Eyreville Plantation

Oyster House

The Virginia Historical Society, Richmond. White Law File, N44 "Eyreville".

A Tree Fell on the Eastern Shore and Unearthed a Mystery of the Early 1600s

By Joanne Kimberlin  -  The Virginian-Pilot - Jun 01, 2017

 

Searching for history at Eastern Shore Farm

Rick Hubbard and Mariah Travis sift through the dirt during an archaeological dig taking place at Eyreville, near Eastville Virginia on May 17, 2017.  Both Hubbard and Travis are volunteers with an interest in archaeology. (Allison Hess)

It started with an uprooted tree in the yard, which left a big hole, which opened a window into the past. Colonial-era clay pipes and pottery pieces. Hand-forged nails and odd yellow-ish bricks. Tiny coins – one of the oldest types of farthing.  And jetons – brass tokens once used for accounting that have rarely been found in this country.

 

Eyreville is a 1,000-acre bayside farm near the village of Eastville. The Buyrn family has owned Eyreville only since 1985, but they knew the property was steeped in history. A rambling, unoccupied manor house – peeling plaster, creaking with ghost stories – dates to the mid-1700s. Relics had been found before, cannonballs and such. But when that tree went down this past winter, it unearthed a bonanza. Which led to more poking around, more holes, more finds and a yard that was looking more and more like Swiss cheese. Word got around. State and federal archaeologists paid a visit, hatching plans for a proper excavation – the orderly, snail's-pace kind that requires undisturbed soil. We'll be back in a few months, they said. Until then: Pu-leeze stop digging. It was tough to comply. Roger Buyrn and Christopher Derwort – a friend who helps run the farm – are backhoe types. Men with an arsenal of serious shovels, accustomed to making short work of moving dirt. As winter dragged toward spring, the buried secrets steadily whispered: Just dig one more little hole. What could it hurt? Each time I'd visit, the collection of buttons, bricks and bottle bits seemed to be taking up more of the kitchen counter. "You're not still digging in the yard, are you?" I'd ask suspiciously. Oh no, they'd insist. Honest. Well ... maybe just around the edges. Oh, the guilt. Luckily, it's a big yard.

 

The professionals arrived in early May – just in time, I suspect. It wasn't the first time scientists had descended on Eyreville. In 2005, an international geology team spent months on the property, coring more than a mile deep into a 56-mile-wide underground crater that was blasted by a meteor 35 million years ago.  On that deep-time calendar, the 400-year-old artifacts in the yard were left there, like, yesterday.  But in U.S. history terms, that's significant.

The so-called Contact Period spanned 1520 to 1620, the dawn of European settlement here. Rare stuff. The jetons?

They match others excavated from the oldest parts of the 1607 fort at Jamestown and at Roanoke Island, the last known location of what became the Lost Colony. The yellow bricks are uncommon, too – at least in Virginia. They're Dutch, along with many of the pipe pieces retrieved. That raised the archaeologists' eyebrows: Why are so many Dutch items here, on what was firmly English Colony turf?

Mike Barber, state archaeologist with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, said it's a mystery.

"We only know you don't see much of that on the mainland." Dutch traders were known to work the coastline. Eyreville might have been the southern end of their route, though no one can figure why the ships wouldn't sail on across the bay and up the James River, where more markets awaited.

 

When those traders were here might be the more interesting question, said Mike Madden, a U.S. forest service archaeologist who helped oversee the dig. In 1650, England outlawed trading with the Dutch, so Dutch artifacts that date later indicate "illicit trade," Madden said. "That's a sign that these guys really didn't care what the king of England said."

 

The archaeologists hauled away a trove of artifacts. That's fine with the Buyrns.  After all, how many Colonial pipes does a family need, right? Besides, Connor Buyrn, the eldest grandson, got his first field experience. He just happens to be an archaeology major at the University of Virginia. "I never thought I'd be doing this on our own place," he said. The professionals are planning a return in the fall to pick up where they left off.  They were just getting down to the oldest, most interesting layers.

In the meantime, they had one request: No more treasure hunting. I think it's going to be a long, long summer.

 

Joanne Kimberlin, 757-446-2338,

joanne.kimberlin@pilotonline.com

 

Pilot Online History Article

Evidence of a filled cellar or pit related to a post-in-ground structure likely from the early years of occupation.

Several of the Richmond Patent Farthings recovered from the site. These were manufactured between 1625-34

Fragments of a chafing dish from the early decades of the 17th century.

Also recovered, rare artifacts and reviewed documents that indicate trade with Dutch merchants and possibly the occupation of the vicinity by Dutch colonists. We have hundreds of yellow Dutch bricks, manufactured in Gouda and found only on the earliest of colonial sites.

 

We recovered over 800 locally made tobacco pipes, bowls that were likely manufactured by Native Americans living on the shore and in the Chesapeake region.

This shows what is believed to be one of the houses built by William Kendall in the mid to late 1600s. It measures some 16 feet by 32 feet, has a bulkhead entrance to the cellar in the southwest corner and nicely finished stone-tiled floor in what was likely an “English basement.”

An example of some of the red clay “Chesapeake” pipes made locally and recovered from the site

The bulkhead entrance into the cellar. Note the Dutch brick at the base of the steps. These actually line the base of the entire foundation.

An unusual stone-tiled cellar floor in a house probably built by Kendall.

Artifacts recovered at the site so far complement what we have discovered in the early documents. We have very good evidence of the first years of occupation including a number of Richmond Farthings dating to the 1620s and 1630s, Jetons (tokens or coin-like discs) from the late 1500s to early 1600s, tobacco pipes from the early decades of the 17th century, and a great deal of English and German ceramics from these early years.

An example of some of the imported white ball clay pipes from England and Holland recovered from Eyreville. Note the elaborately decorated Dutch pipe stems.

One of three recovered Hans Krauwinckel II Jetons made in Nuremberg between 1585 and 1635.

A portion of a large dripping pan possibly dating to the 2nd quarter of the 17th century.

Structures & Artifacts found on Eyreville Plantation

Update on Archaeology at Eyreville, Northampton County

Michael Clem, Archaeologist, Eastern Region Preservation Office - Updated March 5, 2020

A yellow Dutch brick feature within the site. Its purpose remains a mystery at this point.

The artifacts recovered at the Eyreville site and excavated features, when combined with the documentation, will help us to understand the site as it evolved over time.

DHR staff was first alerted to the possibility of an early colonial site at Eyreville, in Northampton County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, in the winter of 2017. Since that time DHR has sponsored (in partnership with the Archeological Society of Virginia and the US Forest Service’s Passport In Time program) three field schools and conducted several additional investigations at the site.


What we know about the site from the extensive documents available at the Northampton courthouse archives is that John Howe received a patent for the property in 1637. The documents indicate that Howe already occupied the property at the time. We also know that he was living on the Eastern Shore by 1623 and represented Northampton County in the House of Burgesses at Jamestown. Therefore, it is evident that sometime between 1623 and 1637 he built a house at the site.


Two subsequent owners occupied the property before the end of the 17th century. The third one, Colonel William Kendall, a wealthy trader, served as the Speaker of the House of Burgesses. Documents indicate Kendall built a new house at the site in 1682, just four years before his death. There are also indications that he may have built a house shortly after his purchase of the property in 1657. His descendants held the property until 1799, when it was sold to the Eyre family and a new house was built at that time. The Eyre house still stands on the property. Continuously occupied since Howe first built his house, Eyreville, we believe, is the oldest colonial site to be excavated on the Delmarva Peninsula.


Archaeologically we have discovered remains of one, and possibly two, post-in-ground structures related to the first years of the site. We have also uncovered two larger brick structures that likely represent the houses built by Kendall. This past spring, we also discovered a well with the help of Jamestown Rediscovery’s new ground penetrating radar unit. Subsequent testing was conducted to verify the radar indications and we have determined that it is, indeed, a well. Several other hints at structures and other features have been observed in our excavations, and in the future we hope to be able to better understand the 17th-century landscape at Eyreville.

 

DHR Virginia News Update on Archaeology at Eyreville Northampton County

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