Sunday, July 3, 2016

Success to the Tryphena

Back in 2012 to 2014, archaeologists from what was then John Milner Associates excavated the site of the future Museum of the American Revolution in downtown Philadephia. The main thing they found was 12 "shaft features" – privies and wells – filled in between 1750 and 1820. They have now released their report (under their new name, the Commonwealth Heritage Group), along with a press release that has landed them back in the news. Above, a sample of the 82,000 artifacts they recovered.

They found a staggering array of 18th-century ceramics.

I remember Rebecca Yamin, the project director, saying at some conference that she thought she was too jaded to ever be blown away again by stuff she found, but this site blew her away.

Especially noteworthy were two items that must have come from a tavern. First this window. Enough of this was reconstructed to show that someone once scratched a quotation on it. It seems to be "We admire riches and are in love with idleness," a quotation from Addison's play Cato, which was a favorite of British Whigs and American patriots; Washington had it performed for his men at Valley Forge. It is also the source of another famous quotation from the Revolution, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

Even better is this punch bowl, painted with "Success to the Tryphena." The Tryphena was a ship that sailed regularly between Philadelphia and Liverpool. But this punch bowl was almost certainly created for a political meeting to celebrate a particular sailing in 1765, when the Tryphena carried Pennsylvania's petition against the Stamp Act to Britain. How amazing that such a thing should be found in a privy, 250 years later. And not only that, but that it should have been found on the site of a museum devoted to the American Revolution, which will put it on display.


G. Verloren said...

What might explain the location of these items in wells and privies?

Perhaps advancing British troops, such when Howe occupied Philadelphia in 1777, prompting locals to stash their valuables in location few enemies would think or want to dig through, in the hopes of being able to recover the goods later?

John said...

When wells and privies were abandoned they were always filled with trash. And they generally didn't last more than fifty years or so, at which point it was usually easier to dig a new one than to repair the old one. So the old one just because the rubbish heap for a while, with the advantage that you didn't have to pay anyone to haul it away.

G. Verloren said...

Huh. Makes sense I guess - I imagine a disused refuse pit isn't going to be good for much else, so why not toss more refuse in as needed? And I assume wells typically went out of use because of fouling of the water, or at the very least ended up fouled anyway if neglected, and thus were similarly worthless?

So I assume this also means many items that come from these sites were broken before they went into the pits? Does that also result in secondary breakage, from being tossed down a pit? Can one even tell the difference, or does it even much matter?