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 Virtual Phips
Archaeology of the Phips Homestead Woolwich, Maine
(ca. 1639 to 1676)

History of the Site

See Artifacts from the Site
Architecture of the Site
Learn about Earth-Fast Architecture
Learn about Sir William Phips
Site Dedication to Robert L. Bradley

Portrait of Sir William Phips

            Sir William Phips, 1651-1695
View of the Phips site

From 1986 through 2001, Dr. Robert L, Bradley led a dedicated team of staff and volunteers in the excavation of the Phips Plantation in Woolwich, Maine. The homestead was constructed between 1639 and 1646, and was abandoned and destroyed on August 14, 1676, in a Wabanaki raid during King Phillip's War. The site was the birthplace and childhood home of Sir William Phips, the first American to be knighted the the King of England, and the first royal governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

Architecture of the Phips Site

The house, built sometime between 1639 and 1646, was a substantial post-in-ground structure. The core consists of a 15' by 72' longhouse, apparently divided into four rooms, with the southernmost 12' by 15' section probably serving as a byre (Figure 7). While the building had a stone hearth, the archaeological data indicates it had a wattle-and-daub smoke hood. A second episode of post-in-ground construction produced an ell, or perhaps more properly, an attached second home, possibly the home of Phip's partner and co-land-owner, John White (Figure 8). This addition appears to be more substantially built than the core, for its 14' x 5' hearth was constructed on a carefully laid fieldstone footing, as opposed to the hearth of the first structure which amounted to thin flagstones laid on grade. This second structure may have measured approximately 20' x 60.' In 1993 archaeologists exposed another earthfast building situated approximately twenty feet south of the longhouse, an outbuilding measuring 29.5' by 13.5'.  A drainage ditch was located outside the two uphill sides of the building todivert water from it.   This building may have served as a small barn or another type of storage building.

Phips Site, showing location of post holes

View of Structure 1 looking east. The upright logs
mark the location of postholes which form the outline
of this longhouse.
Isometric view of the Phips site
Isometric reconstruction of the Phips house, drawn by Robert L. Bradley.

History of the Phips Site, from Robert Bradley's Interim Report on the Archaeology of the Phips Site Through 1999

The Indian place-name "Nequasset" was applied variously to what is now the Town of Woolwich.  The entire Nequasset area was purchased in 1639 by John Brown, a blacksmith from Bristol, England and his partner Edward Bateman from an Indian named Robinhood. Even earlier than that, Bristol merchants Robert Aldworth and Gyles Elbridge had been granted the patent to the Pemaquid region to the east, in 1631.

James Phips, a gunsmith, had apprenticed to Brown in Bristol from 1626 to about 1634.  John White, a sugar refiner, had apprenticed to Aldworth in 1628, probably becoming a freeman of Bristol in 1636.  In 1646 Phips and White are known to have purchased Phips Point from Bateman, having probably arrived at Pemaquid in the late 1630s.  They presumably began living at "Nequasset" in 1639 at the time of the Brown/Bateman purchase of the area from the Indians, since they were employed by Bateman at that time.  Sometime in this murky period a trading post was established at Nequasset ("Neguasset"), possibly by Aldworth and Elbridge; there is an accounting for it from 1646 by Francis Knight, their agent, but how much earlier it was operating is not known.  It could even predate the 1639 land purchase.  It was also in 1646 that Thomas Elbridge, inheritor of the Pemaquid patent, arrived in the region.  John White's son later deposed that Thomas Elbridge was a frequent visitor to the Phips/White complex in subsequent years strongly suggesting a business relationship.  Certainly, given the minuscule size of its English population, mid-coast Maine in the early 17th century was a very small world.

Where in the Nequasset area the trading post was located is not recorded, but it could certainly have been on Phips Point, given this prominent location and the excellent access to it by water transportation from numerous directions.  For the moment at least, the documentary record is as silent on this question as it is on the date of the trading post=s establishment.  It is, however, important that the archaeological research bear in mind the real possibility of English activity on the site by the later 1630s, and that that activity may have been at least in part generated by the fur trade.  Whether the archaeology will solve these puzzles remains to be seen, but it may well do so as this report will note.

As has been stated, Phips and White jointly purchased Phips Point in 1646, whether or not they had been living there for some years previously.  The future Sir William Phips was born there in 1651, James Phips died sometime between then and 1655, when his widow, Mary, married his partner, John White.  There is nothing vague about the end of early English use of the site: on August 14, 1676 the Phips/Whites and a number of Wiscasset area refugees sailed away on a vessel just finished by William Phips, minutes before the complex went up in flames at the hands of Indians.  As with much of Maine, the first Anglo-American settlement period on Phips Point was at an abrupt end.

   The Artifacts

Several thousand artifacts were exavavated at the site, and analysis of the collection is on-going. An exhibit of artifacts from the dig will be opening July 2003, at the Woolwich Historical Society.

See More Artifacts 
Phips delftware

Who Was Sir William Phips?

William Phips was born in 1651 to farmer-trader parents in a small English community in the Kennebec region of northern New England, located in today's Woolwich, Maine.  Moving to Boston as a ship's carpenter, he married a merchant's widow and became a sea captain.  During the 1680s, with support from wealthy English patrons, Phips headed a series of expeditions searching for sunken Spanish treasure-ships in the Caribbean.  Although his first expedition operated on the notoriously ill-defined margins that separated legal activity from piracy, the second (in 1686-7) brought him not only wealth but also respectability in the form of a knighthood.  His career was then temporarily thrown back into confusion by a series of events that began with a further and unsuccessful voyage, continued with a brief and unhappy sojourn as a patronage-appointed royal official in New England, and then merged into the era of the English Revolution of 1688-9.      

        The pattern for the later phases of Phips's life was set by a nascent alliance with the political faction of the Puritan divines Increase and Cotton Mather, which was consolidated by Phips's religious conversion in early 1690.  Among the immediate results were his successive appointments to command military expeditions against the French colonies of Acadia and Canada later in 1690.  Unsuccessful as these ventures were in important respects - disastrous, in the case of the Canada expedition - Phips emerged personally unscathed and with political wounds that proved eventually to be superficial.  In London for most of 1691 and early 1692, he played a significant role in the discussions that led to the issue of a new charter for Massachusetts, and then gained appointment as the colony's first royal governor.  In that office, Phips claimed successes in putting an end to the Salem witchcraft trials and in negotiating a treaty with Wabanaki native inhabitants in 1693.  He also encountered serious setbacks, arising from his conflicts with neighbouring colonial governors, with customs officials, with a naval captain stationed in Boston, and with significant sections of the Massachusetts political elite.  Although he also had strong supporters, drawn from a wide social spectrum, Phips's crucial goal of using his governorship to assert English control over northern New England, Acadia, and Canada - and further enriching himself while doing so - remained unfulfilled.  Recalled to England to answer the charges of his critics, he died of a fever in London in early 1695.     

from Emerson W. Baker and John G. Reid, The New England Knight: Sir William Phips, 1651-1695 (Toronto: University Toronto Press, 1998), pp. xi-xii.

Dr. Robert L. Bradley at the Phips Site

This web site is dedicated to the late Dr. Robert L. Bradley, (pictured at left)  finestkind of archaeologist and friend.  
From 1986 until his death in 2001, Bob directed excavations at the Phips homestead. A pioneer and leader in Maine historical archaeology, he was the assistant director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. 

This web site has been developed by Emerson W. Baker, who is currently working on a final report on the Phips Site.

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