal, which would have occurred just before or after
cooking; food storage may have occurred elsewhere. A study of the distribution of
food storage types of artifacts reveals that salt-glazed utility wares were found in the
gasline trench; some of them were 18th-century types, but they were in layers other
than those directly associated with Johnson's Era.
There was relatively little construction material in the continuous trench dug close
to the Hall. Window glass clustered in two places: Unit 30 and Unit 25. This glass
may relate to a building previously discussed that may have stood here. Other
construction types of materials were hand-wrought nails, red brick fragments, lime
mortar, and limestone rock.
There was an unusual number of personal use items in these excavations,
however. The majority of these were white clay tobacco pipes, all of whose bore
sizes (4/64 inch, 5/64 inch) were the sizes expected for the time period. One of the
stems was glazed a light brown color, an 18th-century practice that was "by no
means common" (No.lHume 1970: 302). One white claypipe bowl was from a pipe made
in the Netherlands; unfortunately the mark is too indistinct to identify. Some
were marked RT for the Bristol pipe maker Robert Tippet. Some of the pipes were
those made specifically for the Indian trade; that is, they were heel-less. Large
numbers of clay smoking pipe fragments were found in Units 25, 19, and 20. Units
25 and 20 were located close to the Hall; Unit 19 was farther to the southeast. The
clay pipes in these locations perhaps were deposited as a group after a large
The other personal use items included trade artifacts, the majority of which were
excavated in Unit 20 close to the east flanker(Cat.#1557). Here was an iron knife
blade, a Jew's harp, a white wampum bead, straight pins, a stone marble, and twisted
metal threads. Another white wampum bead was found in Unit 28 (Cat.#1663).
Metal-wrapped textile filaments were found in the balk between Units 23 and 28
(Cat.#1693). These two textile items are not identified as to function; they may
represent gold or silver braid frequently found on officers' uniforms, on the edges of
Native American coats and blankets, and on women's pocket purses. The copper
alloy Jew's harp was a very small one (1 1/8 inch long). It is possible this was a
child's toy, similar to one found in the parking lot tests at Johnson Hall which was
only an inch long (Feister 1995a: 292). Most Jew's harps from the 18th century
were at least 2 inches long; the few small ones that have been found probably were
intended for children. (For further discussion of Jew's harps at Johnson Hall see
Feister 1995a: 292-293). The white shell wampum beads are each about . inch long and have
diameters of about 3/16 inch with the holes drilled straight through. Many
wampum beads, both purple and white, have been excavated at Johnson Hall, the
majority in association with Building C, the Indian Store located near the 18th-
The period between ca. 1775 and 1800 saw much activity at Johnson Hall. Sir
John Johnson and his wife briefly occupied the Hall until he left for Canada in 1776,
and she was removed by the American troops to Albany. Members of the American
forces ransacked the Hall in 1776; a few were assigned duty there during the war. In
1778, John Johnson captured two members of the Tryon County militia who were
staying at the Hall. It has been suggested previously that the long 3-part building
excavated by Ducey was built during the War, perhaps to house troops. Also during
the war, the State of New York auctioned the contents of the Hall, and the 700-acre
estate was sold to some speculators. In 1786, the estate came into the hands of war
veteran and future War of 1812 naval hero Silas Talbott. Talbott and his family
occupied the Hall farm from 1787 until ca. 1800 after which it was sold to the Aiken
family who migrated from New England in 1803.
Thus, the strata identified on the east side of the Hall that date to the war years
and beyond could have resulted from the activities of the above groups and their
various tenants and servants.
|22||1600||layer above subsoil|
|27||1686||no artifacts but connects to strata of this date on each end|
|26||1633||above oyster layer and refuse-filled depression|
|29||1668/69||over a foot thick, spoil dirt|
|24||1639/41||1 foot thick, overlies early wall|
|4||1570/71||trench fill next to rubble wall|
The layers associated with these years were found directly above subsoil at the
southern end of the continuous gasline trench. In both Units 22 and 27, these were
the earliest layers present, and, although there were no artifacts in Cat.#1686 in Unit
27, that layer connected on each end to others that dated to ca. 1775-1800. The
Johnson-era soils were missing here, or later activities had caused these soils to
become mixed with post-Johnson material. The reason for the removal or mixture is
unclear, since the layers do not contain features.
In the next excavation unit, 26, the layer associated with the post-Johnson
occupations overlies the previously discussed oyster shell layer which in turn
overlies the 18th-century refuse-filled depression containing garbage and wood
boards. The post-1775 layer ended on the north end of the unit where a large rock
tops off the pit and oyster deposit. Beyond that, in Units 28 and then 19, 18th-
century layers rise up again and are topped by strata dating to the first half of the
19th century. The slant to the south noted at the end of the 18th-century deposits in
Unit 27 suggests that a cut was made here and that 18th-century soils beyond that
were removed. North of that cut, the 18th-century soils remained but were covered
over by the post-1775 soils. Then for 10 feet beyond that, 18th-century soils were
left undisturbed or instead became covered over with soils dating to the first half of
the 19th century. Perhaps here the soils dating ca. 1775-1790 were themselves
removed by later activities.
In sharp contrast, for the next 12 feet, thick soil layers dating to post-1775 were
found overlying earlier 18th-century strata. In Unit 29, two layers were identified as
post-1775, forming a deposit 14 inches thick. Next to it, in Unit 24, two layers
formed a deposit 12 inches thick. Something happened here that caused these
deposits to be thicker than elsewhere along the gasline trench. The soils may be
those deposited during the excavation for the east wing cellar hole. Then, beyond
this concentration, earlier 18th-century soils rose up again, and the post-1775 soils
were destroyed by 20th-century utility trenches, or the Johnson-era strata again were
covered by soils dating to the first half of the 19th century. Thus, in Units 30 and 20,
the ca. 1775 to 1800 soils probably were removed by the construction of the east
wing shortly after the turn of the 19th century. After the wing's occupation, strata
dating to the 19th century accumulated around the new addition.
Uphill from the gasline trench, the strata in Unit 25 were a repeat of those in Units
30 and 20. But uphill from there, Unit 4 again contained some ca. 1775-1790
deposits. Here they were the soils in a wall or repair trench next to the rubble wall.
Clues in the artifact collection as to the activities from the ca. 1775-1800 period
are elusive. In fact, most of the artifacts are characteristic of the earlier 18th-century
occupations. For example, the nails almost all are hand-wrought. Pearlwares are
present, all tablewares. There are many white claypipe fragments present, including
marked ones found in the Johnson layers. The rest are plain. None are the fluted
types associated with the 1790s. Such fluted pipes are present, however, in the
assemblage found in the layers dating to the first half of the 19th century. All of this
suggests a conservatism on the part of the occupants of this site after the American
Revolution, a conservatism perhaps forced upon them by post-war conditions and the
slow return to normal trade patterns. The collection was small, also, possibly
because many fewer people were present during this post-Johnson era.
One particular claypipe bowl fragment is of particular interest,
however. It is in Cat. #1633 from Unit 26, and it is a portion of the pipe bowl on which just the
edge of an impressed TD mark in a wreath is visible on the side facing the smoker. This
mark in this position is typical of TD pipe bowls that have been found at other sites
dating as early as 1757 and 1758. This pipe, nevertheless, was clearly a heel-less
pipe, whereas the other TD pipes of this period have projecting spurs or heels from
the bases of their bowls. The heel-less form of this pipe bowl from Johnson Hall
strongly suggests that it was made in Bristol for American consumption and that the
maker was consequently Thomas Dennis, who was apprenticed to Robert Tippet in
1723, became a freeman in 1734, and was still active in 1781. Previously, it was
unknown who made the TD pipes with projecting heels or where, and because of the
similarity in style and shape of those TD-marked bowls with bowls having projecting
heels and bearing the marks instead of London makers such as William Manby,
Francis Stray, and William Golding, it was thought the TD pipe was perhaps the
product of Thomas Dormer, a London pipe maker. This small, very unusual heel-
less TD pipe bowl fragment from Johnson Hall suggests instead that the TD pipe had
a Bristol origin with Thomas Dennis and was perhaps later copied and made in
London with a projecting heel but with the same TD mark (Huey 1992: 5). One
other example of a heel-less pipebowl marked with a TD within a wreath facing the
smoker has been reported. This specimen was found at the Niagara Portage site at
Artpark along the Niagara River, and it is suggestive of the trade links between
Johnson Hall and the Niagara frontier in the colonial period (Scott, et al. 1993: 126).
Associated with the heel-less TD pipe bowl fragment was a more complete
example of a pipe bowl with projecting heel marked on the bowl with the initials
WM within a wreath facing the smoker. This is the mark of William Manby, who
was working in London between 1719 and 1763 in or near Limehouse at Green
Dragon Alley, Hermitage Bridge, and Kidney Stairs (Oswald 1975: 142). Pipes with
projecting heels and with bowls marked WM are especially common at Johnson Hall
together with the heel-less R TIPPET pipes. It is noteworthy that records exist of the
purchase by Philip J. Schuyler of Albany of claypipes from Edward Manby of
London. Edward Manby, probably a brother of William, was a pipe maker between
1725 and 1760 at Smithfield and Hermitage Bridge in London (Feister 1995a: 70,
140-141, 177, 195, 260; Huey 1992: 5; Oswald 1975: 141).
The soil layers interpreted as Aiken family strata are:
|Unit||Cat.#||Comments||27-93||1683-85||upper layers after machine removal|
|23-92||1595/96||shale landscape feature|
|Balk||1690-92||balk between Units 23 and 28|
|28-93||1657-59||some shale in lower three layers|
|19-91||1511-13||clay soils, mortar, charcoal|
|29-93||1667||clay soils, charcoal|
|24-92||1612||overlies wall found pipe trench profile|
|20-91||1551-1555||busy area, over walls; much charcoal|
|25-92||1616-17||surface leveled by cobbles|
|3 &3A||#1410,15||wall trench fill dating wing wall|
The Aiken family moved to Johnson Hall in 1803, and the estate was partitioned
about 1813. An English visitor in 1828 found the old "villa" had "a fine
appearance from the road" but was "quite in ruins" (Bloodgood 1828: 109).
By that time, Mrs.
Aiken was an elderly widow probably unable to care for the estate. From her, the
property passed to her children, including her daughter Amy who had married
Eleazer Wells in 1829. The Wells family occupied the house for much of the 19th
During the Aiken/Wells periods, many changes were made to the house, both in
terms of architecture and landscape, as attested to by late 19th-century photographs.
The area under study here, however, was influenced chiefly by the presence of the
east wing which effectively joined the Hall with the east stone flanker. In front of the
wing stood a large porch which sheltered anyone moving from the wing down a few
steps into the basement of the Hall.
The landscape surrounding the wing was relatively quiet and basically level. In
Units 23, 26, 28 and 19, deposits of crushed shale were found which suggest a path
or a road shoulder in that vicinity. The other the units did not reveal such
concentrations; instead there were clay soils with differing amounts of pebbles, small
rocks, charcoal, and some mortar. There were no pits or walls. It appears that the
Aikens, once they built the east wing, were satisfied with the area near the Hall and
let the landscape be.
Unit 4 was dug where the east wing stood. There were no 1800-1850 deposits
found in that unit, further indication that the wing was there during the first half of
the 19th century. Strata dating to that time period had built up at the locations of
the other units, all of which were located outside the east wing walls.
The most direct evidence of this was found in Units 3 and 3A (basement entry
tests). Here, a section of the east wing wall(and a section of the porch attached to it
on the south) was found. The wall was built in a trench filled with soil that dated to
the 1790-1850 period (Stratum IV, Cat.#1410 and 1415). These soils were found in
a wall trench exterior to the wall, and this dating is consistent with all of the others
that have been found in archeological excavations since 1980. Once again, this
information dates the east wing construction to about 1800.
The ceramics and glass used by the occupants of the Hall during the first half of
the 19th century contrast greatly with those from Johnson's time and that of the
Wells family during the fourth quarter of the 19th century. The taste for furnishings
during the first half of the century centered around color and decoration. Bright
palettes and transfer-print designs of reds, yellows, and greens predominate the
assemblage in sharp contrast to the quiet blues of Johnson's time and the plain whites
of post-1860. The tables and cupboards would have been filled with these decorated
wares. Designs included shell-edge and its variants in both blue and green, hand-
painted floral designs in bright colors, banded wares done in browns, greens,
yellows, mochas in chrome colors, and transfer-printed patterns featuring landscapes,
flowers, and classical scenes in blue, pink, and black. There are so many different
designs present in the assemblage that it is a difficult task to inventory them since
they refuse to group themselves into sets for easy description!
Much of the assemblage also still dated to Johnson's time. Most of the 18th-
century material, of course, probably came from disturbances during
landscaping/planting activities around the house and from the deposition of spoil dirt
resulting from the construction of the east wing. The occupation of the site during
William Johnson's time period included so many people that the 18th-century
material continues to dominate the assemblages found in later strata. These materials
include ceramics, glassware, musket balls, claypipes, hand-wrought nails, and
window glass from the 18th-century occupations mixed with the material used and
discarded by the Aikens.
One unusual item found in Unit 26, Cat.#1629, is a white metal sleigh bell which
still contained its striker and iron wire attachment. Laboratory conservation work
revealed that the piece was decorated below the center ridge, around the dumbell
slot, and that the decoration was very similar to that on bells produced by Robert
Wells in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, England between 1760 and 1826 (McEvoy 1994).
Wells made at least thirty-two different sized bells (No.lHume 1970: 59) but most that are found
in 18th-century sites are similar to this example. These sleigh bells or
rumbler bells were ball-shaped and served many functions. The smallest were placed
on babies' toys; the largest were tied to the necks of cows (No.lHume 1970: 58). The Johnson
Hall example measures 1. inch by 1 1/8 inch for the bell itself and has a squared-off handle with
a hole punched through it for the wire attachment. The
handle is of 1/8-inch-thick metal 5/16 inch high. This bell probably was used on
sleigh harness. This piece does not have the maker's initials on it, as some do.
However, the design found engraved on it suggests it might have been manufactured
by the English bellmaker, Robert Wells. Bells also could have been made by local
gunsmiths, and these craftsmen may have copied existing examples. Thus, the
Johnson Hall bell could have been manufactured in the colonies, perhaps even on the
Another unusual item was a copper alloy watch key(Cat.#1555; AC1988). The
piece was approximately 1. inches long with a decorative head and curved undulating solid metal
rod with a second rod attached at right angles to the first. At
the end of the cross shaft was a hollow key blade which would have been slid into
the winding mechanism of a pocket watch. A chain would have been attached to a
loop at the top of the floral-design head to keep the key with the pocket watch.
Pocket watches were fairly common in the 18th century and were wound by use
of a key. The keyless wind had been invented by 1820 (Baillie,et al 1956: 184) but
did not come into common use until about 1870. However, members of the elite had
knob-wound watches shortly after a stem winding system won a medal at the French
Exhibition of 1844 (Jaquet and Chapius 1970: 161). Thus, the use of the key-wound
pocket watch extended into the third quarter of the 19th century, suggesting the
Johnson Hall piece probably dates to the 19th century.
The rococo design of the Johnson Hall key also suggests it may be of 19th-
century date. Most of the 18th-century keys located in illustrations (Bruton 1962;
Eckhardt 1955; Baillie 1956; Jaquet and Chapius 1970) have an open-loop top. The
rococo design appears on 16th- and 17th-century keys and then again during one of
the many 19th-century revival periods. The Johnson Hall piece dates probably, then,
to around the middle of the 19th century, the date for the stratum in which it was
found. It is a very well-made piece, and the owner probably was quite upset when it
Based on the artifacts, strata dating to three different time periods were identified:
ca. 1850-1890, ca. 1890-1945, and ca. 1945-1993. Although these groupings are
somewhat arbitrary, they worked well when the stratigraphic profiles were compared.
The separation was done using the following criteria: the presence of coal but no
round nails dated layers to the first grouping; the presence of round nails but no
plastic/foil for the second; the presence of modern materials such as plastic and foil
for the third.
|Unit||Cat.#||Comments||26-92||1628||compact silty sandy loam with rock, brick|
|23-92||1592-94||silty sandy loams with clay and shale|
|19-91||1509-10||silty loams with shale and gravel|
|29-93||1666||some of layer taken off by machine|
|24-92||1610-11||pipe trench-truncated layer, south end of unit|
|30-92||1675||machine removed much of layer; wall left|
|20-91||1543-50||silty sandy loams with shale, gravel, wall|
|1&1A-91||1423||possible fill in utility trench|
The strata identified as those dating between 1890 and 1945 are listed below.
Because some of the upper strata were removed by machine in 1993, layers dating to
this time period were missing for some units.
|26-92||1626-27||dark brown silty loam with shale, compact|
|19-91||1505-08||dark brown silty loams with concrete, gravel|
|24-92||1604-1609||dark brown silty loams with much coal ash, includes pipe trench fill, Feature B|
|25-92||1615||dark brown silty loam with building debris|
|4-91||1425-29||dark brown silty loam with building debris|
|3-91||1409/14||dark brown silty loam with coal ash|
|1&1A-91||1419-22||over bay window remains|
Many of the strata dating to the post-1945 time period, then, are fill layers. These
included the following (again, these layers are missing in 1993 units and thus are not
|23-92||1589-91||very dark gray-brown silty loam with clay|
|26-92||1625||very dark brown loam with cement|
|19-91||1501-04||very dark gray-brown silty loam with plastic, paper, rubber|
|20-91||1542||very dark gray-brown silty loam with gravel, plastic|
|20-92||1655||construction trench, 1960s blockhouse|
|3&3A-91||1406/11||dark brown sandy silt sewerline fill|
|5-92||1650-53||clayfill over grassy surface, sands, bay window wall|
|1-91||1417||dark gray-brown sandy loam rich topsoil|
The installation of utility lines particularly proved destructive during this one
hundred year period. These lines disrupted 18th- and 19th-century occupation strata,
making archeological excavations challenging and resulting in the redeposition of
soils containing vast numbers of artifacts no longer in association with their original
A large-scale event at the Hall in 1866 was the destruction by fire of the east stone
house. Although the damage probably was mostly interior, the entire building was
torn down and its cellar hole filled in. Only 167 burned artifacts were found in the
strata dating to the second half of the 19th century, mostly ceramics. The absence of
burned hand-wrought nails strongly suggests that the material in the blockhouse was
pushed into the cellar hole when it was demolished. In the 1960s, machines returned
to re-excavate the area, remove the cellar hole fill, rebuild the stone building, and
deposit new fills.
In the 1980s, a new sewerline was installed that entered the 1960's blockhouse on
its south side. In the process, parts of the stone foundation walls of the east wing
In 1990, the removal of a buried oil tank located outside the south wall of the
1960's blockhouse resulted in more machine excavations, exposure of the floorof the
east wing, and disruption of more utility lines. Following this, archeological
excavations were conducted from 1991 to 1993 for a new basement entry,
handicapped access, and a new gasline into the 1960's blockhouse.
Three utility lines did much damage in the areas of excavation Units 24 and 30.
The earliest of the utility trenches intruded down from the top of Stratum VIA
(Cat.#1609), a layer dating between ca. 1850 and 1890. The archeological excavator
removed 56 inches of trench fill before the cast iron drainpipe was located. In the
process, an older wall was discovered which had been partially damaged by the
installation of the pipe.
Two other utility lines dating after 1945 were found in Unit 30. The first was a 7-
inch diameter red tile pipe installed by digging a 3-foot-deep trench from a post-1945
ground surface. Concrete was poured on top of the red pipe to protect it from
damage during backfilling. Close by was a shallower trench dug from the top of a
post-1945 surface later than the first. In this one, a .-inch diameter black pipe was installed.
Both of these utility trenches intruded into a ca. 1850-1890 soil layer. No
Johnson-era layers were found under this layer, indicating that prior to the second
half of the 19th century a different event already had removed all layers in Unit 30
that dated from ca. 1763-1850, leaving only the pre-Hall layer in place.
These utility trenches have cut a large east-west swath through this area of the
site, mostly in the 20th century. The earliest utilityline, that which dated to ca. 1850-
1890, probably related to the eastwing. The others were installed by the Education
Department, probably as a part of their basement projects.
Trench 2 was excavated in 1991 to explore how much was left of the foundations
of the eastwing. Trench 2 was L-shaped with its longer side running parallel with the
east wall of the Hall. It exposed numerous utility trenches, some of which
undoubtedly relate to those found later in the gasline trench. Trench 2 also
confirmed that the sewerline excavations through this area of the site were very wide,
mostly due to uncontrolled slumpage along the sides of the trench. The contractor
did not use a box in this area, and the looser fill soils that had been deposited by
others quickly fell into the trench. The only important find in Trench 2, other than
the negative evidence, was a small part of the east wing wall. This wall fragment,
along with sections found in other excavation units, enables placement of the east
wing wall on the map.
One of the reasons for the thickness of strata dating after ca. 1890 was the
addition of large amounts of fills, especially near the Hall's east wall. The reason for
this became clear with excavations of Units BE1-91 and, especially, BE5-91
These units were opened to explore an area that might be impacted by installation
of new handicapped access. The area was chosen because it was outside the
immediate vicinity of the eastwing where most of the other archeological work was
occurring. Unit BE1 was a 2-foot by 4-foot unit excavated off the southeast corner
of the Hall; BE5 was a 5-foot square located next to the south side of the bulkhead.
The remains of a wall associated with a Victorian bay window on the house was
found in Unit BE1. The bay was removed shortly after it appeared in a
photographdated "1923." The top of the foundation wall was knocked downhill, and
the remaining section of wall and the loose rock were buried under coal ash and loam
soils. Apparently, for a time, part of the bay window foundation wall was left as a
retaining wall for fill placed along the front of the Hall. Later, more fills were added
along the east side, burying the foundation/retaining wall feature.
Unit BE5, placed next to the bulkhead wall, revealed a sequence of construction
and fill episodes relating to the basement entryway. The work revealed that there
were two episodes of bulkhead construction, one dating perhaps to the work done in
the late 1940s and the second to the 1960s. Also found was the east wall of the bay
window foundation. This wall was removed and covered over with loam when the
first bulkhead was built. Layers of sand then were placed over this fill and more
topsoil was brought in. In the 1960s, this fairly level surface (which still contained
dead grass when it was uncovered) was filled over with a clay layer 18 inches thick
deliberately pitched to the east in order to encourage the runoff of water. To allow for
this new fill, the bulkheadwalls were built higher, and new wooden cover doorswere
installed. Sandwas placed over the clay(to help deliver the water to that surface), and
loamy topsoil was placed over it all.
All of this filling and construction activity near the entryway to the basementof
the Hall probably was done to help relieve the problem of water collecting in the
basement of the building. To ensure even better water runoff, a large drain was
installed at the foot of the bulkhead stairs, its pipe probably delivering the water to
the east. The slope of the land along the east side of the Hall previous to the addition
of this fill would have directed water to the south, and some of the water probably
went into the basement. The addition of fill to carry the waterin a different direction
necessitated the installation of a bulkhead in order to ensure continued use of the
entryway into the basement of the Hall. The drain system installed at the bottom of
the bulkhead steps was designed as a backup for the ground contour system. These
solutions apparently worked as standing water in the basementof the Hall today is a
One unusual find was a white claypipe stem stamped "JAMES EATON
LIVERPOOL." This was the first time a pipe bearing this mark has been excavated
at Johnson Hall. James Eaton was a pipe maker in Liverpool, England, by 1757.
During the second half of the 18th century, Liverpool became an important center for
pipe manufacturing, a fact made "remarkable when one notes that throughout the
C18 smoking declined, being replaced by snuff..." (Walker 1977: 11a, 320).
Eatonwas one of the earliest to place his mark on clay pipe stems, a practice which
became common shortly before ca. 1800. Eaton's pipes also have been found in
contexts dating to the 1750s and 1760s at Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, at Williamsburg,
Virginia, in Newfoundland, and in New Brunswick (Walker 1977: 11a, 320). It is
probable, then, that this Eaton pipe originally was smoked during Johnson's era.
A small luggage padlock (Cat.#1675; AC 2278) dating to the 18th century was
found in Unit 30. Measuring 2 inches by 2 inches, the copper alloy padlock probably
was used on a piece of leather luggage since 18th-century wooden boxesand trunks
had built-in locks. A padlock identical to the Johnson Hall example was excavated
from a 1761 French shipwreck (National Historic Sites 1992: 23). Conservation
treatment of the piece revealed inscribed designs. The Johnson Hall padlock
probably has a similar design but discerning this would have required treatment
harmful to the piece, and a decision was made not to proceed beyond merely
An undated but unusual artifact was a piece of lead alloy typeblock (Cat.#1509,
AC 1962). The piece had a "2" in script on one side and had ink still in place in the
crevices. Holes punched through the piece were to hold the type block in place in a
printing machine. A family print shop dating to the 18th and early 19th centuries
was excavated in Annapolis, Maryland (Little 1992: 89-91). Many pieces of printers'
type were found there, mostly clustered near a doorway. Based on stratigraphy and
on measurements taken on each, it was possible to group them into time periods with
machine-made type appearing in the 1830s. Since the Johnson Hall example appears
to be machine-molded, it probably dates after ca. 1830. Why it was left at Johnson
Hall is unknown.
DISTRIBUTION OF ARTIFACTS EXCAVATED NEAR THE HALL
Counts were tabulated for the pieces of ceramics, claypipes, and nails excavated
in the continuous trench dug near the Hall. The raw counts are summarized below:
|Artifact Type||Number Found|
|White Salt-glazed Stoneware||177|
|19th-century yellow ware||17|
An examination of the chart quickly shows that of the material dating to Sir
William Johnson's era (delft, white salt-glazed stoneware, creamware, porcelain),
creamware dominates the assemblage. This indicates, as previously noted, that
creamware was the preferred everyday tableware. Its daily use led to its being broken
and discarded in greater quantities than any other types.
Also obvious here is the small number of utility coarse stonewares. The presence
of storage vessels such as these usually indicates that kitchen areas were nearby.
When combined with the redwares, most of which probably also were utility vessels,
the number totals 182, not a large amount. However, in the 1774estate inventory, the
butler's pantry at Johnson Hall was listed as being so close to the kitchen that the
materials in each were combined for inventory purposes. Since the tableware (for
example, creamware) were stored in the butler's pantry, the large amounts of broken
tableware represented in the gasline trench assemblage suggests that the pantry was
nearby. It can be concluded, then, the kitchen also was presumably located in the
basement of the Hall in the 18th century.
Pearlware was a popular ceramic from about 1775 to ca. 1850. During that 75-
year-long period of popularity, much of the stuff was broken and discarded at the
Hall. Although some of the early pearlware could be associated with Sir John
Johnson and Silas Talbott, none of it would relate to Sir William's occupation.
The amount of porcelain used and discarded at a site is considered an indication
of the status of the occupant. The 105 fragments of porcelain in this Johnson Hall
assemblage is 12% of the 18th-century tableware found here. This number is
consistent with similar results calculated for assemblages found elsewhere on this
site. The percentage also compares favorably with results calculated for other sites
comparable to Johnson Hall. At Schuyler Mansion in Albany, for example, about
13% of the assemblage is porcelain; the amounts at Cherry Hill, a Van Rensselaer
home near Albany, are about 16%, as are the amounts later at John Jay Homestead in
the lower HudsonValley (Feister 1996: 67; Feister 1995b: 45; Hartgen Archeological
Associates 1980: 24). These results contrast sharply with at least two tavern sites in
the HudsonValley (in Dutchess County and in Albany County) which have been
excavated. There the amounts of porcelainare only 4.7% and 2.6% (Feister1975: 11;
Eubanks1991). The high amounts of porcelain found at elite sites such as Johnson
Hall, Schuyler Mansion, John Jay Homestead, and Cherry Hill indicate this
expensive ware was put to active use as dinner service and did not serve merely for
Counts also were made of hand-wrought nails(546) and machine-cut nails(388)
found in the gasline trench. The high number of hand-wrought nails, compared to
the later machine-cut nails, helps supplement other data that show that the east wing
was built about 1800 before machine-cut nails were very much used. It also supports
the presence of earlier structures, as suggested by the partial walls uncovered during
the gas line excavations.
Finally, the distributionof the above artifacts the full length of the trench dug near
the Hall for the gasline was plotted, using the methodology described earlier: the
amounts for each trench were divided so that the results could be compared as having
come from 2-foot units. Only three artifact types showed any real patterning, that is,
large concentrations in one area.
The claypipe fragments, of which there are a total of 587 excavated from the
continuous trench, were especially concentrated in contiguous Units 19, 28, 23, and
27. A secondary concentration was in Units 20 and 30, closer to the east flanker.
Much the same patterning was found for the distribution of creamware and hand-
wrought nails. For both, the highest amounts also were found in Units 19, 28, and 23
with a smaller concentration being found in Unit 20.
This consistent patterning of large numbers of artifacts having been dumped in the
same spot in the 18th century, no matter whether they were tableware, construction
materials, or personal use items, tells something about the traffic patterns on this site.
If there was an entry into the basement of Johnson Hall on the east side in the 18th
century, people coming out that doorway would have walked straight east to the
hillside and thrown trash over the crest of the hill and slightly to the right (assuming
the majority were right-handed). This appears to be what happened. If people were
exiting the south side of the house, they would have walked farther to reach the
hillside, but it would have been in a straight line and resulted in the same trash
The secondary concentration of artifacts in Unit 20 in each case is explained by
two possible factors: the nearness of the east flanker and the presence of smaller
structures there that have only now been discovered. Remains of the small structure
that might have stood in front of the east flanker, thus matching one in front of the
west flanker, were found in Units 30 and 24. Unit 20 would have been behind this
structure and thus available for trash disposal.
The distribution of pearlware showed a slightly different pattern, probably
because most of it was tossed out from the east wing. Concentrations of pearlware
were found in Units 20, 30, 24, 19, 28, and 23, form an almost continuous band
across the hillside. All of these units parallel or are behind the location of the east
wing and its porchand were in an area easily accessed for trash disposal. An almost
identical pattern is seen for whiteware, a tableware in heavy use in the 19th century
after pearlware faded in popularity. A change occurred by the last quarter of the 19th
century when the disposal of trash directly out the door became unacceptable. There
are few fragments of iron stone found in this assemblage except for a small amount
concentrated in Unit 20. Ironstone was popular after the CivilWar and thus was most
used in the last quarter of the 19th century. Even fewer fragments of 19th-century
yellowware appeared. This buff earthenware covered with a yellow glaze was the
popular ware for kitchen use during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The
paucity of fragments here suggests that the disposal of trash over the brow of this hill
had ceased by that time period.
Areas near the east wall of the house were found already to have been quite
disturbed by modern utilities. Areas farther away from the wall and over the brow of
the hill were found to be quite sensitive. For this reason, a continuous trench to
contain the gas pipe was salvaged by the archeologists. That trench has now been
backfilled awaiting installation of the gas pipe, but it is vital that this specific route
be followed to prevent the loss of information and uncontrolled destruction of
archeological resources. Digging outside the limits of the trench route that already
has been systematically excavated by the archeologists will result in destruction of
more parts of significant remains of early walls and occupation layers.
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DETAIL FROM THE PHOTOGRAPH OF JOHNSON HALL IN 1907, SHOWING
THE BAY WINDOWS AND THE PORCH FRONTING THE EAST WING.