Saturday, December 10, 2011

Weekend Archaeology Pics

It's the weekend so I thought I'd share a picture or two from a site I worked on in Southwestern Pennsylvania
     The first photo is of the field crew troweling down the floor of the main excavation block in order to get a "clean" surface examine for any possible prehistoric features. The archaeologist's trowel is sharpened, like a knife, in order to cut the soil. If it were dull, the delicate soil layers would smear together. 

     I have always valued the connection between archaeology and the community, and here we have two volunteers Ken Gayman and Carl Maurer. Both of these gentlemen are members of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Mon/Yough Chapter #3. Ken is clearing soil from around a stump's roots, before it can be removed. Carl is screening for artifacts.   

     In this photograph you can see two more members of the Mon/Yough Chapter #3 analyzing artifacts in our lab located in the Monongahela River, Railroad, and Steam Museum in Brownsville, PA. Don Rados and Jim Barno are analyzing each individual flake from the site above. We recovered more that 8,000 Native American artifacts and flakes from their tool production. 
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Establishing a Site Grid

Hello Everyone,

     A question that I often get when people stop by and visit a site that I'm excavating is, "Why do you dig square holes?" I'll look around the site for a minute, observing all of the different squares in various forms of excavation and think to myself about how much archaeology is art, well designed art that is. "Imagine yourself standing on a giant sheet of graph paper", I explain. 
     So I will explain to the rest of you as well! In order that we know exactly where every artifact comes from when we excavate, it is important to keep control by strictly recording their position in the ground. Before an archaeological excavation, the most important tool in the archaeologist's tool box isn't a trowel or shovel, it is the datum point. The datum point is simply the starting point for the grid that will be laid out over the site, using a series of nails and string, to help us keep track of where those artifacts came from. 
     The datum point is arbitrary, we are archaeologist place it where we think we will get the most squares to excavate to cover a site. Often times, we use some type of survey equipment and a known point, say on the corner of something that isn't going to move, like a bridge, or USGS (United States Geologic Survey) Benchmark point and triangulate it into our site datum. 
     Once the site datum is established, I like to pound in a wooden stake or piece of metal re-bar, an archaeologist can start to think about his grid. Here in the US, we use the metric system for prehistoric sites, and the Imperial for historic sites (people build their houses and buildings here using feet and inches). The smallest square we can have for grid during a site excavation is 1-meter. I like to use the 2-meter square. So lets try to make a grid for a hypothetical site.

1) Establish a datum and give it a number denoting an X and Y axis.We are going to work in Northings and Eastings. So our datum will be, North 100 E100 represented as N100 E100.
2) On my grid, I use the South West corner of each square as the Unit Datum.
3) That means the next unit to the east is N100 E102 (Remember we are working in 2-meter units)
4) If we move north on our grid, it would be N102 E102
5) If we move south on our grid it would be  S102 E102    

Here is an example of a grid that we might use:

     So that was a quick lesson on setting up a grid for excavation! On a final not, we use large nails for the four corners of each square and attach string around it to make a neat square and as a digging guide. Here is an example showing surveyors pins marking the corners of a excavation test unit:

Have a great day folks! 
P.S. Grid map example was created with LibreCAD and Inkscape software.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Archaeo-Porn of the Day

Today I've decided to post some pictures of the excavations that I conducted for my dissertation research in Brownsville, PA. These few pictures are from a house site and show the remnants of 
the foundation of this once prominent residence. I've called this the Michael A. Cox House. He was a very prominent steamboat captain, banker, and investor in the small town of Brownsville in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century. 

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Some free tools for Archaeologists

Hello Everyone,

     I have recently been noticing on the social network channels (Google+, Facebook, Twitter) a lot of people integrating the Ipad and its software suite for many applications for archaeologists. I cannot agree more that this piece of hardware could be VERY useful in the field. It might even be more so, once a Topcon Total Station can be integrated (if it's not already possible).
     However, not every archaeologist or archaeology club has the resources to go out an buy an Ipad or a smart phone for that matter. Not many individuals have the $1,000 for Photoshop or Illustrator, let alone for the expense of Autodesk CAD or Arcview GIS. What about us little archaeology guys and gals who want functionality on the cheap for digitizing maps or using a GIS (Graphic Information Systems) program to help us out? This is your day! I'm going to lay a few great programs for those of us on a budget.

Operating Systems:

English: A screenshot of Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty N...
Image via Wikipedia
Ubuntu Linux- A great open sourced operating system that combines the simplicity of using apps like an Ipad and the stability of Apple. Of special note is the way a user installs and uninstalls applications. Ubuntu has an app store with hundreds of free open sourced programs that are simply installed and uninstalled like an app for Android or IOS. Many of the programs I'll talk about are in that app store for free! Plus its easy to use Unity interface is clean and streamlined. The whole operating system can be downloaded and installed onto a thumb drive and placed on a netbook.

English: AROS Research Operating System screen...
Image via Wikipedia
AROS- A lightweight fast operating system based on the Amiga OS. It is clean, fast, and has a great user support community. This operating system is for those of you who just need a dependable, fast OS for web surfing and using Google Docks for most of your work. Right now there are a limited number of ports for AROS on the research end of things, however, if you have an old machine that cannot run Windows Vista, or Windows 7, AROS can breathe some new life into it!
It's perfect for an archaeologist on a very tight budget looking for a web machine for researching projectile points!

Drawing Programs:

Inkscape- A free vector graphics drawing program.This program is like iDraw only free, and you don't need a Mac or Ipad to use it. This program has a great feature set, and is an excellent replacement for Adobe Illustrator. It will import files directly from Auto CAD (.dxf files), pdfs, Corel, Word Perfect, the list goes on! This program is great for digitizing field maps, plan views, feature profiles, etc. I've posted an image here of a feature I drew. (Mac, Windows, Linux)

Paint.NET- A free drawing program with many of the great feature of Adobe Photoshop without the cost. Is this Photoshop? Well, no. It is not going have feature for feature what Photoshop has, but for the archaeologist on a budget, it does amazing work. There are layers and layer controls and the ability to save in a variety of Tiff, Jpeg, and Png files. There is also an incredible library of plugins to extend Paint.NET's capability.  If you are looking for something that has many of the great features of Photoshop, this program is easy to use, and easy to navigate, and expandable. (Windows only!)

GIS: Graphic Information Systems

Image via Wikipedia

Grass GIS - This is a  powerful system and fully capable to today's standards for GIS applications. Grass works with 2d and 3d maps and images. Grass GIS has been in development for over 20 years and used throughout the government and its agencies for spatial analysis. This software is compatible with Arcview GIS formats. (Windows, Linux, Mac)

QGIS (Quantum GIS)- a GIS system with an easy to use graphical user interface. As my friend Matt pointed out on Google+, QGIS' "strengths are in its graphical orientation were as GRASS is better at analysis and processing". QGIS can run inside or a GRASS shell bring extended features into the QGIS system.  (Windows, Linux, Mac)

MapWindow GIS- Is a windows specific program and another full featured GIS system. The developers constantly revise and update the software adding more features and stability. It has many features that make the software package impressive and easy to use. (Windows)  

SAGA (System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses)- This one is new to me. I learned about it a short time ago and decided to check it out. 
It seems as though SAGA is packed with features as well, and can load many of the Esri files. I have not used this program other than explored some o its features, but again its free. SAGA touts itself as a "user friendly" application, judging by its interface, I would say that it is. Check it out, its a small file size, so don't be afraid to give it a try! (Windows, Linux)

Computer Aided Drafting

LibreCAD- A small lightwieght 2d CAD program that has finally made it 1.0! It's small, compact, and easy to use. It has a few features missing that AutoCAD has, but then LibreCAD isn't a AutoCAD replacement. I use to to plot out excavation grids, test units, and shovel tests. I save those as DXF files and import them into Inkscape for further processing. Sure maybe AutoCAD can do everything I want, but why pay thousands of dollars for it when i can use free programs to get the same job done?

Office Suite

LibreOffice- I've used OpenOffice for years, but switched when Oracle bought the code. LibreOffice is a Microsft Office replacement. It is also Free! LibreOffice can open, save, export, to all Microsoft document files, and it uses the Open Document Text and all Open Document file types. LibreOffice includes a Word (Writer) Power Point (Impress), Access (Base) , Excel (Calc), replacement and even a drawing program! I have typed many site reports, research papers, and made countless power Point presentations to use while teaching classes with LibreOffice. Please it is worth a look, and its Free! 

      These are just some of the programs out there that can take the place of, or supplement the existing programs offered by large corporations. Many of the developers of these programs I've listed here represent non-profit foundations, or the hard work of individuals. As always, if a free program makes you money, please give a little back to these organizations that made the choice not to sell their programs. Archaeology can be fun and expensive, hopefully some of these programs can help bring down the cost and add a layer of additional analysis to your projects!
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gas Well Drilling is threatening Revolutionary War Period Fort!

Monument erected on the site of Lindley's Fort on Demas Lindley's land, just down the road from the Upper Ten Mile Church and cemetery.
Added by: Cynthia Rice

We are in a crisis here in Pennsylvania. Our archaeological sites are under constant pressure from development, and now from Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Within the state, all archaeological sites are threatened. Most often, those within the archaeological community are the last to know when a site is about to be destroyed. My blog post is about a site that is known and now under threat, the well could be built at any time.
I received a phone call over the weekend from a very concerned citizen. He clarified he was not against drilling, but had read the article posted in the Washington, PA, Observer-Reporter. He was upset that a gas well access road was going to be built directly through a Revolutionary War period fort, Fort Lindley.
            A description of Demas Lindley's Fort (1773 - 1780's), near Prosperity, located on North Fork Ten Mile Creek1 is given as follows:
“In the seventeen-seventies a typical frontier fort stood on rising ground above a small river in Western Pennsylvania. The traveler who today drives through Washington County may see the monument of white granite that marks the site near the village of Prosperity. It is known as Lindley’s Fort. It consisted of a bullet-proof and loophole stockade of rough fifteen-foot logs, trimmed to sharp heads and planted in the form of a square. Block-houses of timber, jutting from and rising above the four corners, commanded the walls. Backed against the palisades within, and with roofs sloping inwards, several log-cabins provided for the accommodation of fugitives. A folding gate made of stout slabs afforded means of ingress and egress on the side nearest the spring, which supplied water. The whole was constructed without a nail or spike of iron. There was no stronger private fort on the marches; and none was more needed.
            Whenever an alarm was raised that Indians were out on the war-path and marching thitherward, backwoodsmen seized their guns and conveyed their women and children to the fort. Any of them who were caught unawares lost their scalps and their lives or were carried off into captivity. “2
            The historical importance of these forts cannot be overstated. So few of them have been excavated in Pennsylvania, and because of that we know very little about them. We need everyone’s help on this. Range Resources ( needs to be notified and told about this over sight! Also if I could get people to email or call the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) at ( and tell them that we are tired of the destruction that gas well drilling has done to our archaeological resources! Please, contact these organizations even if you are not from Pennsylvania or even the US, this is a global problem where everyone is needed to help!
           For more information on Fort Lindley, please visit: Fort Lindley


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Monday, October 10, 2011

Archaeology and Gas Well Drilling: A Discussion

I thought I would write a small commentary on the interview I had with the Observer-Reporter from the last post. Hopefully this will clear a few things up about how archaeological sites are impacted by drilling for natural gas. This will also serve as a rebuttal to Robert McHale of Mark West Liberty Midstream & Resources. So let's get through this complicated mess that has become of archaeology in Pennsylvania.
Cropped portion of image from USGS report show...Image via Wikipedia
Extent of Marellus Shale Gas USGS

Let me add a disclaimer to start. I am NOT OPPOSED to gas well drilling! We need the energy her in the United States, and it's always better if we use our own resources than take it from someone else. What I am concerned with, is the lack of Phase I archaeological surveys for these Marcellus Shale gas extraction sites.

Normally when a company wants to build something, such as a cell phone tower or highway, where state of federal monies are being used, it trips Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.This is part of their permitting process. An archaeological survey must be done to look for sites that are unknown or possibly known about. We do this by using a map with the area that will be impacted, and dig test holes screening all of the material in an ordered grid like pattern. If we find a site, depending on its size or historical significance, the project can be moved away from it, or further archaeological testing must be done. I have worked surveying cell phone towers that are 100 feet by 100 feet, very small in comparison to the acres of disturbance a gas well can cause.

Unfortunately in Pennsylvania, the permits are funneled through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) who for some reason, sees only the size of the well head which is 1 meter by 1 meter in size. They ignore the acres upon acres that are destroyed by access roads, sediment ponds, and the preparation of the enormous well pads!

To read that Robert McHale would say that they “pick a clear spot” and go. A clear spot, in a farmers field, over looking a stream? A perfect spot for a Native American village or camp? Mr. McHale would like the readers to believe that they have access to all of the databases that the state has, and they probably do, but what about the sites not on the map? Section 106 is about finding the unrecorded sites, the sites that lay buried just beneath the soil. There are burials out there, children and infants. Their bones scattered by the bulldozer because these people think that they have the answers. I am constantly surprised by the lack of intervention by Native Americans in this situation that Pennsylvania has found itself in.

Archaeological sites and data cannot be put back into place. If the law is good enough for a company building a cell phone tower or coal mine, it should be good enough for a resource extraction company. It is estimated that 44,000 wells will be drilled in Pennsylvania alone, that 44,000 archaeological sites impacted if we don't find them and work with the companies to protect them.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gas drilling threatens archaeological sites!

Tower for drilling horizontally into the Marce...Image via Wikipedia An interview with Archaeology Dude (Marc Henshaw)
As taken from the Washington, Pennsylvania Observer-Reporter on 10/09/11:

As drilling expands, area archaeologists worry that historical sites will be undone

By Christie Campbell Staff writer

As land is leveled, access roads built and impoundments created for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling sites, some fear that significant archaeological sites could be lost.

But archaeologists are on staff or accessible to local gas drillers and processors, who say the professionals assist in determining optimum places to drill or lay pipeline in order to avoid historical areas.

Because Pennsylvania laws do not require archaeological surveys for sites under 10 acres, natural gas drilling pads, which take up about 4 or 5 acres, are exempt.

That concerns archaeologists like Marc Henshaw, president of the Mon-Yough Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology in Brownsville. Natural gas extraction operations usually encompass multiple sites such as drilling pads, staging areas and water impoundments, and the acreage is not added together.

Henshaw, who also operates a private survey company, has undertaken archaeological studies prior to the construction of roads, shopping centers and cellular towers but has yet to receive a call from a gas extraction company.

That could be because archaeologists are employed by the industry. Mike Mackin, communications manager for Range Resources, said the company's archaeologist combs through state records and databases to determine if an area has significant archaeological importance before determining where to locate a drill site.

"Which would we rather do, stop a pipeline and notify the (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) or do it on the front end, pick a clear spot, and go?" asked Robert McHale, manager of environmental regulatory affairs for MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources. The company has an archaeologist who reviews preliminary pipeline routes. Environmental inspectors can be found on job sites but, noting that pipelines often are going through agricultural lands that have been tilled over many times, McHale said finding something is "on the low end."

But Henshaw fears there may be thousands of archaeological and historical sites that have not been recorded with the PHMC. The chapter has been working on recording sites in Greene County and over a period of 50 years has identified 296 of them.

Speaking for the Marcellus Shale Coalition in Southpointe, Travis Windle said that if an artifact is found, the industry is required to notify the Bureau of Historic Preservation, which has 180 days to complete a site excavation.

Henshaw was part of a survey of a Monongahela People site discovered in 1997 when construction of the Strabane Square shopping center began. The village dated to 1400 A.D., and two burials were found at the site.

Archaeological teams from Indiana University of Pennsylvania studied the site, and developers even relocated two stores in order that the entire site could be left intact. Today, it lies buried under the center's parking lot, thus further preserving it, Henshaw said.

The chapter is not opposed to gas drilling, said Henshaw, but wants it done safely, lawfully and with care to minimize impacts to archaeological sites.

According to Howard Pollman, spokesman with the PHMC, the 10-acre rule is the result of a policy agreement between the commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection when much land across Pennsylvania was being developed in the 1990s.

"People think it's an exemption for Marcellus Shale, and it's not," he said. It does not apply to sites on the National Register of Historic Places or a project receiving federal funds.

Although the PHMC is not a regulatory body, it does make recommendations for property owners wishing to lease their land for gas drilling, advising them to require gas developers to protect historic resources. It also calls on drilling companies to check with local historical societies or a county planning office for maps of known historic sites or cemeteries.

Doug McLearen, PHMC's division chief of archaeology and protection, acknowledged that as the number of Marcellus Shale projects increase, there is a greater probability that a significant site could be impacted.

That possibility concerns history buffs like Carl Maurer, the archaeology society chapter's vice president, whose eyes light up when he talks about digs he's been on. If sites are destroyed, the knowledge and the motivation to learn more could be gone forever, he said.

"In 50 years, students may want access to something, and it won't be there," he said. "We don't even know what we're losing."

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Mon/Yough Chapter #3 Membership Drive!

New photo for use on the California University...Image via Wikipedia
The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Mon/Yough Chapter #3 based out of California University is having a membership drive! We want to become a Nonprofit and to promote archaeology in western Pennsylvania and hopefully beyond!

Yearly Membership Costs:
Sustaining $20 (15 Euros)
Family $30 (22 Euros)
Student (with ID) $10 (7.5 Euros)
Junior Members (under 12) FREE!

With membership you get a monthly news letter detailing the organization's current projects, you can participate on any of our site excavations and artifact analysis! 

Please support or donate so that we may continue to explore this region's past!

Check or money order payable to:

SPA Mon/Yough Chapter #3

Address to send membership dues and donations:

SPA Mon/Yough Chapter #3
c/o John Nass
Mailbox: 30
California University of Pennsylvania
250 University Ave.
California, PA 15419

We need your help to move our organization forward! 

Here is a little preview of the artifacts found at the Gormley House in Brownsville, Pennsylvania!

Any suggestions on this ceramic type?


Earthenware smoking pipe fragment

Pearlware (Queensware)

Transfer print

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hello everyone,
Things have been busy here in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. The field work on my two steamboat captain's houses is coming to an end, and artifact analysis is quite underway. I am using Stanley South's methodology for acquiring a mean ceramic date for the sites as well as his approach for categorizing the artifacts.

I still have a mystery on my hands, and perhaps you my fellow readers, archaeologists, and historians can help me. Hopefully a relation to this very intriguing steamboat captain might be able to shed light on his life. I am currently researching a Captain James Gormley who lived in Brownsville PA from 1850-1860. His wife's name is Sarah, and their children's names are: Frances, John, Henry, Neal, Charles, Sallie, William, James, and Nellie. James participated in the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing in 1862 and his family may have moved to St. Louis. I'm trying to figure out if James is related to John Gormley the banker from Bucryus Ohio (who also had a son James, but his birthday makes him too old.) Any info would be appreciated on this family. I am trying to figure out James; parents here in PA.
If anyone has any information, or perhaps you are related to this family, then I can share with you some of the cool material culture that is associated with your family!

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Archaeology Day in D.C.

Susan posing with Day of Archaeology banner.
Day of Archaeology was celebrated in Washington D.C on July 30th. The sponsors of the event was a nonprofit organization called Archaeology in the Community My fiance Susan lives in the DC area, and it was pure luck that this event was happening as I was down there visiting.

Left-Andrea Harrison             Right-Alexandra Jones
I met the Chief Executive Officer of Archaeology in the Community, Alexandra Jones along with Andrea Harrison a board member for the organization. One of the chief goals of Archaeology in the Community is outreach and education in the DC area.

Some of the activities in the area were sponsored by different local and even national organizations. The Society for American Archaeology; represented by Maureen Malloy who is the head of the Education and Outreach side of the SAA. At her booth children could sift through sand and discover artifacts. 
Maureen Malloy Society for American Archaeology

Other booths were sponsored by the Maryland Department of Highways and offered a variety of artifacts for people to handle and ask questions about. 

Archaeology in the Community represents everything that is right about outreach. While like many nonprofits, funding is sparse, Archaeology in the Community brings together several interests that stakeholders have: History, Archaeology, and Visual Learning. What I have found out through community involvement in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, is that people truly are interested in their community's past. In a place like DC where history has an "in your face" presence, what is lost is the average person.  
I had the opportunity to talk to Ruth Trocolli, DC's City Archaeologist. At her booth were artifacts from the everyday lives of common people in the 19th Century. Her table garnered the most interest from people there, and perhaps generated the most discussion. Why? Because the artifacts there dealt with things you and I can relate to. An inkwell, a pencil, glass bottles, and porcelain dolls. Objects that everyday people can understand and place back into the hands of the past owners. 

Community archaeology will always be difficult. There are a vast majority of people who revel in the ability to examine and hold the past in their hands. These people enjoy the artifacts, but cannot commit themselves to the discovery end of archaeology- the digging. At Brownsville Archaeology Month we had visitors of every kind, but we were thirsting for volunteers who wanted to get dirty. I pleaded with my Facebook followers to please come down for a day and just experience what is to dig and discover. I had out of hundreds, one or two come down. A small contingent of the hundred who follow Brownsville Archaeology Month on Facebook. This will always be a problem for community outreach programs in archaeology. When I head to DC in the fall, I plan on becoming a part of this organization and help further their cause. We have to place artifacts into the stakeholder's hands.
That is the importance of community archaeology, make the distant past just a little closer. 

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day of Archaeology

     Tomorrow is the 2011 Day of Archaeology (, where archaeologists from around the world post their pictures and videos of a day in their life out in the field. I thought I would share with my readers a preview of the video that was shot today while excavating in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. There are three individuals who have helped my research tremendously by volunteering their time to excavate and analyse artifacts. We have three projects running concurrently, two steamboat captain's houses are being excavated, and one Native American site is being analysed. In this video are myself, Carl Maurer (, Sean Rothhaar and Amber Lawrence (California University of Pennsylvania).
So watch on, and enjoy!

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who was Captain James Gormley?

California University of Pennsylvania Field School Students
excavating a portion of foundation at the Gormley House 2011
     As an industrial archaeologist often times I get caught up in the when and the how of an artifact, while leaving the who to the subtle recesses of theory and imagination. After all, when studying industrial places, the nameless working-class are just that, nameless. Records get destroyed, people moved about the landscape from job to job leaving little of their personal identities behind. As an anthropologist, the who takes center stage. The missing records are a challenge, the endemic community becomes an untapped resource while searching for those individual workers who struggled like you and I for our jobs, our families, and our existence. They held and loved their children as we do, and had many of the same concerns as we have today. They worried about the next paycheck, the next meal, and their job security. It is these people whose story brings the archaeology to life and gives it meaning. It is here where I will begin my story of steamboat captain, and how my crew is giving him a life after death.
     James Gormley resided in a wood frame house build on the mid-slope of a hill overlooking the town of Brownsville, Pennsylvania. From his front yard he could look out over the Monongahela River and see the wharf where his steamboat would make many landings over the course of several decades. His house was built and owned by his possible brother, uncle, or cousin, John A. Gormly in the 1830s. At this point in the research we are not sure of his familial ties with John. John A. Gormly was born in 1804, Captain James Gormley was born in 1817, so they could possibly be brothers.
     James' early aspirations and influences for a life on the river are unknown. He is listed as a steamboat captain in the 1850 census at the age of 33. Brownsville during this time was an active hub for shipping and emigration as people sought their fortunes westward. The town had a diverse industrial and mercantile business based on the frontier economy that existed at the time. Roads were poorly built, poorly mapped, and often dangerous as they headed toward the Mississippi Valley. The Monongahela provided a convenient, fast, and relatively safe way for transporting goods and people. James probably spent his boyhood down at the wharf or swimming in the river as the colossal white steamboats plied their way into a boy's imagination.
     Captain Gormley can be compared to a modern-day truck driver. He probably owned a share of his steamboat along with other investors, or owned it outright and worked to pay it off. His home life was sporadic, with long intervals of life on the river, his steamboat probably felt more like home than his physical house. In the 1850 census, James, age 33, was living with his wife Sarah, age 31. Their children were listed as follows: Frances (18yrs, female), John (10yrs, male), Henry (7yrs, male), Neal (5yrs, male), and Charles (2yrs, male). There were, however, other people also living in the Gormley household. These people deepen the mystery of the captain's life outside of his work.
     There were 10 non relatives living in the Gormley home. Jane Rhredes (22yrs, female) and Olive Fullen (23yrs, female) who were not listed as having an occupation. The other eight people were recorded as African-Americans. Their names were as follows: Margarett Fairfan (53yrs, female), Emily Fairfan (23yrs, female), Owen Fairfan (17yrs, male), Caroline Fairfan (16yrs, female), James Fairfan (14yrs, male) of New York. Mary Plummer (9yrs, female), John Plummer (7yrs, male), and Fenten Plummer (38yrs, male) of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Owen Fairfan and Fenten Plummer were registered as “Laborers” on the 1850 census. The question is, who were these African-Americans living in the Gormley household?
Whole map of the underground railroad.Image via Wikipedia
Underground Railroad
     Brownsville had a long history of anti-slavery in the 19th century. Due to its location on the National Road and the Monongahela River, Brownsville became an important center for the Underground Railroad. The prominent Bowman family of the town often provided a safe haven for the blacks who escaped the shackles of slavery in the South. The Bowmans were merchants, steamboat builders, and political figures in western Pennsylvania. James Gormley as a steamboat captain, would have had contact with them.
     James Gormley, in his travels to Southern ports, could have easily ferried escaped slaves to start a new life in the North. Although listed on the census as from “New York” or “Fayette County”, these African-Americans could have covered up their real origins. Could these people have been just boarders, perhaps working for the Gormley family while James was working on the river? These are just some of the questions that I am trying to answer archaeologically.
     The bigger picture is tying James Gormley to John A. Gormly the prominent banker from Bucyrus, Ohio. I don't feel that it's a coincidence that James is living on John's property. The very transient nature of the steamboat industry may explain why James never bought the home.
By the time the 1860 census comes around we find a few changes in the composition of the Gormley household. Captain James (43yrs, male) and Sarah (41yrs, female), Francis (21yrs, male), John (19yrs, male), Henry (17yrs, male), Neil (15yrs, male), Charles (12yrs, male), and the new additions to the family; Sallie (10yrs, female), William (7yrs, male), James (3yrs, male), and Nellie (3yrs, female). A single African-American girl is living with the family at this time, May Galatin (15yrs, female).
     In the decade since the 1850 census, the Gormley children are pursuing their father in the business of steamboating. Francis, James' oldest son was documented in 1860 as a Boat Laborer, while John was a Pilot Apprentice, and Henry was working as an Engineer's Apprentice. The river life was influencing factor in the Gormley family, and their history along with their future in the mid-19th century are inescapably linked.
     As a captain, James Gormley's piloting record in Brownsville is scarce. We know that he piloted two boats, the Statesman in 1851, and the Jesse R. Bell in 1859. By 1862, James Gormley has left Brownsville, and we find him performing his duty as a steamboat captain for the Union at the start of the Civil War. Captain Gormley finds himself the master of the steamboat Empress. This places Captain Gormley at the Battle for Pittsburgh Landing in what would be known as the Battle of Shiloh. Taken from the Daily Missouri Republican on March 25, 1862:

On Tuesday, the 4th instant, the steamer Empress left St. Louis, having on board some 700 tons Commissary stores for Cairo and Paducah, 150 head of cattle for Fort Henry and Col. Bissell's Engineer Regiment, destined for Gen. Pope's Division at Commerce, Mo.,; Wednesday landed the troops at Commerce and Commissary stores at Cairo, coaled and arrived at Paducah on Thursday morning, received on board the Forty-eighth Ohio Infantry, Col. Sullivan commanding, coaled and arrived at Fort Henry Friday morning, being the first arrival for the new expedition; the water had almost completely inundated the Fort; no landing there; proceeded up the river about seven miles; landed in the brush, alongside the Gladiator, Gen. McClennand's headquarters, received a present from Lieut. Col. Parker, of the Forty-eighth, of a splendid American eagle, whose perch is now on the pilot house of the Empress. Here, on Saturday, the 8th, commenced a new phase in steamboating--the Empress is converted into a slaughter house to supply the much needed beef to the army, but "some things can be done as well as others," and there is room on the Empress to do almost anything, and Captain Jas. Gormley and his crew are the men to put things through (

Carl Maurer Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology
Mon/Yough Chapter #3 Vice President
examining an excavation unit.
     This is the last piece of information written that has been discovered so far in our research. Through the archaeology we can supplement the documentary research and perhaps gain insight into the captain's daily life that the historians left out. We might even be able to find insight on the other non family members who were boarding with the Gormley family.
     Artifact analysis is just commencing on our finds, but some of the materials may tell us about the gender of those living in the house, the class status of those people, and even the race. The artifacts may reveal the struggle of everyday life in the mid 1800's for a person living in Brownsville, and it may shed light on the daily hardships of those working on the river. Click on the video below as I give a brief tour of Captain Gormley's home!   

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