Dig of the Week: Colonial Discoveries at Brunswick Town


By Carla Charter

BRUNSWICK TOWN, N.C.- In North Carolina is Brunswick Town a state historic site containing the remains of a colonial village, once a hotbed of revolution against the Crown, according to Charles Ewen Professor of Anthropology at East Carolina University and Director of their Phelps Archaeology Laboratory. Ewen has been excavating sites at Brunswick Town with his college students for the past five years.

“Brunswick Town is the most important colonial town in North Carolina that no one has ever heard of. Up until the Revolutionary War all other ports in North Carolina combined did as much work as this one port in Brunswick Town. It was right on the Cape Fear River and was the only deep-water port in North Carolina.”

This year Ewen and his students uncovered a unique find, a tavern foundation.  “We were doing work on an adjacent lot.  A Doctoral student, Matt Harrup, was using ground point radar when he found an anomaly, an open area.”   Trenches were dug by several students and foundation walls were uncovered.

Originally the find was believed to be another house. Soon though it became obvious that the find was actually a tavern.  “The area was not marked on a 1769 map of Brunswick town made by C.J. Sauthier. It is possible the tavern might have burned down before the map was created and debris was pushed into the foundation to fill and cover it. More fill may have been used when the land became a park and there was still a depression in the soil,” Ewen said.

Ewen said among the items found at the site were fragment of glass bottles. “There were a lot of olive-green glass from the tavern bottles and a brass tap from a barrel.  The neck of one of the bottles still had a wire wrapped around it which was how the bottles were sealed in the 18th century. We found long white clay pipes, a few hundred pipe stems and several intact pipes that were not smoked. We also found a couple of pairs of brass cufflinks, a glass jewel would have been attached to at least one of the cufflinks,” Ewen said.

This was not the end of the discoveries though.  Student Adam Pohlman was washing artifacts when he found an artifact  with writing on it.   “He brought it to me because he saw writing on it. We could make out that there was writing but because it was darkish blue glass, we had difficulty reading what it said. We took a photo of it and photo shopped the picture.  We then lightened up the photo to discover it said Wilkes Liberty 45. “ The blue glass is believed to have fallen out of one of the cufflinks also found at the site.

Ewen explained that John Wilkes was a member of Parliament, an agitator and a publisher of political pamphlets. “Pamphlet #45 attacks King George. He was thrown in jail over it and Wilkes Liberty 45 became a rallying cry for both the English who opposed the war and the colonists. The motto could also be found in rings, cufflinks, dishes.  It was such a big thing that people were naming their children after John Wilkes including John Wilkes Booth,” Ewen said.

Ewen said the dig and field school will continue next year and that the Items found at the site will be on display at some point in the future. He continued that the digs and field schools have received wonderful support of East Carolina University and North Carolina Historic Sites.