Nothing new here you might think. Someone is always digging up a street, a hole for a foundation, or for planting in the park across my street. But I’m talking about a different kind of digging. Think Indiana Jones. Boston City Archeologists have been digging in a backyard in the North End of Boston this summer. Think Old North Church, Paul Revere, and lanterns.
The dig followed a decision by the Old North Church, which owns the Clough House, to build a new public walkway to the rear of the home. Under its deed, the patch of land must be studied by archeologists before work can proceed.
The city offered to do the dig for free, Bagley [City archeologist, Joseph] said, in a section of church property where archeologists had never dug before. “We knew we would find stuff back here, but we never expected to find so much stuff from the 1700s,” Bagley said.
I first learned about the dig a couple of weeks ago in an email newsletter from the City. And I found out that archeology program has a Facebook page where they have been posting nice pictures of pottery shards. The Boston Globe ran a story yesterday explaining more about the dig.
“This whole backyard was a trash dump,” city archeologist Joseph Bagley said, smiling as he walked gingerly around the site. “And back in the day, I think the backyard would have been just disgusting.”
In other words, perfect.
During two weeks of digging, Bagley and a crew of volunteers collected tens of thousands of items from the 1700s. The haul included long-ago leftovers of everyday life: animal bones, doll parts, and uncounted chips and fragments of dishes and cups that archeologists hope will reveal more about how Bostonians lived as a bustling city sprang up around them.
If you have ever visited the North End, you know that every square inch seems to be developed so an undisturbed backyard is very unusual.
The household debris came from a home built around 1715 by master mason Ebenezer Clough, who bought open land down the slope from Copp’s Hill. Clough also helped construct the Old North Church, which opened only steps away in 1723.
“He wasn’t hurting, but he wasn’t rich,” Bagley said of the mason.
The home, originally two stories, was passed down through the family and later used by a merchant, then a mariner, and finally a glazier before being expanded to three stories and converted into a tenement about 1808.
So far no Ark of the Covenant has been uncovered, but we will learn a great deal about life in Boston in the 18th Century.
Map: James Abundis Boston Globe
Photograph: City of Boston Archeology Program
- Archaeologists Dig Up History in Fort Smith (5newsonline.com)