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Excavations at the Shepard Site, Kittery, Maine



In spring 2002, salvage excavations took place at the site of the ca. 1670-1770 Shepard homestead in Kittery, prior to construction on the site. This work was done  as a joint project of the History Department Salem State College and the Kittery Historical & Naval Museum.

History of the Shepard Site
Architecture of the Shepard Site
Archaeology at the Shepard Site
Plan of Excavation
First images from the Shepard Dig, 2002
Other Archaeology Projects

fragment of  stoneware from the site



This 1689 plan of the Shepard homestead, shows the house, barn, outbuilding, and the orchard. It is the best surviving plan of a seventeenth-century Maine homestead. Relict apple trees still grow on the site today, in the area depicted on the map as an orchard (Source: Kittery Town Records Vol. 1, page 198).



The Architecture of the Shepard Site
Excavations indicated that when the Shepard house was initially built ca. 1670, it was a one room plan - a hall with cellar below, and chamber above. The parlor and parlor chamber were added  by 1689, when Godsoe drew his map showing this end of the house. The parlor end had virtually no foundation. It lay it ledge, with just a few stones to level the sill.
shepard plan
View of excavations showing the location of rooms, hearth, and front door. The excavated plan conforms perfectly to the house depicted in the 1689 Godsoe map.


Plan and elevation of  the Shepard House
A reconstruction based on Godsoe's map and archaeological excavation

 shepard house ca. 1670  
  Shepard House by 1689
   First phase of construction ca. 1669-71
                   Second phase, with parlor added, by 1689

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A brief history and archaology of the Shepard homestead, Kittery, Maine
By Emerson Baker


HISTORY

John Shepard, and his wife lived on Spruce Creek, receiving their land as town grants in 1669 and 1671. In1695 Shepard received his victualers license, and the next year was selling cider, perry and cakes. John Shepard and has wife had five children: Margaret, Elizabeth, John, Mark, and Patience. From 1694 to 1705 John Shepard was involved in a prolonged property dispute over ten acres with his neighbor, Nathaniel Keen. The case was finally resolved in favor of Keen in 1704. The dispute was over a piece of land William Godsoe had drafted a map of this specific area in 1689.. The map shows Shepard’s house, barn, an outbuilding and the orchard, as well as the home of his neighbor, Paul Williams. (1)

In 1705 John Shepard deeded his homestead to his son, John Shepard Junior. John Jr. was born about 1683. He and his wife, Mary Lucey had one child, a son, John Shepard III, who was born May 9, 1712. Both John and Mary were living as late as 1725. (2)

The Shepard household and surrounding neighborhood were involved in a most unusual court case in the early 1720s. In 1725 Sarah Keene sued John Spinney for saying Keene was a witch. Keene was a neighbor, the widow of Nathaniel Keen. John Spinney was another neighbor, a weaver who was married to Patience Shepard, the sister of John Shepard Jr. Among the numerous depositions, neighbor Elizabeth Pettigrew claimed she saw a coven of witches riding on horseback near the Keene house. Elizabeth also deposed that about four years earlier, she has been “at John Shepards house one of his Children being dead Sarah Kene came in and was very full of Talk about witches and Said that She was afraid of herselfe that She was one formerly.” This case is one of the few known incidents related to witchcraft in colonial Maine, and a very late reference at that. (3)

There is no surviving deed or probate for John Shepard Jr., but all evidence indicates that the Shepard homestead passed into the hands of only son John III. .John Shepard III was married to Mehitable Grover on April 27, 1732. Mehitable was the daughter of Andrew Grover and Mary Freethy. She was born December 8, 1714, and grew up in York. In 1755 John Shepard III died, leaving behind his widow Mehitable, and a young family. In a 1768 division of the estate, widow Mehitable was given seventeen acres of land, and a part of the home, specifically, “the southwest room in the dwelling with chamber & cellar & a convenient yard for firewood.” This certainly sounds like one half of the one story house depicted on the Godsoe plan. (4)

Although the estate was divided among the heirs, the majority of the property, including the homestead, went to the oldest son, Mark Shepard. A probate inventory recorded on September 24, 1755 provides some details of the Shepard farmstead. The inventory included “ye homestead ye Two thirds of it containing 39 acres and 55 poles” worth 166 pounds, 6 shillings and 10 pence. This suggests the entire homestead was about 59 acres. One third of the property was left out, due to the legal tradition of the “widows thirds,” as a widow received the use of one third of the estate during her life. This probably means that John’s mother, Mary, was still alive, and retained the ownership of the remaining third of the estate. Two thirds of the value of the buildings was appraised at 40 pounds. In addition to the land and buildings, as farmers, most of the Shepard wealth was in their livestock: 24 cattle, 18 sheep, 8 pigs and a mare. (5)

In 1817, Mark Shepard died, leaving the bulk of his estate to his son, Stephen, and his widow Miriam. On April 21, 1817, Stephen and Miriam deeds twenty two acres “being the same premises we now live upon.” to Oliver Manson. Miriam retained the right to occupy half of the premises during her widowhood. (6)

The house of “O Manson” is depicted on the 1856 map of York County in this vicinity. No house is shown on this side of the street on the Kittery map on the York County Atlas of 1872.

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ARCHAEOLOGY

In 1985 Emerson Baker, then archaeologist for the Old York Historical Society, carried out an archaeological survey of a tract of over 100 acres of land in Kittery lying between Rogers Road and the western shore of Spruce Creek. The survey was carried out at the request of the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum. All work was carried out with the permission of the then-land owner, Allen Associates, prior to their proposed development of the property.  The fieldwork occurred between October 17 and November 25, 1985 to determine what if any archaeological resources might be impacted by the construction of a two hundred unit subdivision, scheduled to begin in the spring of 1986. Although the subdivision never took place, six archaeological sites were recorded during the survey, including the John Shepard Site. The information below is extracted from Baker’s report, “Archaeological Survey of Shepard’s Hill, Kittery, Maine.” This report was submitted to Allen Associates and the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum in December, 1985.

With the Godsoe plan as a guide, a series of over sixty test pits were excavated at the site, to locate features, more accurately determine the date of occupation, and determine the geographical limits of the site. Much work centered around the cellar of the Shepard home stead. One 2.5’ square pit was excavated within the cellar. The cellar in this location was not very deep, but the stratigraphy was simple: Stratum I was approximately ten inches deep, and consisted of plowzone. A number of artifacts were mixed in this plowzone, including brick fragments, redware fragments, hand-forged nails (predating 1800) and large bore pipe stem fragments.  Stratum II was a six inch layer of fill, deposited in the cellar. It was very similar to stratum I in color, composition, and artifacts, so it most probably represents old plowzone which was pushed into the old cellar to facilitate plowing over the cellar hole.  Stratum III consisted of five inches of hard packed clay, which served as a cellar floor.  A small scatter of artifacts on the floor consisted of a few bone fragments, several unidentified utilitarian earthenware fragments, a pipe stem fragment, and the base to a wine bottle. Though not enough of the bottle was found to enable a complete reconstruction, the bottle clearly dates to the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Stratum III was the limit of excavation as ledge was encountered under it. Ledge undulates around the site, but in general is quite shallow near the cellar. Indeed, twenty feet west of the cellar, there is a small surface outcropping of ledge.

Time did not permit the opening of larger areas inside the cellar hole, however, a series of shovel tests were made around square N295 E320, to determine the extent of the cellar. Shovel tests encountered deposits of fieldstone rubble as thick as three feet in some places. The stone is the rubble from either collapsed cellar walls, or a chimney and hearth. In one shovel test pit, over two feet of stone rubble was excavated beneath plowzone. At this point the test pit was backfilled, as no more rocks could be removed without enlarging the pits to at least a 2 1/2 foot square.  This one pit alone does demonstrate that the cellar is considerably deeper in some areas than in N295 E320. Test pits suggest that the cellar measures approximately twelve feet by fourteen feet. The Godsoe plan shows a house about twice this size, so probably the cellar was only under half the house. This was a common arrangement in seventeenth-century New England homes.

The next task after defining the cellar was to attempt to locate the barn and outbuilding shown on the Godsoe plan. It is extremely difficult to find subsurface features from barns and outbuildings, because these structures rarely leave much trace below ground. Seventeenth-century barns and out buildings rarely had any foundations or subsurface footing. Instead, these were earthfast buildings, where the supporting posts were set into the ground and backfilled.  Thus, after the barn is gone, the only trace that remains of it is a series of post holes. To reveal the exact location of such a structure requires the excavation of large areas of a site so that a number of these post holes can be found and mapped. In even an intensive shovel test survey, the odds of hitting one of these post holes is extremely low. Instead, test excavations are made to find artifacts that indicate that some sort of activity was going in this part of the site. The area south of the cellar, the spot where Godsoe places the barn and outbuilding, were rich in artifacts. Many ceramics were found in this area. Utilitarian earthenwares indicate this area may have been used for dairying and/or storage of food. More refined ceramics found included pieces of sprig-molded gray rhenish stoneware, decorated with cobalt and manganese slip. This ceramic was made in mug and jug forms in the Westerwald region of the Rheinland in the 1660-1720 time period. One piece of brown Rheinish stoneware was also found. This ceramic, made between 1600-1700 was part of a Bartmann or "bearded man" jug. Pipe stems in this area further suggest human activity. Finally, nails indicate that a least one structure stood in this vicinity.

Indeed, an undefined feature was recorded in this area. In square N260 E230 a five inch Stratum II, similar to Stratum II in N295 E320, was excavated. Undisturbed subsoil lay beneath Stratum II in N260 E320, so while there was no true cellar here, this shallow feature may be associated with the outbuildings.  The large number of artifacts from the area south of the cellar, as well as the unidentified feature all reaffirm Godsoe's placement of these features in this location. The pictorial and archaeological evidence of the Shepard outbuildings is extremely important, for it gives a chance to closely study not just a seventeenth-century home, but the entire farm complex. While much work has been done on seventeenth-century farm out buildings in Virginia and Maryland, the Shepard site is the first site in Maine where outbuildings have been found. Excavation of these areas would give important information on construction techniques, location, and use of barns and outbuildings in early Maine.
 

1985 Test Excavations

In 1985 Emerson Baker, then archaeologist for the Old York Historical Society, carried out an archaeological survey of a tract of over 100 acres of land in Kittery lying between Rogers Road and the western shore of Spruce Creek. The survey was carried out at the request of the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum. All work was carried out with the permission of the then-land owner, Allen Associates, prior to their proposed development of the property.  The fieldwork occurred between October 17 and November 25, 1985 to determine what if any archaeological resources might be impacted by the construction of a two hundred unit subdivision, scheduled to begin in the spring of 1986. Although the subdivision never took place, six archaeological sites were recorded during the survey, including the John Shepard Site.

With the 1689 Godsoe plan as a guide, a series of over sixty test pits were excavated at the Shepard site, to locate features, more accurately determine the date of occupation, and determine the geographical limits of the site. Much work centered around the cellar of the Shepard homestead. One 2.5 foot square pit was excavated within the cellar. The cellar in this location was not very deep, but the stratigraphy was simple: Stratum I was approximately ten inches deep, and consisted of plowzone. A number of artifacts were mixed in this plowzone, including brick fragments, redware fragments, hand-forged nails (predating 1800) and large bore pipe stem fragments.  Stratum II was a six inch layer of fill, deposited in the cellar. It was very similar to stratum I in color, composition, and artifacts, so it most probably represents old plowzone which was pushed into the old cellar to facilitate plowing over the cellar hole.  Stratum III consisted of five inches of hard packed clay, which served as a cellar floor.  A small scatter of artifacts on the floor consisted of a few bone fragments, several unidentified utilitarian earthenware fragments, a pipe stem fragment, and the base to a wine bottle. Though not enough of the bottle was found to enable a complete reconstruction, the bottle clearly dates to the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Stratum III was the limit of excavation as ledge was encountered under it. Ledge undulates around the site, but in general is quite shallow near the cellar. Indeed, twenty feet west of the cellar, there is a small surface outcropping of ledge.

Time did not permit the opening of larger areas inside the cellar hole, however, a series of shovel tests were made around square N295 E320, to determine the extent of the cellar. Shovel tests encountered deposits of fieldstone rubble as thick as three feet in some places. The stone is the rubble from either collapsed cellar walls, or a chimney and hearth. In one shovel test pit, over two feet of stone rubble was excavated beneath plowzone. At this point the test pit was backfilled, as no more rocks could be removed without enlarging the pits to at least a 2 1/2 foot square.  This one pit alone does demonstrate that the cellar is considerably deeper in some areas than in N295 E320. Test pits suggest that the cellar measures approximately twelve feet by fourteen feet. The Godsoe plan shows a house about twice this size, so probably the cellar was only under half the house. This was a common arrangement in seventeenth-century New England homes.

The next task after defining the cellar was to attempt to locate the barn and outbuilding shown on the Godsoe plan. It is extremely difficult to find subsurface features from barns and outbuildings, because these structures rarely leave much trace below ground. Seventeenth-century barns and out buildings rarely had any foundations or subsurface footing. Instead, these were earthfast buildings, where the supporting posts were set into the ground and backfilled.  Thus, after the barn is gone, the only trace that remains of it is a series of post holes. To reveal the exact location of such a structure requires the excavation of large areas of a site so that a number of these post holes can be found and mapped. In even an intensive shovel test survey, the odds of hitting one of these post holes is extremely low. Instead, test excavations are made to find artifacts that indicate that some sort of activity was going in this part of the site. The area south of the cellar, the spot where Godsoe places the barn and outbuilding, were rich in artifacts. Many ceramics were found in this area. Utilitarian earthenwares indicate this area may have been used for dairying and/or storage of food. More refined ceramics found included pieces of sprig-molded gray rhenish stoneware, decorated with cobalt and manganese slip. This ceramic was made in mug and jug forms in the Westerwald region of the Rheinland in the 1660-1720 time period. One piece of brown Rheinish stoneware was also found. This ceramic, made roughly between 1600-1700 was part of a Bartmann or "bearded man" jug. Pipestems in this area further suggest human activity. Finally, nails indicate that a least one structure stood in this vicinity.

Indeed, an undefined feature was recorded in this area. In square N260 E230 a five inch Stratum II, similar to Stratum II in N295 E320, was excavated. Undisturbed subsoil lay beneath Stratum II in N260 E320, so while there was no true cellar here, this shallow feature may be associated with the outbuildings.  The large number of artifacts from the area south of the cellar, as well as the unidentified feature all reaffirm Godsoe's placement of these features in this location. The pictorial and archaeological evidence of the Shepard outbuildings is extremely important, for it gives a chance to closely study not just a seventeenth-century home, but the entire farm complex. While much work has been done on seventeenth-century farm out buildings in Virginia and Maryland, the Shepard site is the first site in Maine where outbuildings have been found. Excavation of these areas would give important information on construction techniques, location, and use of barns and outbuildings in early Maine.

Overall, a large scatter of artifacts was excavated from shovel test pits around the location of the Shepard site. These determined the extent of the site and its rough date of occupation. All artifacts found supported the historical documentation for the occupation for the Shepard site. Many seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century artifacts were found. The most recent diagnostic artifact was a piece of scratch-blue saltglazed stoneware, manufactured in England from 1740-1760.


2002 Salvage Excavations

In April and May 2002  extensive archaeological monitoring and salvage excavation was carried out on part of the John Shepard Archaeology Site (ME 226-22)in Kittery, prior to development of the site.  For six weeks volunteers, under the direction of Emerson Baker, worked to excavate the cellar hole and foundation of the Shepard Farm (ca. 1669-1770). Approximately 2000 volunteer hours were put in to excavate the site. Voulnteers included members of Kittery Historical and Naval Museum, Old Berwick Historical Society, students from Berwick Academy, Salem State College, and the University of Southern Maine, and even York’s Brownie Troop 992.

Excavation revealed the well-preserved remains of a cape style dwelling measuring 16’ x 30’.  The house is had a central chimney, with one room on either side. A fieldstone cellar was under one room (the kitchen). The other room, the parlor, did not have a cellar, for it was built over ledge, with minimal stone footings. About 80% of the house site was excavated, however part of the parlor could not be excavated, as a huge back dirt pile (in excess of 10 feet high), had been deposited there by construction activity (see site plan). This was a small, simple residence, though probably very typical of early homesteads in the region.

Excavation confirmed the site to be the homestead built by John Shepard, sometime between 1669 and 1671. A survey plat of the property drawn in 1689 shows the house, as well as a barn, another outbuilding, and the orchard. Specifically, the 1689 map depicts a small cape style house. Artifacts found on site suggest the property was abandoned around 1770, probably when the Shepard’s moved to another house on their property. There is some evidence to suggest the house burned, however, it probably was abandoned, and probably scavenged for building materials before this. Afterwards, the cellar hole was used as a dumping ground for the numerous rocks that were picked out of the Shepard’s farm fields every spring. The cellar had been completely filled, so that prior to excavation, there was not hint that the property contained a house site.

Several thousand artifacts were recovered from the excavation, dating to the entire length of the approximately one hundred years the house was occupied. Hundreds of artifacts were found in a thick layer on the floor of the cellar. Apparently the cellar was used as a dumping ground for trash, even while the house was occupied. While unacceptable to modern Americans, this practice was quite common in the seventeenth century.  Artifact analysis and conservation continue, and will not be completed for months – if not years to come, though they will eventually be turned over to the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum. Iron artifacts, including a hand sickle, iron kettle fragments, a pile of iron chain, a door lock and key have been sent to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission for conservation and stabilization. Hundreds of fragments of ceramics and glasswares were excavated. Most interesting were the recovery of numerous fragments of ceramic mugs and jugs and glass wine bottles. John Shepard had a victualler’s license to sell cider and perry (pear cider) so it is possible that he was also operating a tavern.  Analysis of the artifacts is on-going.

The crew was prepared to excavate the site of the Shepard barn, and the other outbuilding depicted on the 1689 map. However, these sites are under the large pile of construction back dirt. Work on this part of the site will have to await the movement of the dirt piles. Likewise, archaeological monitoring and excavation may proceed on the nearby Pettigrew site, when it is accessible.

Very few seventeenth century sites have been excavated in northern New England, and prior to this dig, none in Kittery had seen extensive work. Therefore the near-complete excavation of the Shepard site provides very important archaeological and historical information to the community, the state and the region. The fact that this site is accurately depicted on a 1689 survey plat makes the archaeological data all the more important and exceptional. Overall the John Shepard homestead is a very important archaeological site, and the author would like to thank the property owners for allowing him to carry out this research.


Endnotes

(1) Sybil Noyes, Charles T. Libby, and Walter G. Davis, Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire (1928-9; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979), 628; Neal W. Allen, ed., Province and Court Records of Maine (Portland: Maine Historical Society, 1958), 4:25-6; 6:140, 144-6; Kittery Town Records, Vol. 1, 198; Richard M. Candee, "Land Surveys of William and John Godsoe of Kittery, Maine, 1689-1769," in Peter Benes, ed., New England Prospect: Maps, Place Names, and the Historical Landscape (Boston: Boston University, 1980), 20-21.

(2) Noyes, et al, eds., Genealogical Dictionary, 628.

(3) Allen, ed., Province and Court Records of Maine, 6:208-16.

(4) Division of the Estate of John Shepard, July 30, 1768, York County Probate, Vol. 12: 89.

(5) Inventory of John Shepard, September 24, 1755, York County Probate, Vol. 9: 145-6.

(6) Stephen and Miriam Shepard to Oliver Manson, York Deeds, Vol. 97: 29.
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  Plan of Excavation, 1985 and 2002
 
shepard plan


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