Excavating unit #470525 at the Clifton site, 2015. Photo by Dr. Julia King.

Heritage Fund Highlight: Archaeology in Search of Thomas Gerard

12/27/2016
By Preservation Maryland

In 2002, Dr. James and Gena Clifton were constructing new outbuildings on their farm in Bushwood, when they discovered old shards of pottery. They did the right thing in contacting local archaeologists, and future professional digs supported by the Heritage Fund indicated that the site was likely the seventeenth century manor of Dr. Thomas Gerard, one of the earliest Maryland settlers and an acquaintance of Lord Baltimore.

The Clifton’s contacted archaeologists at Historic St. Mary’s City and the Maryland Historical Trust Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. Further exploration and analysis revealed ceramic shards, clay tobacco pipes, glass, flint, nails and brick that dated to the second and third quarters of the seventeenth century. These items indicated the very early presence of a high-status English settlement on the Clifton’s property. An archaeological research team under the direction of Dr. Julia King, Professor of Anthropology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, continued to dig.

HERITAGE FUND SUPPORT

To support additional dig time, research, and analysis, the project was assisted with a $5,000 grant to the St. Mary’s College Foundation from the Heritage Fund grant program of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust. The remaining balance of the $10,000+ project will be paid through a cash gift and funds from St. Mary’s College. The project resulted in a 140+ page report, “In Search of Thomas Gerard: Archeological Investigations at the Clifton Site” and a presentation by Dr. King at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference.

IN SEARCH OF THOMAS GERARD

The researchers found evidence to support the theory that the site was the seventeenth century manor of Dr. Thomas Gerard, one of the earliest Maryland settlers and an acquaintance of Lord Baltimore.

Shovel testing in 2012. Photo by Dr. Julia King.

Shovel testing in 2012. Photo by Dr. Julia King.

Until 2015, most experts believed Gerard’s manor house was located to the southeast, immediately on the Potomac River at Colton’s Point, near where the first Maryland settlers landed in 1634. The new evidence indicated it was farther inland, however. The St. Clement’s Manor site is only one of two known sites outside St. Mary’s City that date to the first decade of European settlement in southern Maryland, and the earliest known rural domestic estate in Maryland.

Dr. Thomas Gerard was a wealthy Catholic Englishman who first came to Maryland in 1638. By importing indentured servants and slaves, he was able to amass thousands of acres along the Potomac, striving after Cecil Calvert’s ideal of a colony of manorial settlements. Gerard was known as a tough man who frequently quarreled with neighbors, including the Calvert family. He was sued multiple times for illegally seizing property and withholding payments. Gerard served in the colonial government for twenty years until he was found guilty of treason and banished from Maryland. Although he returned to his estate after he was pardoned in 1661, he never regained his status in the colony. Nevertheless, by the time he died in 1673, Gerard owned almost 12,000 acres, more land than anyone else in colonial Maryland except for Lord Baltimore.

NEW TECHNOLOGY IN THE FIELD

Thanks to technologies like strategic remote sensing, which allows researchers to get a sense of the presence of objects in the subsurface without disturbing the ground, the team from St. Mary’s found additional tangible remains to add to the story of early Maryland. To date, Dr. King and her associates have cataloged a total of 15,599 artifacts.

Dr. Time Horsley conducting a magnetometer survey. Photo from Dr. Julia King.

Dr. Tim Horsley conducting a magnetometer survey. Photo from Dr. Julia King.

The most notable finds include a possible iron pike, a pipe tamper decorated with portraits of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria; and a decorative bone comb, rare for this period in Maryland history. Other artifacts like pieces of Venetian glass, Spanish or Italian ceramic salt figurines, and Portuguese earthenware support historical records to show that Thomas Gerard was a man of significant economic means. Not only was he part of elite trade networks in Europe, but discoveries like red clay tobacco pipes and brass metal scraps reveal that he traded with local Native American peoples as well.

In fact, over 500 Native-made artifacts have been discovered at the site. Although archaeologists have discovered indigenous artifacts in Historic St. Mary’s City, the presence of such a large number of artifacts at the more rural St. Clement’s Manor site, which was constructed closer to Native villages, sheds new light on Anglo-Native interaction in early Maryland.

PRESERVATION PLANNING

One question researchers wanted to answer was whether the St. Clement’s Manor site is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The archaeological discoveries confirming the location of the manor allowed Dr. King and her associates to conclude it may be considered under:

Now that this preliminary research has turned up so much useful information, the next step is to ensure the site is preserved. Recommendations for preservation include the acquisition of the site by a preservation organization, establishment of a preservation easement, removal or relocation of the horse barn on the site or an immediate full excavation of the site to ensure nothing is lost.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SUPPORT THIS TYPE OF ARCHAEOLOGY?

There are examples of projects just like this that simply would not happen without the financial support of the Heritage Fund. Please see our summaries of recent and deserving grantees to see the impact that this funding sources has on protecting the best of Maryland.

This Heritage Fund project summary was researched and written by Kyle Fisher, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. With degrees in history, communications, and teaching, Kyle has contributed greatly to our education and outreach programs, including this blog. Learn more about Kyle and our intern program here: presmd.org/waxter.

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