Current Archaeology at Colonial Michilimackinac

Archaeology at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse

Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeologists have been excavating the site of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse since 2007. This is the unit west of House D.

The Southeast Rowhouse was built in the 1730s. It was owned by Charles Gonneville, who traded at Michilimackinac from 1727 through 1754, and owned the house at least through 1758. By 1765 the house was in the hands of an English trader. The archaeology indicates he continued to occupy the house until it was demolished in 1781 when the community moved to Mackinac Island.

Our main research question when we began excavating was “How does a British trader’s house look different archaeologically from a French fur trader’s house?” While we still have several more seasons of work to do, we have some initial answers.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Ceramics
One of the most striking things about the artifact assemblage from this house is the number and variety of ceramics present.

Tin-glazed earthenware, delft and faience, is typically the most common ceramic type found at Michilimackinac. We are finding it here, some of it in large, for us, sherds.

 

 

 

Likewise, we are finding quite a bit of Chinese export porcelain, some in recognizable vessel forms, such as this saucer.

 

 

 

Stoneware is another common ceramic type, but the stoneware sherds from this house include a sherd of rare Nottingham stoneware and a sherd of Rhenish stoneware imported all the way from Germany.

 

 

 

Creamware, invented by Josiah Wedgwood in the early 1760s is an excellent time-marker for the British period at Michilimackinac. Perhaps not surprisingly, we are finding quite a bit of it, including enough to reassemble this plate.

 

 

 

One of the most unusual ceramic types found during this project is polychrome creamware, first manufactured in 1775, just six years before the site was abandoned.

 

 

 

Trade silver
Trade silver has long been recognized as a hallmark of the British-era fur trade in North America, but has not been commonly found at Michilimackinac. This house has been an exception to that pattern.

The 2017 excavation produced the most trade silver in a single season.

 

 

 

 

Several of the thin circle brooches, like the one pictured to the left, have been found. This thicker circular brooch is unique.

 

 

 

Personal Adornment
One of the surprises at House E has been the large number of personal adornment items recovered. We had previously associated fancy dress with French-Canadians. This English trader followed fashion not just in his tableware, but in his clothing as well.

These are two fancy buttons from House E. The first is silver and gilt. The second was wrapped with metallic thread.

 

 

 

Fancy sleeve buttons, what we would call cufflinks today, could be easily switched between shirts and removed before laundering.

 

 

 

This shoe buckle is one of the more complete buckles found at the house.

 

 

 

 

This cameo bust brass ring is only the second of its kind to be found in over sixty seasons of excavation at the fort.

 

 

 

 

It may be hard to recognize, but this is the handle from a small dress sword. By the late 18th century, swords were primarily fashion accessories rather than weapons.

 

 

 

Gun Parts
Some of the differences between houses are in what is not present. Unlike most houses excavated to date at Michilimackinac, gun parts are uncommon finds at House E.

This serpentine sideplate from a British trade gun is one of only four gun parts recovered at House E through 2019.

 

 

 

 

Religious Artifacts
The Roman Catholic devotional artifacts found at House E are evidence of the earlier Gonneville residence of the house.

This rosary is notable as being the only intact rosary found at Michilimackinac. It consists of ivory beads connected by silver alloy links. It is made up of five complete decades plus an extra “decade” of nine beads. A Brigittine rosary consists of six decades, as do rosaries used by Discalced Carrmelites. Neither of these orders has a known presence at Michilimackinac.

 

 

This crucifix could have been on the end of a rosary or been worn alone.

 

 

 

 

These images show both sides of one of three religious medallions found at the house. The front depicts the head of Jesus, surrounded by the words “SALVATOR MVND” (Savior of the World). The reverse depicts the Virgin Mary surrounded by “MATER SALVATOR ORA PRO” (Mother of the Savior, pray for [us]).

 

 

Mystery-solved!
We frequently find fragments of objects that we cannot identify. Sometimes we are able to solve the mystery.

This is the artifact we found. It is brass, about the size of a quarter, but thicker.

 

 

 

 

Here it is next to an antique spyglass brought in by one of our interpreters. It was the eyepiece from a spyglass!

 

 

 

 

Several years later we found what appears to be the crushed tube from a spyglass. A similar tube was found in the French well and is on display in Treasures from the Sand.

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