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Archeology of the Colonial Chesapeake Tidewater

The lower Chesapeake Bay tidewater region is steeped in history and tradition. The word "tidewater" describes this region at the mouth of the bay, a shore shaped by "necks" and rivers, and also alludes to its rich cultural past. Here, European and African peoples established some of the first colonies in the New World. They met Native Americans who had lived across the landscape for generations, creating a complex situation of dependence and friction among the groups.

The archeology of colonial tidewater areas reflects the stories of seafaring trade and transportation, enslavement, plantation and city life, religious belief, and politics.

DELAWARE

Delaware Archaeology Museum, Dover

Check out archeological evidence of Native American and colonial European groups who settled in Delaware.

Zwaanendael Museum, Lewes

The state's first European colony, "Swaanendael" began in the spring of 1631 as a fort established by the Dutch West India Company along present-day Lewes-Rehoboth canal. Learn about the HM Brig DeBraak, a Dutch built vessel under British command that sank off the coast of Lewes in a violent storm in 1798. See the contents in an exhibit about English navy life aboard a small 18th-century working class vessel.

MARYLAND

Archaeology in Annapolis, Annapolis

Annapolis became the capital of the royal colony in 1695, soon after the overthrow of the Catholic government of the lord proprietor. The history of Annapolis is more than its political facts and figures. Learn about the archeologically-told history of Annapolis - its people, customs, and activities - through a self-guided tour, historic houses, and archeology events.

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard

Find out about a remarkable cross-section of Maryland peoples and events, from ancient people of 9,000 years ago to colonists active in the colonial government, to the War of 1812, to African American life. Learn about the changing cultures and environment of the Chesapeake Bay region at archeological sites and trails, acres of working farmland, restored farm buildings and museum exhibits, and in educational programs.

Historic London Town, Edgewater

Archeologists are looking for stains in the soil and artifacts that describe the "lost towns" of 17th-century Maryland and the people who lived in them. Learn about the excavations and what archeologists have found by seeing exhibits, historic houses, and archeology days.

Historic Saint Mary's City, St. Mary's City

St. Mary's hosted a number of firsts in the colony: the first capital, the first printing press, some of the first documented interactions between colonists and Native American groups, and more. Tour the visitor center for an overview, then wander the property to visit archeologists-in-action, see the reconstruction of a church known through excavation, and talk with interpreters.

VIRGINIA

Bacon's Castle, Surry

The house got its name from Bacon's Rebellion of 1676, when Nathaniel Bacon and his men led an uprising in Virginia against the Colonial government. They took over Arthur Allen's house and lived there for four months. While there, they ate his cattle and depleted his store of wine. The site has undergone extensive archeological investigations, and the garden nearby was reconstructed from the results.

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA

For most of the 18th century, Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia and its political, cultural, and educational center. Here many of the great men in American history shaped the political landscape. Archeology has revealed many realities of life in Williamsburg and its surrounding areas, such as slavery at Carter's Grove or the work of small industry. Visitors can see artifacts and tour sites, learn about how archeology changes the interpretation of the town, and watch archeologists at work.

Flowerdew Hundred, Hopewell, VA

The Flowerdew Hundred museum highlights the plantation's history and over 25 years of archeological exploration. Museum exhibits showcase artifacts from Native American, Colonial, Antebellum, and Civil War sites; while "hands-on" displays demonstrate diverse subjects, such as methods of grinding food and natural history.

George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Washington Birthplace

Exhibits with artifacts recovered from the site of George Washington's birthplace and from the 17th-century John Washington and Robert Brooks sites are on display in the visitors center. The footprint of the house where George Washington was born is demarcated and the site is interpreted by signs.

Historic Christ Church, Irvington

Learn about this Anglican parish through exhibits and archeological excavations.

Historic Kenmore, Fredericksburg

Kenmore was the home of Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis. Find out how archeology tells the stories of the diverse group of people living on their property.

Jamestown Island, Jamestown

Jamestown was the first permanent English colony in the New World. See the actual fort site at Jamestown Rediscovery, artifact exhibits in the Dale House, and watch archeologists at work. At Historic Jamestowne National Historic Site, visit the Glasshouse and watch glassmakers practice their craft, join ranger programs and walk the site. See the Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center, a reconstruction of what the fort settlement may have looked like. Be sure to explore Virtual Jamestown for recent discoveries, extensive research, teaching suggestions, and rarely seen images.

Kingsmill Plantation, Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg

In the process of developing the property, archeological discoveries were made. Many of the artifacts recovered are on display in the Kingsmill Conference Center. Visitors may also choose a round of golf on this former plantation.

Mattaponi Indian Museum, West Point

Visit the museum on the Mattaponi reservation to learn more about the past of this tribe in the tidewater region.

Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon

Archeologists and architectural conservators work to ensure that visitors to Mount Vernon experience the property much as it was during George Washington's ownership. Visit the web site to find out what archeological sites and restoration projects you can visit.

Pamunkey Indian Museum, King William

This museum on the Pamunkey Nation reservation displays cases of artifacts and evidence of Native American life.

Rosewell, Gloucester

See ruins of the 1725 mansion of John Page. Artifacts from archeological investigations are stored in the archeology lab and on display in the visitor center.

Shirley Plantation, Charles City

Take a walking tour of Shirley Plantation's grounds to learn more about the history of archeology at Shirley and how exciting discoveries have transformed our understanding of this famous James River plantation. Visitors can also participate in a public archeological excavation at the only surviving house for slaves and tenants on the plantation grounds.

Stratford Hall Archaeology, Stratford

Thomas Lee was a successful tobacco planter and land speculator who purchased Stratford Hall in 1717. Visit the property to learn about Thomas, Hannah, their descendants, and a labor force that included enslaved Africans, indentured servants, and transported convicts. The house museum and associated period outbuildings tell their story. Also see archeological artifacts at Clifts Plantation.

  • Artifacts on display at the Delaware Archaeology Museum. (Delaware Archaeology Museum)
  • Archeologists at work in Annapolis. (Paul Shackel)
  • Archeological ceramics from Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. (Teresa Moyer)
  • Buildings at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, the Maryland Archaeology Center lab. (Paul Shackel)
  • Skeleton outline of the catholic chapel at St. Mary's City. (Teresa Moyer)
  • A brick outbuilding at Shirley Plantation. (Paul Shackel)
  • Bacon's Castle.(Paul Shackel)
  • The main house at Carters Grove.(Paul Shackel)
  • Outlines of archeological units on display at Wolstenholme Towne.(Paul Shackel)
  • Belt buckle found at Flowerdew Hundred. (Flowerdew Hundred)
  • Exhibit panels and the outlines of the former structure at George Washington Birthplace National Monument.(National Park Service)
  • Brick outlines of archeological units on display at Jamestown Island.(National Park Service)
  • The reconstructed glasshouse on Jamestown Island.(National Park Service)

TSM/MJB