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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.