Gaillard Center Graves Excavations Talk at CCPL

Speakers: Dr. Eric C. Poplin of Brockington Associates, Inc. hosted by Nic Butler at CCPL

The graves were found at the corner of Anson and George in the Spring of 2013.  No one was sure when they were put there.  The City called in the experts.

May 1 – Dr. Poplin’s program talked about the history of the site plus theories about the graves.

Good news! We have learned more about the graves.  Bad news: We don’t have the full results of Phase 1 of the lab results.  Some of the tests take months and months to find out everything.  Some testing won’t even be done until Summer 2014.  It’s fun to watch the story unfold.

Dr. Poplin is the senior archaeologist for the Charleston office of this firm.  They are a private firm that studies cultural resources.  They come in to look at sites before construction work throughout the Southeast.

A Review of How We Got Here

The Team: A variety of folks involved with the Gailliard construction project: City Dept of Parks – Capital Projects, the County Coroner’s office, SKANSA – Trident, Stuhr, and CCPL among others.

The Timeline:
Feb 5 – workers instealling a stormwater drain. They saw human bones come up.  The police collected them and the Coroner recommended that the City hire an archaeologist

Feb 6 – Trench exposes 2 graves

Feb 13 – Expanded excavation exposes 29 graves.  Plans begin to exhume & relocate the burials.  State laws allow a property owner to rehome an abandonded cemetery

Feb 20 – Exhumations begin

Mar 1 – Exhumations complete

June 5- Brockington & Assoc contracted to carry out the testing now ongoing.

Feb 6
initial excavation

The grave looks like a darker stain on the soil when compared to the soil next to it.  It’s caused by higher organic content and the mixing of soil when the soil was dug and replaced.

They were aligned east west & they thought there might be more.  There were.

They kept digging where safe.  There were ulitlity lines blocking it & foundations of a very large 19th century building.  Some areas were highly disturbed by the original construction of the Gaillard.

37 graves were found in total.

Each archaeologist works on one grave.  Each remains set are placed in a new box.  that will be where they are buried in later.

They usually expose the remians completely then photograph & sketch the arrangement, then they remove remains after they are documented.  Small bones are removed with dirt and are cleaned in the lab later to help keep them in good shape.

It did rain on the site.  They did have to pump water out after a weekend rain during the removal.

Only 1 coffin was buried in a coffin.  Burial 33.  They could tell by the dark stain of the soil.  Coffin stains show up really well in Charleston soil.  Sometimes there are even wood fragments left.  Water helps perserve the wood.  They often find nails in coffin burials.   Most of the other burials were done in shrouds; small brass pins and a gilded button with fabric around it indicate shrouds were used.

Burial 14 was in very good condition.  There were large metal objects lying under & around the skull.  They’re tried to clean it with electrolysis, but they are probably too far gone to tell what they were.  It looks like a utensil like a knife or fork that had a bone or antler handle like piece.

Burial 23 was poorly preserved. A large gunflint was found under their left humurous.  Similar to weapons used by the British.

Burial #2 had been disturned in the past.  THe left tibia was moved and bones were broken.

Burial 37 had a coin on their eye sockets.  Also had 3 large brass buttons on his chest.  (Age of person renders gender inpossible to tell.  Age 6-9.  Condition of bones prevented more detail.)  The size of a George III ha’penny from 1773.  They were common in circulation.  THis one is in fairly good shape, so they  assume the burials date in the later half of 18th century.

14 – mother of pearl inlay on a button at their throat

spall type gunflint.  Also a stone bead in Burial 12.  It was mixed in fill in that burial’s skull.  Worn by person or in their hair.  No idea when stone was made or in their hair.  No stone beads are known from that time in Native American or other places at the time.

37 graves, 4 rows, east-west alignment
1 coffin 10+buried in shrouds
10 buried in clothing
1 person interred after 1773
29 adults, 7 juveniles, 1 no human remains present (Possible that it wasn’t really a grave) Animal bones were also found in a small grave.
16 males, 11 females, 9 unknown (2 juveniles were infants)
33 display African ancestry, 3 indeterminate. (Based on skull characteristics & measures of structure of skulls & teeth.)

These are folks of African descent buried in the late 18th century in an organized way with clothes & personal artefacts.  Suggests they are part of a community that is burying their own.

Mostly Middle age adult males from 30-40yr – males peaked once, at this age group.
Females peak twice Adult 20-30 and 40+

No dramatic or traumatic injury.  Evidence of minor broken bones, torn muscles, repeated stress wear.  No diseases on bones.  Generally healthy so died of older age or unknown diesase.

Archiveal Research REsults
I68- John Cumming given the land above Hassel up to Boundary
1690s – Isaac Mazyck bought this portion of the property
1720 – sold this portion to THomas Gadsden.  He & son Christoper built the wharf
1726/7 sold to Geo Anson
1761 – William Ellis buys from Anson.  This was never part of Ansonborough
Ellis heirs subdivide & sold as residential lots ~1790
1967 – City bought it

Calhoun in front of the library labeled as MARSHLAND on a platt drawn when Ellis bought the property.

There was a brick wall the Gadsdens built on back of their property.  THis was wehre Wall Street was built.  They did actually find a large brick wall in excavation that stopped them from going farther east.  Possibly this wall, unsure.

By 1818 all houses built & stayed till the City aquired property for Gaillard

They are still working on learning more about history of land

Who Are the People?  When buried?

African descent, possibly free people of color or slaves.

ONgoing tests: skeletal remains. Isotope analyses to see where ppl were born.  Historical research for additional records.

City is waiting on more info to determine an appropriate burial place for the remains.

They also found a Revolutionary War cannonball between two graves.  They put it in electroysis tank for weeks, tapped the concretion that was about 1 in thick, and out came the center like a hard center in a chocolate shell.  Used by the brits.  It was hollow and so possibly not actually used.

Q: Can you tell the size of the people / average height?
A: YOu can estiate height, but he hasn’t seen the details yet to know if they did the estimate.

Q: More than 1 coin with the date?  Is that unusual?
A: Some delay coming here from the UK.  Only 1 coin has a date.  THe other Brit coin was a copper farthing made in different eras.  We just can’t tell when it was made bc it was too worn.  If we had had several, it would push it to being more burials after the date.

Q: Any way to date buttons?
A: Generally yes, but the timeframes aren’t helpful bc they are too broad a range of dates.

Q: Based on brass and mop does that make you think they weren’t slaves?
A: We shouldnt assume that slaves community wouln’t have taken care of them.  Also, this was in/near the city, so they have more items generally than in the countryside.
Here’s an example of when documentary research could help: buttons, stones, brass gilt.  In documents htere are numerous complaints that many citizens want legistlature to prevent slaves from wearing hand me downs from owners bc many slaves were wearing clothes nicer than poor whites.

Q: Did you bury farther down?
A: They may have been buried just a little farther down.  The contractors had escavated farther down & nothing but animal bones.  One of the footings to the north was within a foot of depth with no graves there.

They did find native american ceramics from 3500 years ago to 4000 mixed in the grave fill.  Probably was a nice sandy ridge there where people lived.

Q: This appears to be a graveyard, not with a lot of people being buried all at onces.  Is there histocial info that could let you know the span of time it was used or whether the people lived on the farm?
A: They’re assuming that there’s no space restriction or that thye were buried all together in a pit.  They hope to look at number of people who died around this time, but records don’t get better until 1800 or so.  THey’re hoping to estimate backwards from the earliest records.  Just not there yet.

Nic – Not much new info.  We have leads.  Studiy Wm Ellis and his family.  Study the new families moving around there.  The City incorporates in 1783 and the city right away gets very concerned with where burials take place.  Before 1783, it’s not regulated at all.  Could be between these times?

Q: Did Ellis have plantations in JI or somewhere else.  Do we know how big it is?
A: Ectended Ellis families did have JI properly along Ellis Creek pretty early on.  Not sure of relationship between them at this point, if any.  They’ll keep looking.  Aside from physical boundaries, we don’t know how big it was.  We excavated what’s underneath the new building.  There may be W to S burials bwteen Anson & George.  Noth, probaby not more.  To the East, the ground is so very disturbed we can’t say & it’s under the part of the building that is going to stay.

Q: When it was built over?  Do we know?  There was the Brown Soc Cemetery for Free People, do we know of another documented cemetery for slaves in Chas?
A:  Ellis built a house soon after he bought it.  Not sure where it was.  1786 his son in law bought it & that’s probably the second house.  Probably covered over by 1798ish.  By 1818 the last subdivision of property was done.  It may have been built over earlier than that. Between 1786-1818.

The other slave burial grounds?  S of Calhoun on Pitt, you know, around BE.  That was a second place the Brown brought.

1746 the Provincial Govt set aside a small area around Franklin St where Rbt Mills manor is that was called the Negro Burial Ground.  Only exclusive place.  The site has been completely built over & there’s no excavation.  No other City excavated cemeteries are from this period or are African American.

His company exhumed over 400 people from the city’s potter’s field where Grandad stole skulls from as kids.  Wow.

Q: The coin isn’t unusual for the colony?
A: Right.  Found fairly regularly when you’re looking at colonial period.  Most are from much earlier perids or are so worn there’s no print on them.  You can tell them by their size, so people didn’t worry that the enrgaving was worn away.  People used any coin that they could find as long as they knew it’s metal worth.  Spanish silver coins are also very common in antebellum sites in SC.

More next year!

3 thoughts on “Gaillard Center Graves Excavations Talk at CCPL

  1. Hi Amanda, Enjoyed reading your post of Oct 16 2013 about the Gaillard Centre graves. I’m going to mention the discovery of the 1773 half penny in a short talk about Charon’s Obol which I’m to give to the Numismatic Society of Nottinghamshire here in the UK next Tuesday.
    Best wishes, Graham White, 9 Jan 2016