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Update on Archaeology at Gresham Estate

Professor Steve Lenik shows visitors a shovel test pit during a recent tour at Gresham Estate.

In 2017, London Town began working with Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks to manage a new historic property, the Gresham Estate. Located about 10 minutes from London Town's main site, the Gresham Estate was constructed by John Gresham II in the late 1600s, the same time that London Town was beginning to thrive. Over the years, the Estate has been owned by several families, most notably William Cotter, a retired 17th century pirate, and Commodore Isaac Mayo, who lived in the house until his death in 1861. Most recently, the house was restored by Leon Johnson of Johnson Pools and his family.

Although Gresham has been in continuous ownership since the 17th century, there are many mysteries about the site. There have never been systematic archaeology investigations conducted at Gresham, nor has there been an in-depth historical report researching the different people connected to the place. There was a 1984 architectural survey, from which we know the main house that stands today was probably constructed originally after 1765. However, there have been several significant alterations and additions to the building over the years.

Students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland sifting through dirt to find potential artifacts.

Thanks to a generous donor, London Town was able to contract a field school with professors Steve Lenik, PhD and Liza Gijanto, PhD and St. Mary’s College to conduct an initial archaeology assessment of the grounds. The archaeologists and students spent four weeks at Gresham between June and July 2021. During that time, they conducted a shovel test pit (STP) survey of the property. An STP survey is an efficient way to cover a large area without causing major disturbance. They laid out a grid and flagged up to every 50 feet. As they got closer to the house, they flagged every 25 feet. Much further out became every 75 feet. They then dug at each flag, going down past the topsoil and looking for artifacts and features.

Part of a clay pipe found at Gresham. Photo courtesy of Carol Benson and Four Rivers Heritage Area.

As a result of their work, they found 19th and possibly 18th century artifacts. They also found bricks indicating potential earlier features to the property. If an STP proves promising, they’ll spread out from it, digging out a 5x5’ square. For example, on the northeast end of the house, they found what might have been an earlier kitchen. They discovered oyster shell deposits, shards of tableware ceramics, and animal bones. They also found bricks and lighter soil in a line connecting back to the current wall. While the finding is not conclusive, it is indicative of the possibilities hiding beneath the ground at Gresham. They have also located other features, such as a possible brick path and several artifacts, ranging from potentially parts of a chamber pot to a 19th century button.

Larger unit revealing a potential earlier kitchen. The white flecks are oyster shell deposits.

As the crew worked through the site, they carefully documented everything and bagged up materials found. The bags are each meticulously labeled. The artifacts in them will go to the Archaeology Laboratory facilities at St. Mary’s College to be gone through, washed, and processed. After that analysis is complete, all artifacts will be curated in the collections managed by the Lost Towns Project at the Anne Arundel County Archaeology Lab at London Town. Dr. Lenik will submit a technical report of all archaeological field activities for London Town and the Maryland Historical Trust. That report will help guide next steps for continuing archaeology and research at Gresham Estate. Our hope is to continue piecing together missing parts of the site’s history, especially of the people who lived and worked at the site over the centuries.

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