Some of the artifacts found at the Lord Ashley archaeological site are a glass bottle, pottery and a pipe stem. This is the third time archaeologists have dug at the site of the 1675 settlement. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com)
Fresh digging a few miles north of Middleton Place has shed new light on one of the Carolinas’ earliest English settlements.
As archaeologists and students finish their field work this week, they can take heart in finding clear evidence of a moat, the site’s military importance, and the full dimensions of a foundation that may contain the oldest surviving bricks from the English colony in the Carolinas.
The roughly 1-acre site, now a pasture on private land, was a bustling place between 1675 and 1685, a military outpost and trading center where Englishmen, immigrants from Barbados, indentured white servants, African slaves and American Indians all crossed paths.
Andrew Agha is one of a half-dozen archaeologists who have been working on the site.
Agha works with the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, the original English settlement that took root in 1670 several miles down the Ashley River.
“This and Charles Towne Landing are kind of Ground Zero for telling us about early South Carolina,” he said.
Five years after the 1670 settlement, doctor and explorer Henry Woodward led Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper’s representative, Andrew Percival, to this site at the Ashley River’s headwaters.
Lord Ashley, one of the colony’s original eight Lords Proprietors, had obtained about 12,000 acres from the crown. Records show he built a fort on his land, including a moat and palisade, and had hundreds of cattle and many slaves there.
After his death in 1683, the outpost began to fade.
The building that once stood atop the 15-foot by 15-foot brick foundation apparently was burned down, either by lightning or by colonists seeking to clear the land.
Archaeologist Andrew Agha talks about finding the northwest corner of a brick foundation of a building at the 1675 Lord Ashley settlement. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com)
One reason this site is so valued by archaeologists is because the land hasn’t been churned up and muddled by other development after 1685.
Katherine Saunders Pemberton of the Historic Charleston Foundation said the archaeological work is a great collaboration between a lot of groups.
The property owner has allowed the work to continue for a third time in five years, while MeadWestvaco Corp., which owns property nearby, has continued to offer grants to defray the cost.
The excavations are done by archaeologists and students with Charles Towne Landing, the College of Charleston, Salve Regina University and the Charleston Museum, which has displays of some of the site’s previous finds.
Jon Marcoux, an archaeologist with Salve Regina, brought some students from the Newport, R.I., school to the site this year. Marcoux specializes in Native American societies and has been intrigued by the Indian pottery brought to the site, potentially from as far away as the Ohio River Valley.
“There is good evidence here that there were pots — and maybe even people — coming here from Georgia and east Tennessee,” he said.
Other finds from the 20 5-foot by 5-foot pits have been similar to previous discoveries, including 17th-century ceramics, lead shot and gun flints, and small glass beads used in the Indian trade.
The site’s frontier history is underscored because 2 percent of its artifacts are military or armory in nature.
“That’s a higher percentage than at Charles Towne Landing,” Agha said. “We need to know more about this site to know more about Charles Towne Landing. This site informs the whole state about its 17th-century roots.”