This month’s article is about a unique group of small artifacts found together in an archeological feature. From 2004 to 2009, the Arkansas Archeological Survey conducted excavations at the early nineteenth century county seat town of Davidsonville (Randolph County), Arkansas (Cande et al. 2008). The town served as the county seat for Lawrence County from 1815 to 1830. The town site became Davidsonville Historic State Park in the late 1950s.
One of the aims of our research at Davidsonville was to discover more about the buildings that made up the town, none of which had survived. Park staff also needed to know more about how people lived in the town to interpret it for the public. We also made use of newly available documents housed at the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives (NEARA) in Powhatan, Arkansas.
Our excavations in 2004 and 2005 involved three buildings each in a different lot shown on the 1815–1816 town plat. One focus was the remains of a residence/tavern in Lot 35 just across the street from the brick courthouse. While excavating a wonderful cellar or trash pit feature in Lot 35 in 2004, Survey archeologist Jared Pebworth found what initially appeared to be a chunk of dirt (Figure 1). Upon further, careful examination, it was revealed to be part of a small leather pouch containing coins, straight pins, a copper button with shank, and a copper thimble. Figures 2 and 3 show the contents of the pouch before and after metal conservation.
It is appropriate that the pouch was found in Lot 35. Deed records indicate that Jacob Garrett owned the lot from 1819 to 1821 (Cande et al. 2008:165). He also had obtained a license to operate a tavern. During this time, taverns in the American South were part of private residences. People came to Davidsonville when the circuit court was in session, twice each year. They traveled from all over Lawrence County, which after 1815 was the northern third of Arkansas (Figure 4). These people needed places to stay while they were in court.
Other artifacts found in the cellar/trash pit feature include 76 whole or reconstructable ceramic vessels (bowls, a platter, plates, a soup plate, tea cups and saucers), glass bottles (beer and wine bottles), a brass candle holder, cutlery with engraved bone handles, sewing items including thimbles, needles and straight pins, and personal objects such as a glass pocket flask, gunflints, a musket ball, antler or bone dice, clay marbles, a jaw harp, a silver earbob, and glass beads.
The coins found in the leather pouch illustrate several things about currency in early nineteenth century America. There was no paper money at that time. Instead, silver coins were widely known to be relatively pure, and they held their value. Spanish coins were especially pure, and were used in the United States until just before the Civil War. Coins were minted in the United States beginning in 1792. Coins are dated, and their appearance offers clues to where they were minted and how they were used. All of the coins in the pouch were worn from being passed from person to person hundreds of times.
Figure 3. Selected contents of a small leather pouch after metal conservation: (clockwise from upper left) a. 1 bit cut from a Spanish 8 real coin (silver); b. Spanish Charles IV 8 real cut in half (silver); c. copper button with shank; d. US dime, 1798–1807 (silver); e. brass straight pin; f. cut quarter of a US 1808–1836 half dollar (silver); g. Spanish Charles III 2 real coin, 1776 (silver); h. Spanish 1 real coin cut in half (silver); i. perforated Spanish Charles IV 2 real portrait coin 1789 (silver); and j. a copper thimble.