Old Chapel Field (18ST233)

Introduction

The Old Chapel Field site (18ST233) is part of an early Jesuit settlement located south of St. Mary's City on the St. Mary's River in St. Mary's County, Maryland. St. Inigoes Manor, as the settlement was known historically, was in Jesuit hands by 1636. St. Inigoes served as the mission's headquarters and home plantation throughout the 17th century. In addition, a fort was built on the manor by 1637 in an effort to protect the fledgling colony from naval attack. This fort was large enough to accommodate the local population for up to a year if necessary.

Old Chapel Field was occupied from c. 1637 until about 1660, and probably represents a domestic occupation associated with the Jesuit mission headquarters. 18ST233 could also be the site of the c. 1637 fort, although little archaeological evidence was recovered to suggest that this is the case. Several graves were found in association with 18ST233, and are among the earliest European graves yet documented in Maryland.

St. Inigoes Manor remained a Jesuit holding until 1942, when the northern half, approximately 800 acres, was sold to the United States Navy. Today, the Old Chapel Field site is part of the Naval Air Station Patuxent River–Webster Field Annex. The balance of the original land holding remains in possession of the Jesuits, and is one of the longest continuously-owned tracts in North America. Although not the focus of this project, many sites have been identified that document Jesuit ownership up through the 20th century.

Because of its early date of occupation, Old Chapel Field has the potential to reveal information about life in Maryland shortly after permanent European settlement began. During these early decades, colonists lived in close proximity to the colonial capital at St. Mary's City, from which comes most of our archaeological information about this period. The comparatively large numbers of trade goods and Indian-made terra cotta tobacco pipes found at 18ST233 suggest the relationships the Jesuits were attempting to establish with the local Native American population.

Archaeological Excavations

The Old Chapel Field site was first identified in 1974, when Steve Wilke and Gail Thompson recorded a scatter of shell associated with prehistoric artifacts in the area. The site was re-surveyed in 1981, when Michael Smolek of the Maryland Historical Trust’s Southern Maryland Regional Center excavated 17 shovel test pits in the area Wilke and Thompson had examined. Both prehistoric and historic materials were identified.

Excavation at Old Chapel Field

In 1996, Julia A. King and Edward Chaney of the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum undertook a comprehensive Phase I archaeological survey of the Webster Field Annex, including the Old Chapel Field site. Shovel tests were excavated at intervals of 25 feet, and King and Chaney were able to relocate 18ST233 and identify it as a domestic occupation from the early to mid-17th century.

In 2000, King and Chaney returned to Old Chapel Field to conduct additional testing. The work was funded by the Naval Air Station’s Natural Resources Branch and the Department of Defense’s Legacy Resources Program. Twenty 5-by-5-foot test units were excavated at 18ST233, with the plow zone soils screened through ¼-inch mesh. A number of features were exposed below the plow zone, including a borrow pit, a possible lime kiln, three grave shafts, three post holes, and several unidentified intrusions. A portion of the borrow pit was excavated to document the feature’s shape and stratigraphy, and to recover a sample of artifacts. In addition, traces of what may have been a wooden grave marker were observed at the head of one grave.

Unit 47071 features, Old Chapel Field (Courtesy Naval Air Station Patuxent River Webster Field Annex, Naval District Washington)
East wall profile, feature in Unit 47071, Old Chapel Field (Courtesy Naval Air Station Patuxent River Webster Field Annex, Naval District Washington)
Possible lime pit (Units 44261 and 44471), Old Chapel Field (Courtesy Naval Air Station Patuxent River Webster Field Annex, Naval District Washington)
Post hole (Unit 47070), Old Chapel Field (Courtesy Naval Air Station Patuxent River Webster Field Annex, Naval District Washington)
Pit feature (Units 46859 and 46860), Old Chapel Field (Courtesy Naval Air Station Patuxent River Webster Field Annex, Naval District Washington)
Grave Shafts (Units 46851 and 47061), Old Chapel Field (Courtesy Naval Air Station Patuxent River Webster Field Annex, Naval District Washington)

Artifacts

More than 356,000 artifacts, including large quantities of oyster shell, were recovered from the 2000 excavations at 18ST233. Both Native American and European manufactured items were recovered from the site, and it is likely that many of these materials are contemporary with one another. European ceramics include tin-glazed earthenware, early North Devon Fine ware, Martincamp ware, North Italian slipware, Kraak (Chinese) porcelain, and Rhenish brown stoneware, as well as various lead-glazed coarse earthenwares.

Agatized pipe from the site

Both terra cotta and white clay tobacco pipes were recovered from 18ST233, but terra cotta pipes dominate the assemblage. Nearly all of the terra cotta pipes appear to be handmade, and most are decorated. Local Native Americans likely produced these pipes. Several fragments of a probably locally-made tobacco pipe composed of mixed red and white clays were also recovered. These stems were decorated with stamped rosettes and rouletting, and were probably produced by a pipemaker working in Virginia.

Other artifacts from 18ST233 included various glass beads, a probable copper alloy bead, a jetton, a coin weight, a sword belt hook, a spur fragment, horse furniture, lead shot, scissors, fish hooks, a mouth harp, knife blades, buttons, a hook-and-eye, and tenterhooks. Interestingly, no religious artifacts were recovered from 18ST233.

References

Galke, Laura J., and Alyssa L. Loney. 2000. Phase I Archaeological Investigations Aboard Webster Field Annex, Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Report prepared for the Department of Public Works, Naval Air Station, Patuxent River. Manuscript on file, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard.

Sperling, Christopher I., and Laura J. Galke. 2001. Phase II Archaeological Investigations of 18ST233 and 18ST329 Aboard Webster Field Annex, Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Report prepared for the Department of Public Works, Naval Air Station, Patuxent River. Manuscript on file, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard.

Further Information on the Collection

The Old Chapel Field collection is owned by the United States Navy and curated by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. For more information about the collection and collection access, contact Sara Rivers Cofield, Federal Collections Manager, at 410-586-8589; email SRivers-Cofield@mdp.state.md.us.

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