A Territorial Period Site in Dubuque
Michael J. Perry
Part II: Test Excavations and Interpretations
The 13DB496 testing was conducted in the fall of 1998. We hoped the test excavations would provide stratigraphic information about the soils and cultural deposits, and provide a larger artifact sample from which inferences could be drawn about the kinds of activities that occurred at the site. Prior to the test excavation program the only land ownership information we had for the site came from the few plat maps available in the collections of the State Historical Society of Iowa. The General Land Office survey notes were clues, but were not specific enough. To help complete the limited ownership data we had for 13DB496 we would need to search county courthouse records and perhaps other archives. A rainy day during the testing provided an opportunity to visit the Dubuque County Auditor’s office, but the trip was not fruitful, since the earliest land transfer records for the county were no longer held at the auditor’s office. The archives of the Center for Dubuque History in the Wahlert Library at Dubuque’s Loras College were also found wanting of the kind of territorial period and early statehood period information we were seeking.
A few days later a tip from Wahlert Library archivist Michael Gibson led us to the office of a local abstract company which had a copy of Dubuque County’s nineteenth century land transfer record book. The book listed the first owners of the NW¼ of Section 11, T89N-R2E as Stephen C. and William A. Langworthy. The date of the transfer from the federal government was 1847, the year the Chouteau claim was settled. The property was subdivided several times and ownership was transferred among the Langworthy family members over the next 15 years. In 1862 the Langworthy property was transferred to a J. Schumaker. Schumaker held the property for about 10 years before transferring it to Christian Sutter, whose name appears on the 1874 and 1892 plats in the State Historical Society’s collection. This information seemed to provide the record of nineteenth century ownership we were seeking, and certainly suggests that the Langworthy family built the late 1840s house at 13DB496.
The link between the Langworthy family and the house at 13DB496 was strengthened when, as we were about to leave the abstractor’s office, we noticed an old map mounted on a wall in a hallway. The map, dated 1866, was published by T. H. Thompson of Dundee, Illinois. The map showed J. Schumaker as the owner of a parcel in the NW¼ of Section 11, T89N-R2E that included a house at the location of 13DB496. Since the house was present when Schumaker acquired the property from the Langworthys, the Langworthy family probably built the house. The question then became, if the late 1840s house at 13DB496 was originally Stephen Langworthy’s, was 13DB496 also the location of Stephen Langworthy’s first Dubuque house, as mentioned in the 1837 General Land Office survey notes? The answer cannot be found in the historical records, so it was back to the archaeological work to find evidence of the earliest occupation of the site.
Three 1 x 1 m test units were excavated in the lawn area north of the house foundation. The test units showed some stratification. A 20–25 cm layer of overburden capped the original soil on the terrace. In two of the three units the boundary between the overburden and the underlying original soil was clear. The overburden contained a majority of the recovered artifacts, including prehistoric waste flakes, and historic artifacts dating from the territorial period, like pearlware and lead glass fragments. Specimens made from plastic, and modern soda and beer bottle fragments, also were found in the overburden deposit. Thus the overburden deposit contains a mixed deposit of material from different periods. The buried soil underlying the overburden contained a few territorial period and early statehood period artifacts, but prehistoric artifacts were more common. One feature was also encountered in the buried soil in Test Unit 1, a shallow, elliptical, basin-shaped pit with charcoal flecks, waste flakes, glass fragments and historic ceramics. All of the artifacts in the feature were smaller than one-half inch in size. A flotation sample was collected from the feature fill in order to recover seeds or other very small specimens.
The test excavations yielded over 2,300 historic period artifacts and nearly 500 prehistoric specimens. Most of the prehistoric artifacts consisted of non-diagnostic lithic debitage, but all were inferred to represent a Late Woodland component based on the recovery of a few grit tempered body sherds and a cord impressed rim sherd. The historic artifacts consisted of materials spanning the history of occupation of the farmstead. My colleagues Marlin Ingalls and Maria Schroeder analyzed the historic artifact assemblage and identified a variety of materials dating to the territorial period. The territorial assemblage includes kitchen and food consumption materials, architectural materials, personal accouterments, hand forged iron hardware, and lead artifacts. Figure 4 shows the overall distribution of historic artifact types by excavation level.
The lead artifacts recovered from 13DB496 include small cut cubes, a hand cast pistol ball, lead ribbon and foil fragments, and droplets of lead ranging about 2 to 10 mm in diameter (Figure 5, A–D). The smallest lead droplets were found in the feature fill sample following water screening and flotation. Two larger droplets exhibited smooth dome-shaped upper surfaces and flat, slightly rough lower surfaces, as if drops of molten lead had cooled on the ground. The lead artifacts suggest that previously smelted lead was being further processed into usable materials such as weapons ordnance at the site. The recovery of a percussion cap suggests that the lead ordnance was used with muzzle-loading firearms.
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