Brent Site (44ST130)

Introduction

Overview of the Brent site (Jack L. Hiller)

The Brent Site (44ST130) is located near US Route 1 at Aquia Creek in Stafford County, Virginia, and is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. The site contains the remains of a ca. 1680s cemetery and the home of George Brent, the son of members of the English Catholic gentry. Brent immigrated to Maryland around 1660 and to Virginia by 1670. He established Woodstock plantation near Aquia Creek in Stafford County, where he became a successful tobacco planter and operated a sawmill and a ferry. He married twice; first to Elizabeth Greene, who died in 1686, and then to the widow Mary Sewall Chandler, who died in 1694. He fathered at least three sons and five daughters, and was stepfather to Chandler's two sons and three daughters. Brent, his wives, and at least two children are buried in the family cemetery at the site.

George Brent's uncle Giles and his aunt Margaret are important figures in Chesapeake history. They converted to Catholicism in England and arrived in Maryland in 1638 with their sister Mary. Giles purchased a manor on Kent Island and married the daughter of the Piscataway tayac, a union that upset Lord Baltimore who suspected Giles of using the marriage to make extra-legal claims to Maryland land. During Ingle's Rebellion, Giles Brent was captured and taken as a prisoner to England, but he returned to Maryland by the late 1640s. Margaret became one of the largest landowners in the colony, and served as executrix for the estate of Leonard Calvert in 1647. In 1648, she unsuccessfully petitioned the Maryland Assembly for the right to vote. Giles Brent had crossed the Potomac to settle in Northumberland County, Virginia (later Westmoreland, and later still Stafford) sometime after December of 1648, and his sister, disillusioned with her treatment by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, followed about 1651. Both Giles and Margaret purchased additional land along the Potomac, some of which was later incorporated into the city of Alexandria.

George Brent worked as a surveyor for Stafford and Westmoreland counties after he arrived in Virginia. Despite legal restrictions on Catholics in Virginia, by 1680, Brent was practicing law in partnership with his wealthy Protestant neighbor, William Fitzhugh. George's brother, Robert, immigrated to Virginia in 1686 and joined his legal practice, and the two practiced law in several counties. George Brent also served as a Major in the Stafford County militia. In 1684, as Captain of the Stafford Rangers, he led a campaign against the Seneca. Brent was appointed receiver-general for the region north of the Rappahannock in 1683, served as the King's attorney general in 1686 and 1687, and became a member of the House of Burgesses in 1688. Following the ascension of William and Mary to the throne, Brent's political and legal career came to an end as anti-Catholic sentiment spread in the colonies.

Brent and William Fitzhugh acted as agents for the Northern Neck proprietors, leading to his acquisition of more than 15,000 acres of land in Virginia, Maryland, and England by the time of his death in 1700.

Archaeological Investigations

Mary Rothwell and Jack Edlund recorded 44ST130 in 1989, noting a stone grave marker dating to 1687 and five others with illegible inscriptions. The site also contained a possible well and chimney base, and a scatter of wrought rose head and finish nails. A magnetometer survey of the property was conducted in an effort to locate additional grave shafts.

Beginning in April 1997, under the direction of Martha Williams, excavations at the site were conducted by the Northern Virginia chapter of the Archeological Society of Virginia. A north-south oriented grid was placed over the 240-by-255 foot area and shovel test pits were excavated at 15-foot intervals. Positive shovel tests were bracketed at 5-foot intervals. Eighteen test units measuring 5-by-5 feet or smaller were then excavated south of the cemetery in areas of high artifact concentrations and west of the cemetery to look for evidence of grave shafts. Testing to the south revealed the remains of a cut stone and brick feature that likely represents a chimney base, post holes, and pits, all of which are associated with the Brent house and domestic compound. At least nine smaller units were excavated west of the cemetery to look for grave shafts, with excavations limited to the removal of topsoil or topsoil and plow zone. Each test unit contained evidence of a burial. A report for the excavation site is in preparation by Martha Williams.

Excavating a test unit at the Brent site (Jack L. Hiller)
Exposed hearth at the Brent site (Martha Williams)

Artifacts

Over 5,485 artifacts were recovered from the Brent site. The assemblage attests to a substantial Native American component along with a later occupation associated with George Brent's tenure on the property.

Most of the shovel tests recovered Native American artifacts, including lithics and ceramics. Stone tools include triangular and Brewerton-type points. Lithic materials were predominantly quartz (60%) with relatively large numbers of chert and smaller numbers of quartzite, rhyolite, and jasper. Native American ceramics found at the site represent a range of types, including Accokeek, Potomac Creek, Moyaone, Rappahannock, Townsend, and Yeocomico. The quantity of Native American artifacts suggests that the Brent house was constructed on top of a Late Woodland camp, although no prehistoric features were identified during the archaeological investigations. It is also possible that the Potomac Creek, Moyaone, and Yeocomico wares are associated with the late 17th-century occupation.

Architectural artifacts include lead window came, window glass, hand wrought nails, handmade brick, plaster, slate shingles, and a fragment of Aquia Creek sandstone. The most prevalent ceramic types are tin-glazed earthenware, Rhenish blue and gray stoneware, English brown stoneware, Staffordshire slipware, and Morgan Jones ceramics. A smaller quantity of later ceramics, including creamware and pearlware, suggests a later component at the site. Nine-hundred-and-one tobacco pipe fragments were found, including 14 that were marked, and 18 were identified as locally made.

Small finds include glass and shell beads, a silver crucifix, a braided copper alloy ring, a copper alloy needle case, and ten straight pins. Horse-related artifacts include 10 leather ornaments and 4 bridle bits and a bridle boss. Two coins (a farthing and a sixpence), coin weights, a bale seal, and a copper alloy disk were also recovered.

The faunal assemblage from the Brent site consists of 2,423 fragments, almost all of which derive from plowed midden contexts Twenty-eight fragments came from feature fill. The is typical of a late 17th-century assemblage , indicating a high reliance on pork and beef coupled with a small, but significant, presence of wild species, including venison and fish. The faunal evidence may also suggest some concern with fashionable dining practices.

References

Hardy, Beatriz Betancourt and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. George Brent (ca. 1640–by 1700). Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 July 2013. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/ . Accessed April 10, 2015.

Hatch, D. Brad. 2015. A Report on the Analysis of Faunal Remains from the Brent Site (44ST0130). Prepared for St. Mary's College of Maryland, St. Mary's City, MD.

Steiner, Bruce E. 1962. The Catholic Brents of Colonial Virginia: An Instance of Practical Toleration. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 70(4):387-409.

Witkofski, Monica C,. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. 2014. Margaret Brent (ca. 1601–1671). Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 29 June 2014. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/ . Accessed April 10, 2015.

Williams, Martha. 1997. Archeological Society of Virginia Field Project Documentation, Brent Cemetery, Stafford County, Virginia. Manuscript, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Richmond, VA.

Further Information on the Collection

The Brent Site collection is owned by the Archdiocese of Virginia and curated by Martha Williams. For more information about the collection, contact Martha Williams at mwilliamslonomo@aol.com.

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A multi-year and multi-institution collaboration aimed at standardizing and synthesizing archaeological data for important sites in the Potomac River Valley during the period 1500-1720.

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