Presence of Kitchen and Possible Slave Quarters Alters Path of New Sewer Line at City Point Unit of Petersburg Battlefield
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Sep 21, 2012, 10:54
contributed photo Archaeologists Peter Sittig and Emilie Epp by the foundation.
Petersburg National Battlefield is preparing to install a new sewage line at its Grant’s Headquarters at City Point Unit, home to Appomattox Manor and site of Union Headquarters during the Civil War Siege of Petersburg.
Before the construction project can begin, the National Park Service is required to do archaeological testing to ensure that nothing of historical significance will be marred or destroyed by the installation of a new feature.
The contractors currently doing that work at City Point believe they have found something significant.
Throughout the week, the contractors have been digging a series of two foot deep shovel test pits along the path the new sewage line was supposed to take. In one pit, they noticed a distinct change in the coloration of the soil from one side of the pit to the other.
“We knew we had something,” said Matthew Cochran, an archaeologist with the Ottery Group, the contracting company responsible for the testing.
The archaeologists put in a square test unit adjacent to the pit and found another distinct line between areas of dark and light soil running perpendicular to line they had observed in the test pit.
“It looks like what we found is the northeast corner of a large cellar feature,” Cochran said.
He said that since there is fairly extensive photographic documentation of the City Point area, and a painting depicting the Bonaccord house and its surroundings, the team is fairly certain they have found the external kitchen that appears in the images of the area they are excavating.
The kitchen was probably built at the same time as the house, in the 1830s, and, judging from the artifacts coming out of the test pits, filled in sometime in the late 19th century, Cochran said.
The historic images of the structure show it stood at one and a half stories, indicating it may have had a loft space where slaves were quartered, standard practice in pre-Civil War days.
As a result of the finding, the planned path for the new sewage line has been shifted to the west.
“This initial line was meant to come right through the center of it,” Cochran said.
In addition to the kitchen site, the test pits have yielded 19th century domestic artifacts, Civil War era buttons, late 17th and early 18th century remnants of the Colonial era and signs of Virginia Indian presence, including pottery and projectile points, some of which are thousands of years old.
“All in all, there’s probably been 10,000 years worth of occupation in this area, which is pretty significant,” Cochran said of the bluff overlooking the confluence of the James and Appomattox Rivers.
“In terms of archaeological sites, this is one of the most interesting I’ve ever been on,” he said, commenting on the diverse array of artifacts emerging from the soil. “It really has a bit of everything.”