Strickland’s Howland Site Excavation


Image from The Plymouth Colony Archive Project

Sidney Strickland’s John Howland Site Excavation Report

The following is a narrative of Sidney Strickland’s excavation of the John Howland Site. It is based on Strickland’s field notebook and is presented without much interpretation. Any of the current author’s interpretations or comments have been added in parenthesis in the report. As more research is conducted and specific artifacts can be linked to references in Strickland’s notes, the narrative will be updated.

Thought was first given to excavating the walls and cellar of the presumed John Howland house at Rocky Nook when Strickland was preparing for the Pilgrim John Howland Society Meeting on August 28, 1937. The idea was to excavate the site to gain insight into the life and household effects of John and Elizabeth Howland. Strickland discussed the matter with the society president, Mr. William Howland, and General Charles R. Howland. The matter was well received and General Howland agreed to cover the expenses to excavate the house site. On August 28th, Strickland visited the site with General Howland and they located what they presumed was the house site and traced the general boundaries as indicated by the ancient stone wall present.

Strickland’s excavations at the Howland site were carried between September 20th and October 16th in 1937. The excavations began with Sidney Strickland, the director and recorder, and Alphonso Letourneau, described as a French Canadian, being present.

Strickland noted that up to nine cedar trees that where 25 to 30′ tall were located within the foundation and that between four to five inches of black soil with sod on top, covered the foundations. Four of the cedar trees were found concentrated on the south half of the chimney.

September 20th, 1937

Excavation began along the east wall continued throughout the morning with the length ultimately being established at 25′ 4″. At some point the southeast corner was reached and excavation continued to the west along the south wall. At 1:15 pm Letourneau encountered what was interpreted as a large circular threshold of what was presumed to be the main entrance on the south side. Artifacts encountered around the threshold included small pieces of brick and four pieces of and “old earthenware bowl” right in front of the threshold. Clam or scallop shells were found scattered about the wall as well. At 2:20 pm, Letourneau found the first significant artifact- the “pap” spoon found just inside the threshold. It was described as lying at the side of or just below the sill between the entrance step and the inside stones. These stones were described as being large and very smooth. Possible evidence of the destruction of the house was found near the threshold, where the first pieces of charcoal were uncovered. By 3:15 pm excavation had continued along the south wall towards where the southwest corner was expected to be, but instead of a well defined corner, a large amount of brick was recovered, indicating the possible area of the chimney fall and obscuring the corner. Excavations concluded on this first day at some time after 4:10 pm when Christopher and Jane Hussey and Arthur Kelley visited the site.

September 21st, 1937

On the second day of excavation, September 21st, having established the locations of the south and east walls, Strickland began at the presumed southeast corner of the foundation and proceeded north searching for the west wall. By 9 am. the southeast corner was abandoned and the search began for the north wall, starting at the presumed location of the northwest corner. Strickland noted that the sod was eight to twelve inches thick here. Sidney Strickland, S.T. Strickland and Arthur Kelley (and possibly Letourneau) were joined by Charles Strickland. S.T. Strickland and Kelley left at 12;30 as the digging continued along the north wall. The diggers reached a point along the north wall that possibly marked the location of the return of the west wall, having to remove a pile of stones placed there by local boys for a campfire. Excavation continued south along the west wall from this point. An iron pintle was found 6′ south of the northwest corner along the wall. Excavation apparently also continued along the south side near the presumed threshold location, as a piece from a clay pipe bowl and stem were found here at 4:15 pm So ended the second day of excavation.

September 22nd, 1937

Charles R. Strickland and Letourneau began the third day of excavation, September 22nd, at 7:45 am by clearing the stones in the chimney area. The bricks in this area were mixed with clay, of which the excavators saved a sample. At 11 am, part of the team was working at the front (south side) door where they found a piece of a strap hinge and a clay pipe marked LE (the mark of Llewellyn Evans of Bristol England who produced pipe from 1661 to 1687) 6′ to the east of the front door. The team was joined at 1:15 pm by a Mr. Doten. Excavation ceased along the south wall 11′ from the center line of the front door. A wrought iron hook was found between the door and the point 11′ away from it along the wall. At 4 pm the return of the west wall was found 12′ from the center line of the front door. the fireplace was found to start 4’6″north of the southwest corner and projected 18″ into the house. The fireplace was found to have a foundation of stone and a hearth of brick tile. A 10 1/2″ diameter hole in the tile was found in the corner.

September 23rd, 1937

On September 23rd, Charles Strickland, Letourneau, and Doten cleared the chimney area up the west wall to the northwest corner and along the north wall inside where they posited the cellar may have been located. Strickland then focused on uncovering the fireplace, Doten cleared inside the east wall and Letourneau worked along the outside of the north wall, discovering what proved to be the retaining wall for the cellar hole. This was located 8′ north of the north wall and was found to parallel it. In front of this retaining wall he found pieces of a glazed pottery bowl that had been broken by a rock from the north wall that had fallen into it. In the afternoon, Doten found a piece of oak charcoal against the cellar wall and Letourneau found what proved to be teeth from an animal jaw found in the cellar hole.

September 24th, 1937

Letourneau, Doten and Charles Strickland continued to excavate within the cellar hole on September 24th. In the morning they focused their efforts on the area between the north cellar wall and the north wall of the house. Charles Strickland later continued excavating the fireplace. Strickland found the north end of the fireplace 9’2″ from the south end and appeared to line up at the north end with the cellar retaining wall. At 11 am Letourneau began digging outside of the retaining wall to the north of and opposite the fireplace. Doten had been excavating in the cellar hole, but at 3′ down from the surface, had reached the gravel subsoil. At 2 pm the north end of the fireplace opening was found. The entire opening was measured and found to be 10′ 21’2″ wide between the brick piers and 3′ 9 3/4″ deep. Sidney Strickland arrived at the site at 2:20 pm

September 25th, 1937

Buoyed on by the discoveries of the previous day, September 25th field work focused on continuing the excavation around the chimney. Once excavation of the hearth was completed, it was covered with boards for protection. Clay from the chimney was removed to the west of the excavation. Sidney Strickland worked in the lean to cellar and found pieces of a dish or bowl with a large roll at the edge (possibly a milk pan) at the northwest corner. At 10:30 am Charles Strickland encountered a piece of flattened out metal in the center of the hearth and what was interpreted as a possible spur and another “pap” spoon were found by Doten at the southeast corner of the hearth. Charles Strickland found a second spoon in the clay at the center of the hearth at 11:55 am. This spoon had a simple knob at the top of the handle. The overall length of the spoon was six inches and the bowl was two inches wide. An iron clasp was recovered six feet from the southeast corner of the hearth and two iron wedges were found inside the east wall of the house four feet north of the south wall. Mr. and Mrs. Edwin K. Jump and Mr. Baxtram White arrived at the site at 10:30. Sidney Strickland and Mrs. Jump excavated a large bone from the north wall of the cellar hole and large fragments of clam shells and charcoal were found in the cellar as well, prompting the excavators to speculate whether there may have been an earlier Native fire pit at this location. The team was also visited on this day by Winthrop Coffin and Eliot Hedge, the latter whom arrived as a worker.

September 26th, 1937

Sidney Strickland and Mrs. Jump began work on September 26th in the lean to cellar where he found nails, a six inch square piece of pottery and a pair of long teeth, all in the west end of the cellar. The floor of the cellar hole, which was identified as being unquestionably the result of Native occupation, was excavated with the black layer continuing (outside of the cellar hole?) to the west. One small piece of what was believed to be Native pottery was found in association with this burned layer. Back in the hearth area, at 11 am, Charles Strickland, working with Bert White, found a piece of iron measuring 15 1/4″ x 11 1/4″ with a clasp hinge on it which was interpreted as probably being the lid of a strongbox (but which has since been identified as a tasset from a suit of pikeman’s armor). The piece was excavated very carefully and finally removed at 3 pm Mr. Jump worked at the threshold and found two pieces of a pottery vessel base and a pipe bowl and stem. Bert White and Eliot Hedge, who were excavating at the opening of the hearth, found an “old pottery dish, yellow glazed on inside” (possibly Staffordshire slipware c. 1675-1775).

September 27th, 1937

The excavators present on September 27th consisted of Letourneau, Doten, Charles Strickland, and a new digger named Frank Balboni. Letourneau worked on clearing in back of the entry stone paving. Doten and Balboni cleared on the inside of the original north wall from the northeast corner. At a point 16′ west of the northeast corner, Doten found a pit on the inside of the north wall approximately 12″ below the surface (could this be a posthole?). An iron band was found either in or near the pit. By 10:30 am the entire hearth of the fireplace was finally cleared out. Some stones were found to be missing from under the fire hearth at a point two feet in from the south end, leaving a pit which was full of ash, charcoal and red clay. The missing stone that covered this pit may have been found just in front of the outer hearth. The “strong box lid” was found right next to this pit. From 2 to 4:30 pm Balboni, Doten and Charles Strickland removed the fallen stones and stumps from the back of the fireplace while Letourneau excavated through four to six inches of very black loam in the area in front of the fireplace and five feet out from the hearth down to gravel.

Excavations were suspended for two days as measurements were taken and meetings were held with the neighbors.

September 29th, 1937

Excavations continued on September 29th when Charles Strickland, Letourneau, and Doten continued to remove stumps from the south wall of the chimney, finding a wrought iron piece in the shape of a hook and a possible table knife in the process. The outer edge of the chimney was found five feet from the south corner. Letourneau found a large piece of iron, possibly a chain link, five feet west of the chimney at the south end.

September 30th, 1937

On September 30th, Letourneau and Sidney Strickland excavated at the north end of the rear of the chimney. Strickland worked east of the hearth, where he excavated a large flat stone, measuring 18 x 28″, which he interpreted as possibly one of the paving stones of the floor. Paul Weber, a photographer, arrived at the site at 10:30 am to photograph the excavations. At 11:15 am the crew took a break and visited John Howland spring, located 160 paces to the north of the Hornbeam tree. After noon, Letourneau continued work on the west side of the chimney, working around a cedar stump and finding a chert (?) arrow point possibly of the Levanna or “later Algonquin” style. It measured 2 1/2″ long and 3/4″ wide. Sidney Strickland worked at the southwest corner, where he encountered about six inches of clay under the sod.

October 1st, 1937

October first found the crew focusing their efforts on clearing the interior of the house. Letourneau continued working around the stumps at the chimney with Bert White joining him in the endeavor. Doten found a horseshoe inside the house 12″ from the south wall and three feet from the inside of the threshold stones. Doten found a knife blade at the south wall two and one half inches from the inner stones and one inch below the stones at the wall. Doten also found a mouth harp three feet outside of the south wall and four feet from the threshold. The excavation records at this point mostly contain notations of where various individuals were excavating and a gross summary of what they found.

October 2nd, 1937

On October second Sidney Strickland found a 1 7/8″ long end of a “pap” spoon (with the flat disc missing) directly south of the south wall running off the chimney about eight inches below the surface and 5’6″ out. He also found a heavy (presumably meaning large) nail 4’10” south of the front wall and 2′ west of the west line of the south wall of the chimney. Mr. White found what appeared to be 2″ long iron bolts in the floor of the house about 5’6″ north of the south wall and 10’6″ north of the southeast corner. Another large spike was found by Strickland 6′ out from the west end of the wall, opposite the west side of the chimney, and a second large nail 10″ below surface on top of the subsoil in the southwest corner.

October 4th, 1937

Excavation continued on October 4th with the focus being within the foundation and across the front (south) side. An iron pintle was found 16′ west of the east wall and 21/2′ south of the north wall, in approximately the same general area as an earlier pintle find (see September 21st). A concentration of charcoal was found eight feet north of the south wall and 16′ west of the east wall (possibly representing part of a burned floor joist?).

October 5th, 1937

Work on October 5th continued inside the floor plan and at a point 81/2′ from the north wall and 17′ west of the east wall, a concentration of charcoal was encountered. More charcoal was found 10′ from the south wall and 15′ from the east wall. A white quartz projectile point (of the Squibnocket Triangle form) was found 7′ south of the north wall and 18′ west of the east wall. The largest piece of charcoal recovered from the excavation was found on this day at a point six feet from the hearth and three feet south of the north wall. The handle of another “pap” spoon was recovered seven feet south of the south wall and 11 feet from the west wall. It was 2 3/4″ long.

October 6th, 1937

Work at the site had progressed outside of the house by October 6th. On this day Letourneau found an iron hoe in front of the threshold, just east of the center and eight inches below the surface, just on top of the subsoil. It measured 5 1/4″ long and 5 1/2″ wide. The greatest occurrence of artifacts on this day were to the west of the entrance. Two copper pins were found together along the front of the house.

October 7th, 1937

On October 7th, work focused on an area two feet from the threshold and worked south along the south wall. Doten worked to a point 10’6″ south of the south wall of the west outside wall of the chimney, to a point north and south across the east face of the fireplace hearth. A knife blade was found on the north south line of the front of the fireplace hearth and 10′ from the south wall. Just west of this knife, and astride an 18″ long flat stone, two pieces of blue glazed pottery (Westerwald mug-one with slight ridges and one with a broken place such as where a handle was located) were recovered.

October 9th, 1937

Worked resumed on October 9th when Letourneau worked from the southeast corner in a strip two to 2 1/2′ wide. He found 18 nails directly along the face of the south wall for a distance of 18″ from the southeast corner and an iron hinge nine feet south of the south wall and 11′ west of the east wall. Doten worked on the outside of the wall in a strip as well. He found an iron hinge six feet south of the threshold. Mr. White worked 11 1/2′ from the south wall and one foot east from the west wall. Between 3 and 4 pm, a concentration of stones were encountered 6’6″ south and 5′ west of the south east corner. Sidney Strickland found a scythe 9′ south and 6’6″ west of the southeast corner between 4 and 6″ below the ground surface and lying across the stones found earlier.

October 11th, 1937

Work on October 11th focused on the newly discovered stone work located to the south of the house. Twenty-one pieces of pottery were found 12′ south of the south wall of the house near the stonework while at a point 12′ south, 26 pieces of pottery were found.

October 13th, 1937

On October 13th, a copper coin was found 13′ south and 18′ from the east wall, directly in front of the threshold. It was dated 1694, bore a harp on the reverse, the head of a woman on the front, and was very worn. More stonework was found 45′ south of the southeast corner in association with pottery, glass, brick and a few nails.

October 14th, 1937

A concentration of red pottery (redware) was found on October 14th at a point from the 15′ line, 13 to 14′ from the west wall by Mr. white. Letourneau worked a strip 16′ south and one foot east of the threshold and found part of an iron handle of a skillet and later the handle of a trivet. He also found a brass or silver button, possibly heat affected, and another piece of gray pottery. Doten worked 17′ south and 12′ east of the west wall and found red pottery, glass and yellow glazed pottery. Mr. White worked “above” the east wall, two feet south of the north wall of the large room and found two arrowheads, nails, red pottery and wood. He laid the gravel (subsoil) bare at 8″ below the surface. Across the south side of the house the gravel was found to occur at 10 to 14″ below surface, possibly indicating the soil where the house was had been stripped.

October 15th, 1937

Doten, on October 15th, found a wrought iron hinge of the clasp variety used on chests (possible armor hinge?) 17′ south and three feet from the west wall. Mr. White worked along the east wall, four feet north of the southeast corner and found a large fragment of red pottery and many nails close to the wall. Sidney Strickland worked along the north south wall of the stonework to south, clearing the same. In the afternoon, Doten worked 19′ south in line with the west wall, and found a large 6 1/2″ x 1 1/4″ hinge and two teeth. Mr. white finished excavating along the east wall and found 14 more pieces of red pottery. Messrs White and Letourneau found a 5/8″ diameter metal button 15′ from the east wall and 17 1/2″ south of the south wall. Sidney Strickland worked on the southeast corner of the possible barn to the south of the house, 26′ south of the south side of the house. On a line 7′ west of the southeast corner of the house he found a piece of flat iron 3 1/2″ long and 1 1/2″ wide close to the wall.

October 16th, 1937

The last recorded day of excavation was on October 16th. On this day the team worked a line 20′ south of the south wall and out to 24′ south. The entire front across the south up to the 20′ line was excavated. The southwest corner was carried to the 24′ line for a distance of 12′. The wall of a possible shed was found 8′ south and 6′ west of the southeast corner, and running southerly for some 17′ was laid bare. during this clearing, three more piles of stones were encountered. One was directly in the center of the possible shed wall and was about 5′ square. the stone at the edge seemed to have been placed on edge. Several large pieces of window glass were found 21′ south and 18′ east of the west wall abutting the chimney, possibly being evidence of the original height of the wall.

Strickland found the remains of a yellow dish on the hearth at the southwest corner that had been demolished by a falling stone. In the lean to cellar, the remains of a number of possible milk dishes were found. They had been crushed by falling frame work of the floor and were left undisturbed. Nails constitute the largest class recovered, followed by pottery, and fragments of clay pipes third. many pieces of window glass were found as well.

The dimensions of the building uncovered by Strickland are as follows: the hall is 16’6″ by 31′ the fireplace is 10′ 2 1/2″ in width by 3′ 93/4″ deep