Visionary Hill Site
Navarro County Texas
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1/12/2003 BILL YOUNG: More about the bottles found out at Visionary Hill

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Navarro County Historical Commission's endeavor towards trying to record and help preserve the cemeteries in this county. Near the end of the article, I listed the telephone numbers for Bruce McManus and me and I discovered that I had made a mistake on my own phone number. The correct number for me is (903) 874-7067. Somehow, I hit the 9 instead of the correct 0 for the third digit from the end and I failed to notice this error. I should also mention that appealing for funds from interested persons at Christmas time is poor timing. However, I felt it was time to start the ball rolling and hopefully during this and future years, people will want to donate $25 to help preserve a cemetery.

Last week, I wrote that we recovered 12 bottle bases that had pontil marks. I also listed one fire polished pontil, one improved pontil and eight snap case bases. I failed to mention that all of these bases belong in the aqua-colored group. In the group of olive-colored bases, we found one pontil base, one fire polished pontil, three improved pontils and two snap cases. We only found two amber-colored bases both of which are snap case and finally in the clear-glass category, we recovered two pontil bottoms and five snap cases.

I will try to explain what a fire polished pontil is. After the bottle was blown, the neck and lip were added by hand, utilizing a ponte rod or another blow pipe attached to the base of the bottle. Then the ponte rod/blow pipe was broken loose from the base of the bottle. On some occasions, a ragged piece of glass was left protruding downward from the base which prevented the bottle from standing upright. The master blower or his helper would then place the base of the bottle back into the furnace for a few seconds causing the jagged piece to melt. In some cases, the piece would fall off while on others it tended to puddle near the center of the bases. It either case, one can readily tell that the base had been re-heated. The time frame for fire polished pontils is the same as for unmodified pontils -- most were manufactured prior to 1856. If we add up all of the various colors of open pontils and fire polished pontils, we have a combined total of 17 bases.

With the advent of improved pontils along with snap case bases, both start at the end of open pontils and was utilized by a number of glass companies up until the Owens Automatic Bottle Machine was invented in 1902. This means that for over 46 years there wasn't any major change in how the glass blowers held the bottle while the neck and lip were attached. However, the molds were constantly being improved on the other end of the bottle. Every few years, especially after the early 1880s, the molds were extended higher and higher in an effort to form more of the neck. This helped reduce the amount of work and secondary glass that the master blower had to use to finish the top of each bottle. A few years prior to the Owens machine, almost the entire neck was blown inside the mold which left only the lip/rim work to be down by hand. It is my opinion that all four of the improved pontil bases and nine of the snap case bases belong to the early occupation of Visionary Hill. Four of the clear bases and two of the aqua bases date to after 1880.

Without a doubt, all 17 of the open and fire polished pontils fit very comfortably in a time frame prior to 1860. If we add the improved pontil total of four and the first nine snap case bases, we have a combined total of 30 out of 36 bases belonging to the first occupation of the site. Again, this high count of early bases helps to strengthen our contention that use of the site started around 1850.

Now let's take a look at the different products that were packaged in those bottles. First, I need to note that we did not find any portion of the base of the first two bottles that I want to discuss. The diameter of each bottle is about the size of your first finger and the diameter of each neck is slightly smaller than a pencil. The thing that makes each of these bottles unique is the thinness of the glass. If I took either bottle when it was originally complee and placed it between two fingers, I don't have any doubt that I could crush the bottle with only a small amount of pressure. Both bottles have a very crudely manufactured lip which looks as if the master blower took a pair of pliers and simply rolled the top of the bottle outward, forming the crude lip. We didn't find any shards of these bottles with any lettering so we must make a guess as to what product originally came in each piece. Since the glass is so thin, I doubt that a liquid came in the vessels so it is my opinion that either a powder or some type of pill came in these tiny bottles.

One aqua bottle that entered the site during the second occupation is a local bottle. We found enough of the front embossed area to positively identify this bottle as being a quart size bottle manufactured for S.A. Pace and Company, Corsicana, Texas. If you go downtown, you can find the S.A. Pace name embossed on the front of several buildings and the house located on West Third Avenue at 19th Street that many of us refer to as the Hamilton House, was built by Mr. Pace in 1886. Over the years, I have seen several examples of this same bottle found here in this area. I do not know what specific product came in these bottles but I feel sure it was a liquid, probably some form of liniment, medicine/snake oil as every example that I have seen has been the quart size.

Next time: Other glass bottles from Visionary Hill

Bill Young is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears Sundays.


1/19/2003 BILL YOUNG: Some of the other glass containers from Visionary Hill

When we analyzed the bottle glass from Visionary Hill, there isn't any doubt that the man of the house liked to take a drink from time to time. Sections of two or more aqua pint flasks were recovered on the east side of the house. In fact, in this same area, we recovered far more bottle glass than in any other section of the site. This oddity makes me wonder if someone residing in the house would occasionally place empty bottles in this area to use for target practice. We know there were several percussion caps found in the front of the house plus numerous musket balls so it would seem logical that they needed to practice with their weapons. Both of the flasks mentioned above are referred to as strap side bottles because of the wide raised band along the sides.

Another classic bottle found at the site is called a cathedral pickle bottle. During the 1880s, bottles intended to hold either pepper sauce or pickles were molded in special molds that formed gothic panels in the glass. Some bottles had only a single gothic panel on each side while others had as many as three panels, each one on top of the next starting from the base to the top. These gothic panels can be readily recognized if a shard of glass exhibits the raised surface. Once a gothic panel has been found, then it must be determined if the bottle was for pickles or pepper sauce. At Visionary Hill, we also found part of the lip of a pickle bottle and just like today, bottles that contain whole pickles require a large opening. I know that most readers have gone into a small store where the owner has a large pickle bottle sitting on the counter. Typically, they sell each pickles individually to the customers. Back in the early times, it was fairly common for an individual to buy a large bottle of pickles; quite often the bottle contained either a half or whole gallon of pickles. Since pickles were "pickled," they would last almost indefinitely without any refrigeration.

Several years ago, I was running a backhoe for SMU looking for sites in the Cooper Lake Project. We were in a rolling hill area just south of Cooper along a small drainage that contained a number of historic house sites. We noticed a small flat top mound along with several shallow depressions in one pasture so we decided to place a backhoe trench across the small mound. As soon as the bucket broke through the grassy side of the mound, many handmade bricks started rolling out into the bucket. We immediately ceased with the digging and started gathering up part of the brick for documentation, noticing that there were a lot of shards of bottle glass in the bucket. Eventually we were able to glue a lot of the pieces back together. This bottle was a half-gallon cathedral pickle bottle. Without question, someone who worked at the old handmade brick clamp had a distinct liking for pickles. This person placed his bottle along the edge of the brick foundation where the bricks were fired. There was no evidence of pickle residue to tell us if the bottle was empty at the time it was placed on the ground.

Several shards of an aqua colored historical flask were found on the site. This particular style of historical flask is called a scroll flask. Typically, these bottles are in the shape of a violin and come in either pint or quart size. The one from Visionary Hill was originally a pint container. It is interesting to note that this same identical style bottle was found at the Jones Plantation site plus two other fragments which were found near the log cabin that we moved back in February last year. Whatever brand of alcoholic spirits that came in this particular bottle must have been popular with the local citizens during the 1850s.

We also found several shards of another historical flask bottle at Visionary Hill. This particular bottle was produced in a medium dark olive color and each shard exhibits many tiny air bubbles in the glass. We found enough of the lower part of one side to comfortably state that the designs embossed in the bottle are the Cornucopia design on one side and the American Eagle on the other. Ever since we found the larger piece of glass whereby we could determine the specific design, I have wanted to find all of the fragments which would allow me to glue the entire bottle back together. Certain bottles produced in those earlier times made out of the olive colored glass that had many tiny "seed" bubbles are beautiful when a background light source passes through the bottle.

Several shards of one particular bottle are cause for discussion. We found the neck and lip of a very dark olive bottle that must have contained some form of liquor, possibly a French brandy. What makes this bottle unique is the way the glass blower formed the neck. While the blowpipe was still attached, the master blower pulled the hot glass outward from the body of the bottle to form the neck. Then the blowpipe was removed and a laid-on ring of glass was added to the neck a short distance below the cut-off lip. This laid-on ring is very crude and far more typical of laid-on rings produced in the middle to late 1700s. For those of you who don't understand what a laid-on ring of glass is, look at the neck and lip of most wine bottles produced today. The ring of glass expanded outward from the neck is very similar to the hand made laid-on ring used by glass manufacturers in the 1600 to 1800s. The sole purpose of this ring of glass was to facilitate the attachment of a strong wire to hold the cork in place. The shards from this bottle look very different when placed next to the other bottle shards from Visionary Hill. We can speculate that they must have brought this bottle with them when they migrated to Navarro County and probably saved the contents for use on very special occasions.

Next week: Some of the other glass from the site


1/26/2003 BILL YOUNG: Some of the other bottles from Visionary Hill

I think by now it is obvious to the readers I have a certain amount of affection for old bottles. From 1840 to just after the turn of the century, there were many changes and improvements in the bottle-making process that aid archeologists in determining a reasonable date for each bottle recovered in an archeological site. I especially enjoy looking at the embossing produced on the outside of the bottles. It is outrageous what the manufacturers claimed their product would do. For instance, one claim was Wooten Wells Mineral Water: A Blood Purifier, A Diuretic And A Laxative. Bottled At Dallas, Texas. Note: A second version stated it was bottled at Wooten Wells, Texas. The Wooten Wells Bottling Company was located at Wooten Wells in Central Texas and bottled most of its mineral water at this location. However, they must have transported mineral water in larger containers to Dallas to be bottled at that location. There is also a slight possibility a source of mineral water was in the Dallas area. We know from the various bottles recovered that the bottles from Dallas are quite scarce compared to the ones from Central Texas. Mrs. Lynn Sanders Jr. informed me there were artesian wells that supplied the Baker and Adolphus Hotels in downtown Dallas. She went on to say the water tasted terrible unless you like artesian water. It is possible the Wooten Wells used one of these wells for a water source.

Another great example is: Barry's (on one side), Tricopherous For The Skin And Hair (on the front), Directions in the Pamphlet (on the back), and New York (on the other side). I assume that the name of this particular product is pronounced Tri-co-pherous but I can only imagine what the liquid looked like and I doubt the smell was appealing. Until the Pure Food & Drug Act which was passed in 1902, bottlers could claim almost any physical ailment could be cured by their products. There were other changes that occurred in how they molded a bottle or the different adaptations each glass company tried when it was searching for a better way to produce a neck and top which would be totally closed. These changes were important in preventing leakage of the product contained or contamination by air entering the glass vessel. This may help to explain why I have taken such an interest in old bottles plus I just plain like the various colors of glass.

Everyone should understand when the term olive is used describing a certain color, the color can vary from black to a pale green. There was a large group of bottles produced during the 1800s that at first glance, you would say the color of the glass is black. However, if an individual will hold the piece of glass near a very bright light source, he will see the color of the glass is some variation of dark green. Sometimes the green color will be mixed with a dark amber while others will be a truly dark green. Most if not all of these glass containers were sold to companies that bottled alcohol in some form or another. To my knowledge, beer was never bottled in these "black" bottles. Brandy, wine and some whiskeys were the main items. Typically, gin was bottled in very dark olive or black bottles but the shape of the bottle was tapered from the top downward and the neck and lip were very short.

At Visionary Hill, at least six bottles were made of the so called "black glass." Whenever we found part of the base, we found lettering embossed in a circle around the bottom. Not a single shard from any part of the side of the bottle exhibited embossing. This bottom embossing is also typical of brandy bottles from this time period. On the Bertrand steamboat, sunk in 1865, bound for Montana and discovered and excavated some 25 years ago, several cases full of identical bottles were found.

We also found numerous shards of a lighter dark green color. Between the number of bases and neck/lip pieces recovered, we have determined there are five or more wine bottles present in the collection.

In the category of amber glass, several shards that have embossed parallel logs on the glass belong only to one particular special bottle, St. Drake's 1860 Plantation Bitters. This was packaged in a log cabin shaped bottle and can be readily identified. Note that we recovered several shards of an identical glass container at the Jones Plantation site.

If we add up the historical flasks, the strap-sided pint whiskey bottles, the black-glass brandy containers and the wine bottles, plus the high alcohol content contained in the bitters bottle, it indicates someone drank on a regular basis. I would venture to say they drank more than a small glass every once in awhile. Since all of these glass bottles containing alcohol were store-sold items, this indicated someone went to town regularly and had enough money to purchase these bottles.

At least 15 shards of amber glass are portions of old snuff bottles. These small square snuff bottles can be found around almost any rural site that started prior to 1940. However, I was a little surprised to see this particular type of snuff bottle on such an early site. A few shards of the neck sections confirm these bottles belong to the earliest form of this bottle. For those of you who are not aware of it, in those early times the smoking of any form of tobacco was not for the female in the family. Yet the use of snuff was readily acceptable so when shards of snuff bottles are found on a site, we can be sure one or more women dipped snuff.


2/16/2003 BILL YOUNG: More about the glass from Visionary Hill

The response pertaining to the cemeteries has been excellent and I plan to write several more articles in the near future. However, I need to finish publishing the description of the artifacts from Visionary Hill while they are still fresh in my mind.

By far, the worst color of glass to analyze is clear glass. The intrusion of modern clear bottle glass into an early historical site can alter the count and the ending time period for a house if the archeologist isn't extremely careful at the time he is sorting the glass. Each time we encounter a clear glass shard, we hope there will be air bubbles present or perhaps an uneven thickness noted in the shards may indicate older glass. Otherwise, if all of the shards are similar, it is almost impossible to say positively which of the shards belong to either an older bottle or a modern one.

At Visionary Hill, we experienced this problem. A number of clear glass shards had remnants of burned styrofoam still attached to the glass. We knew these represented pieces of soda water bottles that originally had styrofoam embossing around the lower three-fourths of the bottle. We also found several neck sections with modern screw threads. All of the above pieces were noted but excluded from the count of clear glass.

Only two diagnostic bases of clear glass were found that definitely are associated with the 1848 to 1860 time period for the site. Both bases exhibit crude pontil marks and based on the diameter of each base, both represent large jars, possibly pickle or maybe molasses jars. The surprising factor is that there are two clear glass bases with pontil marks! Most of the books with information about the glass industry indicate that the use of a pontil ceased around 1856. Then most of the books go on to state that the advent of clear glass did not occur until around 1859. Even though there is only a three years difference, we did not expect to see this at Visionary Hill. Our best guess is that one particular glass manufacturer had converted over to producing clear glass containers but had not acquired the snap case process. I feel sure it took several years for a new manufacturing process to spread though an entire industry.

Shards of clear table glass can also be confused with either old clear bottle glass or modern clear glass especially if the shard doesn't have any type of pressed or etched design. The first type of table glass that we recognized were sections of pressed glass oil lamps and oil lamp chimneys. We feel sure there are at least four different chimneys represented in the collection. One complete clear rim had small flutes around the entire edge while several shards exhibit some type of etched design Several other shards are made of opaque glass and the fourth chimney is slightly opaque but as clear as the shards from the fluted chimney. We also recovered shards of at least three oil lamp bases. One is plain and the other two were pressed (molded).

We found 16 golden amber shards which all belong to one glass vessel known as a "spooner." A brief definition of a spooner is a short stemmed tall flaring goblet. If a spoon was placed into a spooner, all of the bowl part and most of the handle would be inside the glass vessel. In those early times, the spoon was the most important and frequently used utensil in the kitchen. Therefore, they would place a glass "spooner" on the table and keep it filled with spoons. I don't think this indicates that every individual elected to eat his or her food with only a spoon instead of a fork, but the spoon must have been used to such a great extent that they wanted this utensil readily available. Of course, spoons would have been needed when mixing any form of food other than meats so the cook of the house wanted the spoons readily at hand. Keep in mind also the food preparation area served also as a living room and a bedroom in those early two-room log structures and a kitchen cabinet with pull out drawers didn't exist. Most households did have some form of furniture with drawers but I feel sure that most of the cooking and eating utensils were on the table or outside where at least a portion of the cooking was done. One thing of interest is that Visionary Hill is different from the Jones Plantation site in that there isn't any evidence of a separate kitchen which indicates that some food was prepared in the open. This probably occurred nearly every day as long as the weather cooperated since any time a fire was built inside the house, there was always the danger of the structure catching on fire. Not a single shard of the base of the spooner has been found and to date, I have not been able to glue much of the spooner back together since we are missing several key pieces.

Only one piece of a plate known as an alphabet plate was found. This is made of clear glass with the lettering molded in reverse on the outside of the bottom of the plate. This allows an individual to read the alphabet through the clear glass rather than having to turn the glass plate over.

We also recovered several other pressed glass shards which are sections of serving pieces. Exactly how many different pieces are represented in the collection has not been determined.

Next week: Looking at the ceramics from Visionary Hill


2/23/2003 BILL YOUNG: Chances of piecing together Visionary Hill ceramic unlikely

During the time SMU was working on the Richland/Chambers Lake Project, my wife and daughter discovered the site we now call Visionary Hill. One day while Dr. Randy Moir was looking at the collection of ceramics from Visionary Hill, I asked him what the odds were of finding all of the pieces of one vessel so that we might be able to restore the ceramic piece.

He stated it probably would be impossible since part of the pieces of each vessel might be dispersed over a wide area. Two other observations he made were of particular importance to me. One is that back in those earlier time periods, it was very common for 10 or more items to be broken per year. This meant that if Visionary Hill was occupied from 1848 through 1866 during the first occupation, a period of 18 years, there could be as many as 180 different ceramic vessels broken and scattered about the site. Today, I think about how often we break a piece in my house which might be less than one in every four years. Compare this to 10 or more per year in the 1850s and it seems so drastic. However, if we think back to what we know about those early times, 10 per year may not be enough.

Dishes probably were washed in a No. 2 pan outside either on the porch or possibly near the well. If the inhabitants of the site were versed in the practice of boiling water to aid in cleaning the vessels, they were forced to contend with hot water that might have caused someone to drop and break a piece. Then where were the pieces placed for drying? Either on the porch or back on the table. This shuffling of pieces, inside and outside the house probably brought on more breakage. Considering the number of children within those early households, more breakage was likely to occur. Remember, sinks were not available and water had to be hand drawn from a well or spring and electricity wasn't invented so therefore dishwashers had not been thought of. Add all of the above reasons together and 10 items per year may not be enough.

The other thing that Dr. Moir mentioned was that some vessels such as plates and platters may break into as many as 100 pieces. This can be especially true if a site was plowed for many years after the house site disappeared. Since Visionary Hill has old terraces starting near the top and evenly placed along the slope, it is very obvious this site experienced plowing for several years.

At Visionary Hill, all of the various decorated types of ceramics typically found on 1850 sites were recovered with one notable exception. One sherd of classic Mocha Ware was found last year. This single piece represents probably a fairly small pitcher with an inverted rim. To people who collect Mocha, this would be considered today as an elegant piece but back in 1850, the item would have sold for only a few pennies. It was surprising to discover this sherd since we feel Mocha disappeared from the market place as early as 1845. This indicated this one item was brought with the settlers when they migrated to this location.

A number of shell edge pieces have been recovered from the site. A few years ago, Dr. Moir started separating the different pieces based on color, thickness and exactly what type of shell edge indentation was pressed into the rim. He felt at least 15 different vessels were represented in the collection. Since then, I know we have recovered sherds of another five or six vessels. Keep in mind the only decoration typically found on shell edge vessels from the 1840s or the 1850s is a narrowly painted band of color along the rim edge. The most common color is blue, with red second and green a distant third.

In the Visionary Hill collection, there are two sherds painted red and since the edges are level and not rounded, we know these pieces represented two portions of a platter. It happens the two pieces fit together and are one of the corners of the vessel. We are able to tell from this one corner that the platter was rectangular in shape with tapered corners forming an eight-sided platter. With only two pieces, we cannot determine the exact size of the piece but I would venture to guess that it was probably 16 to 18 inches in length and 10 to 12 inches wide. We also have at least two other platters represented in the collection that are painted with blue color. Each different platter has a slightly different design pressed into the rim.

The rest of the shell edge sherds represent a number of different round or multi-sided plates. There are several sherds that have a blue band painted around the plate. These represent what we refer to as the last period of shell edge. Without question, the person applying the color had the plate spinning slowly on the molding wheel and the individual held the blue brush next to the rim applying the color. On all of the other earlier types of shell edge, each brush stroke was applied perpendicular to the rim. Of course this is more time consuming but the individual brush strokes have far more eye appeal and you know it took more time.

Next week: Some of the other decorated ceramics


3/2/2003 BILL YOUNG: Other early ceramics recovered from Visionary Hill

Spatter ware is one of the early decorations from the era prior to 1855 that I am particularly fond of. The common motif found on the spatter ware recovered in this area is referred to as the "Peafowl." I must assume this rather ugly looking bird represents an artistic rendition of a peacock. It is interesting to note every ceramic producing company in England that manufactured the peafowl design, adopted the same funny looking bird. While the colors applied to the bird may vary slightly, the overall appearance is nearly the same. One or more ceramic companies started using the peafowl design in the 1770s about the same time as the American Revolution but the colors and the physical shape of the bird differs greatly. Also, the tail on the ceramic peafowl is small and doesn't have the fan shape with brilliant multiple colors. Since our area wasn't inhabited by settlers until around 1844, we should not concern ourselves with the concept that we might find shards from the 1770s.

At Visionary Hill, the number of shards along with certain shapes tell us spatter ware vessels were popular. At least six to eight handleless cups are represented in the collection along with an number of sherds from saucers probably totaling an equal amount. There are other sherds that represent pieces of small round bowls. Each one of these bowls has a "skirted side." This means the bowl doesn't gradually curve from the rim to the base like the bowls in use today. Instead the bowl starts curving and at approximately three-fourths distance down the side, there is an abrupt change which causes the side of the bowl to decrease in diameter dramatically from this point to the base. The handleless cups also exhibit this same form. Since this was very typical of the ceramics produced prior to 1855, any sherd that exhibits this change point can be easily recognized regardless if it is decorated or not.

Another factor noted on the spatter ware bowls and cups is the spatter decoration never was applied below this offset point on the side of the vessel. This may indicate the ceramic producers realized the lower tapered section of a vessel wasn't viewed very easily so why bother to apply any type of decoration.

One item of interest that pertains to the spatter ware found locally is the complete absence of plates or serving pieces with any form of spatter ware decoration. I am not aware of any English ceramic company ever producing a complete set of spatter ware dishes but there isn't any doubt that plates and serving pieces were manufactured. Since we have not found a single sherd from a plate or serving piece here in the North Texas, several questions remain unanswered. Were all of the pieces found at Visionary Hill, Jones Plantation, the new Navarro County jail site where Hampton McKinney had his inn around 1850, and one other site nearby brought here or purchased locally? For now, it is my opinion that most, if not all, were bought locally rather than transported across the eastern half of the United States by a team and wagon. Most likely, the goods were transported by ship to one of the few harbors that existed along the gulf coast and then off loaded onto a wagon for transport to the early settlements in Texas. I am aware of a few shipping manifests that stated the cases of ceramics which were brought by flat boats on the Trinity River, up to the town of Pine Tree in Freestone County. The cases were hauled up the steep embankment and re-loaded onto wagons. From this point, the wagons traveled to Stewards Mill and then out onto the prairie for distribution. Although I haven't ever observed a sherd of complete spatter ware vessel marked with the importer's name on the back, I have seen several transfer ware printed vessels found in Texas with a secondary back mark of either an importer from New Orleans or Galveston. This gives credence to the concept most of the ceramic vessels were shipped inland from ports along the coast. However, another port near Corpus Christi would have been too far west for most imports brought to this part of Texas.

If you will recall, last week we estimated there must be 180 or more vessels represented in the collection from Visionary Hill. This is based on the assumption by Dr. Moir that at least 10 separate vessels were broken each year the site was occupied. Then if we multiply the 180 vessels by 100 sherds per vessel, we arrive at a total of 18,000 sherds or more distributed across the site. Dr. Moir stated it was not uncommon for a vessel to be broken into as many as 100 fragments, especially if the site had been continuously plowed for a number of years. However, it is my opinion there were not more than about 50 sherds per vessel at Visionary Hill. My opinion is based on several factors: One, the average size of the sherds recovered plus several vessels that were found simultaneously when the bulldozer was moving dirt for the new house pad. Most of a fairly large platter was recovered along with a majority of two larger size saucers and the sherd count for each item is less than 20. Therefore if I apply an average count of 50 sherds per vessel, the total count would be in the neighborhood of 9,000 sherds. This count conforms better with the total number of pieces recovered which total about 1,600. Even though we have recovered only slightly less than 20 percent the ceramic sherds, we should have a good representation of the total vessels broken over the years at the site.

Next week: More about the decorated ceramics


3/9/2003 BILL YOUNG: Comparing ceramics from Jones and Visionary Hill

Even though the Jones Plantation site started a few years later than Visionary Hill, we are able to make several observations allowing us to ascertain what ceramics were available during the late 1840s and 1850s.

One out of every 40 sherds from the Jones Plantation site has some type of colored decoration while, on the other hand, one out of every 10 sherds from Visionary Hill is decorated. Several factors can contribute to this difference. We are reasonably sure Visionary Hill started around 1848 while we know for sure the Jones Plantation site was occupied in 1856. Since Visionary Hill was occupied eight years earlier than the Jones site, we would expect to see more decorated sherds but the percentage is higher than originally expected. Five percent for the Jones site and 25 percent for Visionary Hill is considerably different. Another factor that may have affected the differences is how much was brought with the settlers vs. what they purchased locally after arriving in Navarro County. Looking through the ceramics from the slave houses at the Jones site tells us there were a number of ceramic items produced prior to 1850 that must have been transported here when they moved from South Texas. I would not refer to these pieces as heirloom items, but rather ceramic pieces that were still considered very useful and worth the expense to transport them to their new residence. Several sherds of the impressed shell edge without any color, produced in 1848, is a good example.

At the other site, Visionary Hill, only two sherds of this same 1848 impressed shell edge decoration, representing portions of a gravy boat, were found. Since this was produced in the same year Visionary Hill was occupied, we can not say for sure if this item was bought locally or brought with the family when they built the log cabin. The single mocha sherd representing a pitcher is the only item that I can say without hesitation is a ceramic vessel brought with them to Visionary Hill.

Every time we discover a site that dates prior to the turn of the century, we hope to recover a number of sherds which exhibit the maker's mark on the reverse side. This is especially true of sites that predate 1860. We also hope to find importer's marks stamped on the back. At Visionary Hill, we were very fortunate to find 18 maker's marks. On the day when Richard Rash was pushing the soil forming the dirt pad for the new house, I was trying to grab every single sherd of ceramic and shard of glass in an effort to preserve as much as possible of the site. Almost an entire saucer broken in five pieces was recovered from the dirt after the dozer passed over. This type of saucer is very typical of a number of saucers manufactured in the early to middle 1800s in that it doesn't have a recessed area in the middle to hold the cup centered in the saucer. In fact, it was quite common for individuals to drink from the saucer rather than the cup. Written descriptions in several books describe people pouring the contents from the cup to the saucer so they could consume the liquid.

This same saucer had an impressed back mark near the center of the saucer. It is a small anchor and in a half moon arch above the anchor is the word Davenport. The Davenport Ceramic Co. from Staffordshire, England, was one of the better known and highly respected ceramic companies during the 19th century. They also were known to mark many pieces with the actual year the item was produced. Typically, they would emboss one number on each side of the anchor symbol. These two numbers represented the last two digits of the year when the piece was manufactured. In the Visionary Hill collection, we found two saucers with the embossed anchor: One has a 51 while the other has a 52. Without question, these two pieces were produced in 1851 and 1852 respectively. A third saucer sherd exhibits the anchor but the piece does not have a date nor does it say Davenport. The Davenport Company produced other pieces without their name or the year.

Another larger sherd has the complete English registry mark on the back. This registry mark will tell you the year and the day this piece was registered. It also has a symbol that indicates what particular batch of ceramics was registered and a fourth mark which indicates what ceramic company registered this particular style. The sherd from Visionary Hill was produced by Adams & Sons which was another well known Staffordshire pottery company and the year this design was registered was 1853.

Three stamped maker's marks belong to another English ceramic company. None of these can be tied to a specific date but we do know this individual company was in business from 1845 to 1862. These dates fall within the time frame Visionary Hill was occupied. Two of the three marks are blue while the third is black. Another item of interest is when the maker's mark is blue or any other color than black, the complete piece probably was decorated with some form of colored decoration. On the other hand, if the maker's mark is black, most likely the piece was undecorated. Since three marks belong to the same company, this may indicate there might have been a partial or small complete set of dishes from this particular company.

One other stamped mark, black in color belongs to another English company that utilized this mark from 1880 to 1896. This is one of the pieces along with the S.A. Pace bottle shard that indicates a second occupation at the site. Without any form of colored decoration, it is impossible to sort every sherd into the first or second occupation. But I can safely state most of the sherds belong to the earlier occupation.

Next week: Some of the other decorated pieces from Visionary Hill


3/16/2003 BILL YOUNG: Other decorated ceramics from Visionary Hill

If you read last week's article, you may recall I stated one out of every 10 ceramic sherds from Visionary Hill was decorated with some type of colored design. This is an impressive percentage when we take into consideration the only decoration on a shell edge plate or platter is around the rim. Another type of ceramics recovered from Visionary Hill is called banded ware. Most of the pieces recovered have a narrow single or double band, hand-painted near the rim and forming a complete circle around the piece. At Visionary Hill, all of the banded ware sherds represent pieces of saucers except for two sherds. These two sherds are part of the pouring spout from a water pitcher and the two bands were painted red. Since we haven't tried to sort and analyze all of the plain white sherds, we are not aware of any other sherds from this pitcher. Also, since we haven't recovered any other rim sherds with red banded ware, we think at this time the water basin that surely went in a set with the pitcher was not broken.

There are a few sherds of another smaller pitcher or bowl that exhibit a wide blue band along with several narrow black bands. This type of decoration is referred to as banded ware in some books while in other publications, the authors state this is a late form of mocha. Either way, these pieces would have been very colorful on the kitchen table.

Transfer ware is considered slightly more elegant than some of the previously mention ceramic types and it is well represented at Visionary Hill. There are 20 or more different vessels in the collection from the site. One of the more impressive pieces is a small rectangular platter that was recovered the day Richard Rash was pushing the dirt forming the pad for the new house. I witnessed several large white pieces rolling along in the dirt in front of the bulldozer blade but I could not react quickly enough to get Mr. Rash to stop in time. Therefore, I had to wait until the dozer passed over the sherds hoping the sherds would emerge from behind the machine. I was pleased to see most of the sherds lying in the loose soil while the dozer continued away from this location. We were able to restore the entire center section of the platter and about one-half of the rim. There is a nice blue transfer ware decoration covering most of the center while the entire rim has wavy parallel lines from the rim edge into the rim drop-off section. There is also an impressed maker's mark on the back that says "real ironstone." I have looked through three different books on maker's marks and have not been able to find this particular mark.

Two transfer ware handleless cups and at least one saucer along with two plates can be identified as to exactly which English ceramic company produced the pieces. Adams & Sons were well known to utilize acorns in their transfer ware motifs and all of the above mentioned pieces have acorns. The two cups and the saucer along with one plate are decorated in blue while the other plate is a mulberry color.

There are at least two other transfer ware printed plates that have the same design. However, one is blue while the other has a brown transfer. This may indicate a small set of dishes or it is possible one individual had a single set comprised of a plate, a cup and saucer, along with a bowl with this decoration in one color while a second individual may have had another identical set but with a second color. This might be very helpful, especially with children in establishing who is responsible for cleaning and washing the dishes.

There are several sherds of transfer ware that represent sections of large serving pieces. Several sherds from the lid of a soup tureen are in the collection along with a few sherds from a fairly large serving bowl. One thing I should mention is the various colors within the transfer ware sherd collection. Blue, of course, is the most dominant but there seems to be an equal amount of red, black, charcoal, brown and mulberry. Three of the transfer ware sherds have maker marks on their reverse sides. Two date to the 1850s just like most of the material from the site while the third piece dates to the middle to late 1880s. Without a doubt, this piece belongs with the second occupation.

We have found a few sherds of luster ware and each piece is part of what is known as a chocolate pot which looks much like a miniature pitcher. Luster ware pieces typically have a red-ware interior core with a blue or brown slip applied to the exterior while a white slip is applied to the interior surface. Then a second covering of copper, gold or silver slip is applied to all or part of the exterior. Today, when we recover sherds of luster ware, the metallic slip is gone, leaving only the blue or brown slip. I don't think I have ever read of any pieces other than mugs, cups and small pitchers being manufactured with the luster ware decoration.

We have found seven sherds of bone china with a hand painted design. These pieces represent portions of two cups with handles. Although most of the cups from Visionary Hill are of the handleless variety, bone china pieces are far more elegant than the typical everyday pieces produced for import to America. The hand painted designs on these two cups are floral in concept and the design was applied after the glaze was applied to each piece. That means the painted design can be eroded from the surface of the vessel much easier than when the color is under the glaze. These two cups are two of the more expensive pieces from Visionary Hill.

Next week: The elegant and the everyday from Visionary Hill


3/23/2003 BILL YOUNG: Visionary Hill elegant, everyday

We found only three sherds of polychrome transfer ware at this site. Polychrome means several colors applied to the same piece. If a ceramic piece has multiple colors, the manufacturer would be required to fire the piece every time another color was added. In turn, this would increase the cost of producing polychrome ceramics which significantly raised the cost to the consumer. Most early pieces of polychrome are found at archeological sites where "persons of means" resided at some point in the past.

Another slightly more expensive decorated type of English ceramics found at Visionary Hill is referred to as "hand painted." Needless to say, the name is self explanatory. The process is almost exactly the same as the hand-painted bone china mentioned two weeks ago except for the fact that this form of hand painting is under the glaze, rather than over the glaze on the bone china. With the decoration under the glaze, the color is protected from the elements. Quite often most of the color applied to bone china sherds has eroded badly while the cheaper hand painted sherds look almost like the day they were manufactured. Only cup and saucer sherds are recognized in the collection. There seem to be enough different pieces to indicate the occupants may have owned a tea set comprised of hand-painted cups and saucers. The typical hand painted design is comprised of long narrow black lines that represent limbs or branches. Occasionally, a smaller line branches off and either a green leaf was hand painted or a red or blue flower. Approximately one-half of each cup and saucer had this design leaving the other half with the plain white background.

There are several sherds of sponge ware in the collection. These pieces have two green bands painted parallel to the rim about an inch apart. In between the two bands are blue flowers that were applied with a sponge specifically cut into a flower design. Sponge ware did not require quite as much labor to produce as the hand painted ware mentioned above. Therefore it would have cost less on the open market. One oddity about the sponge ware collection from the site is the fact that only saucers are represented. I assume it is possible the tea set comprised of hand-painted pieces might have had a few saucers with the sponge ware decoration. These saucers may have been replacement items bought because part of the original set had been broken. At the time when the hand painted items were broken, replacement saucers could no longer be purchased because the ceramic industry was changing from colored decorated pieces to the plain white ceramics.

The last fine earthenware ceramic pieces to be discussed from Visionary Hill is the plain white ironstone items. During the 1840s, some of the English ceramic manufacturers started making plain white ironstone dishes. Many of the earlier pieces have a raised design in the rim area and most of the 1840 pieces are multi-sided. For instance, cups and bowls are typically eight-sided, some with raised designs near the edge while others are plain. I need to mention that some ceramic specialists use the terms hollow ware and flat ware to described certain shapes in ceramics. Hollow ware means that the piece is cup shaped in some form allowing the piece to hold a liquid. This could be a cup, bowl, pitcher or a serving piece. Flatware means that the ceramic piece is flat or nearly flat. Plates, platters and saucers fall into this category. One must remember that both terms can be misleading. Flatware is also used to describe eating utensils such as knifes, spoons and forks and the term hollow ware is occasionally used to describe hollow handle knives.

Relief molded is the general term we use to describe white ironstone with a raised design. Typically, a design was cut into the base material and generally was wood. Then while the ceramic piece was still a pliable clay piece, the mold was pressed against the surface, pushing part of the clay inward while at the same time, some of the clay was forced outward, forming the raised design. Complete sets of dishes were manufactured with relief molded designs and were shipped worldwide. For many years, most of the buying public liked the pure white color vs. the older colored pieces. Even after 1900, relief molded ceramic pieces were produced. I remember both my grandmother and mother using pieces decorated with this form of decoration.

In the Visionary Hill collection, there are at least 20 to 25 ceramic pieces exhibiting the relief molded design. The vast majority are sherds from plates but there are at least three serving pieces represented in the collection. In fact, the heaviest and thickest sherds are sections from large tureens with large molded handles.

Next week: Crocks, churns, and other coarse earthenware .


3/30/2003 BILL YOUNG: Crocks, churns and other earthenwares from Visionary Hill

Without a doubt, we would expect to find sherds representing coarse earthenware vessels at the Visionary Hill site. However, the shapes and the surface treatment is almost the reverse of what we found at the Jones Plantation site.

First, I want to explain the differences in the vessel shapes from the two sites. At Visionary Hill, all of the jugs, bottles and storage vessels are tapered near the base. In other words, the mid-section of each piece is much wider than the bottom area. This shape goes far back into the 1600s and 1700s. Slowly through time, the pottery manufacturers started expanding the base and by the mid-1860s to maybe 1870, the sides of the vessel became parallel. Looking at the very early pieces produced prior to 1800, it is a wonder many examples survived through the years when the vessels had such a large center section perched on a very small base. I feel sure breakage was a common problem since the vessels were prone to tip over. It is possible the manufacturers decided to stay with the narrow base as long as there wasn't a great outcry from the consumer public. Remember, they were in the business to sell coarse earthenwares.

In the Visionary Hill collection, there is a complete base along with several pieces from the sides. Without question, we can readily tell this base is part of a very tapered bottle. Another observation is the fact this particular clay bottle doesn't have a glaze applied to the exterior or interior. I am guessing this particular vessel contained some type of liniment or it might be a blacking bottle. With the interior unglazed, I doubt this bottle contained any liquid for consumption of a specific medicine.

There are sherds from at least two different storage jars. Again just like the bottle above, both vessels exhibit tapered sides near the base. We do have one complete base and portion of a second storage jar and by measuring the diameter of each base, we can determine these jars were approximately 6 inches at the base while the mid-section measured nearly 10 inches in diameter. Coarse earthenware storage jars were commonly used here in Texas by the earliest settlers and still were being used during all of the tenant farmer era from the late-1800s to the 1940s.

Of particular interest is the glaze applied to these specific vessels. It is referred to as "alkaline glaze" which was produced here in Texas by only a few select pottery companies mainly in East Texas. In fact, most of the alkaline pottery companies were in Rusk County, in or near the present town of Henderson. There was one company in the Groesbeck area that manufactured some alkaline vessels but few examples can be tied back to this company. For now, we are content to state the examples we have recovered from Visionary Hill were produced in the Henderson area. Then it is pure conjecture as to whether the vessels were brought here as the settlers migrated to Navarro County, or the vessels were bought locally. I personally feel the vessels were brought with the settlers.

There are other coarse ceramic sherds from the site that represent portions of churns. Here again, these items for the most part, exhibit the alkaline glaze. Churns were utilized by almost every settler in the process of making butter. There are a few natural clay slip sherds that are also sections of another churn. Several sherds have a very thick polished surface which is grey in color. These particular pieces probably represent a churn that was either imported from the eastern United States or brought with the settlers when they entered Texas in the late 1840s. This particular glaze is typically not found on sites here in the North Texas region.

In comparing the coarse earthenware ceramics from Visionary Hill vs. the same category from the Jones Plantation, we see some very obvious differences. Many of the items at the Jones site have small iron ore inclusions in the body of the vessel. In fact, over one-half of the coarse earthenware ceramic vessel sherds have these inclusions. Several years ago, an extensive study was made about the various pottery producing companies here in Texas. Without question, any coarse earthenware vessel with the inclusions mentioned above were produced in the area near Denton. It was noted at least two of these companies started producing coarse earthenware just prior to 1850. With this information in hand, we know many of the items found at the Jones site were probably sold here locally but they were not available here until probably after 1860. If these vessels were available during the 1850 period, one or two should show up in the Visionary Hill collection as replacement items.

We did find several sherds that have a natural clay slip and each piece is a section from a jug, most likely a whiskey vessel. Since the bottle glass collection from the site distinctly shows someone at the site consumed several bottles of alcohol, we would expect to find sherds from whiskey jugs.

And finally, examples of small coarse earthenware called ginger beer vessels were recovered. Typically, these small bottles are white in color from the base up to the area where the pottery company started forming the neck. Then from this area up, the neck section is a cream color or slightly yellow. Both the Jones site and Visionary Hill produced sherds of ginger beers. Another name for ginger beer is ale or stout. This alcoholic product would not spoil, allowing the British manufacturers to ship cases of this product all over the United States without risk of the ale's spoiling. I don't think I have ever read a description of what this ginger beer tasted like nor how much alcohol was present in a bottle. However, once Charles Conrad started producing his pasteurized beer in 1878, ale or ginger beer disappeared quickly from the market place.

Next week: Personal items from Visionary Hill


4/6/2003 BILL YOUNG: Visionary Hill items help tell story

Any personal item recovered from a historical archeological site may help in identifying certain preferences by the occupants of the site.

At Visionary Hill, we were fortunate to find several items that tell us a little bit more about the family or families who lived at this location. Any time we work on a historic site, we would like to find a personal item that had the individual's name or initials such as a ring with initials or a belt buckle with the name or initials inscribed on the surface. I am sorry to say, we were not lucky enough to recover any item that falls into this category. On the plus side, we did find several personal items that tell us something about the early settlers.

First, several soft limestone marbles were found. The size of each limestone marble is slightly more than the typical marble played with today. Since these marbles were produced from a soft limestone which must have weathered slightly every day the marble was exposed to the elements, we cannot determine the original size. We must note when you hold one of these marbles in your hand, you can feel a tiny portion of the limestone dust between your fingers. Another type of stone marble was found at the site. This one was manufactured from a much harder, darker material. There are several lighter inclusions mixed in with the darker parent material. I am not familiar with every stone deposit in Texas but I seriously doubt this particular stone marble was produced anywhere in the state but most likely it was brought with the settlers when the migrated to Navarro County. Stone marbles are the first type of marble produced and were produced on a limited basis prior to the production of ceramic or glass marbles. We also know most marbles were produced for boys to play with although I can remember several girls who could beat me at marbles on a regular basis. If our conclusions about who played with the marbles, boys were present at the site. Going back to our article about the Randle Ellis family who occupied the site for a few years and then the Ashley Randle family for 10 or more years, the 1850 census states that both families had young boys of the age who would have played with marbles.

Looking for diagnostic artifacts that are related to girls' activities during the 1850s is like searching for the "needle in the haystack." Dolls were typically made from various types and colors of cloth as this was many years before the advent of china or bisque dolls. Therefore any archeological evidence of dolls would have long since dissolved into the soil. We did not recover any item that specifically is related to girls except for a few pieces of costume jewelry that might be for a girl.

We found three items of costume jewelry at the site. Each would be classified as a broach or small pin. The first one has a small, oval-shaped stone in the middle of an oval brass ring. Today the stone is very dark gray in color. However, when water is allowed to wash across the stone, we can tell that the original stone is red in color. This probably indicated that the rock in the broach is glass rather than some type of stone. Over the past 150 years, the red glass has taken on a "sick look." This is a term we regularly used when talking about bottle glass that has turned milky white on the surface. The second broach is manufactured from brass also. It is comprised of two twisting parallel pieces that loop around each other. The back of the broach is hollow which would reduce the weight of the piece. The third pin is very fragmentary with only part of the broach present. Just like the first two, it was made of brass but we haven't recovered enough of the piece to determine the exact shape.

A number of smoking pipe sherds were found which of course tells us that someone at the site liked to smoke tobacco. The first two pipes we found fragments of are made of white kaoline and both have figural designs. The first design possibly resembles a Roman ruler such as Julius Caesar in that there is a figure of a head with some type of wreath circling the entire head near the brow. The second figural pipe has the head of a soldier with a tall pointed hat. To me this looks like what we have seen as a Hessian soldier. There are only a few areas in the world where good pure white kaoline is found. The Staffordshire area in England is a prime source and several areas in Ireland. However there is one source here in North America in South Carolina. My first choice is that these pipes were produced in England and were brought with one of the two families when they migrated here.

We also found fragments of nine other pipes that must have been made in the United States. They are made from several different colored clays and all have a natural slip applied. Each pipe exhibits some form of a molded surface, usually simple parallel lines extending from the base of the bowl to the stem and then a second set of parallel lines vertical from the top of the bowl down to the other horizontal lines. These particular type of pipes have often been referred to as trade pipes since many examples have been recovered from historic Native American sites. Without a doubt, these same "trade pipes" were popular with early settlers migrating westward.

Next week: Looking for more historic cemeteries


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Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox