Book Reviews -- Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation, 1619-1864 by James Deetz

By Reinhart, Theodore R. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews -- Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation, 1619-1864 by James Deetz


Reinhart, Theodore R., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation, 1619-1864. By JAMES DEETZ. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1993. xiv, 204 pp. $24.95.

FLOWERDEW HUNDRED FARM, located about twenty miles east of Jamestown on the south bank of the James River in Prince George County, has been the scene of archaeological research since the early 1970s. It contains a remarkable record of human habitation that goes back more than 10,000 years. This book is about that part of the record that begins with European settlement.

Flowerdew Hundred was established by George Yeardley about 1619. The first settlement, an enclosed compound containing several buildings, was constructed over the remains of a former Powhatan village along the shore of the James River. The compound was armed and fortified and survived the Powhatan Uprising of 1622 with a loss of only six people. In 1624 the plantation was sold to Abraham Peirsey, who, unlike Yeardley, seems to have lived there and probably built the large house with a stone foundation east of the compound. In addition to these sites, archaeologists have found on the property at least five others that date to the first half of the seventeenth century.

In order to discuss the early history of Flowerdew, James Deetz divides the sites into three groups based on pipe stem dates. The first group consists of the early seventeenth-century sites mentioned above; the second, sites spanning the middle and late seventeenth to the early eighteenth centuries; and the third, sites dating from the early to the mid-eighteenth century. The second group of seven sites resulted from the breakup of the property among small tobacco farmers, who continued to live in earthfast houses on the bottomland along the river. This period saw attempts to establish a town, Powhatantown, and a bloomery for the production of iron. It was during this time that, isolated by events from England, "seventeenth-century English people eventually became Americans" (p. 70).

The third group of five sites, also located in the bottomland but back from the river, was occupied "at a time when slavery became a formal institution, based strictly on race" (p. 81), in Virginia. Deetz argues that slaves at Flowerdew and elsewhere made their own ceramics and pipes, known to archaeologists as Colono ware and Chesapeake pipes. These artifacts were found, and possibly made, at sites in this group.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the houses, except for the Wilkins Ferry site along the river, moved up on the ridge south of and overlooking the bottomland. For this period, Deetz describes the Selden and Willcox houses and their dependencies, including slave quarters and an ice house filled with ceramics. The narrative ends with a discussion, including photographic and artifactual evidence, of the presence of Union troops at Flowerdew and where Grant crossed the James River on his way to Petersburg in June 1864.

Deetz's book is unlike most archaeology reports. It is written in the engaging style of a master storyteller. From a short vignette set in early seventeenth-century Flowerdew that begins the book, he draws the reader into a discussion about the importance of a seemingly insignificant archaeological find, the fragments of a pipe stem, then to the dating of archaeological sites and beyond that to the relationship between history and historical archaeology. …

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