After months of scouring woodlands and old roads all over New York and Massachusetts I finally hit upon exactly what I look for: A completely undiscovered homestead dating back to the Revolutionary War era! These sites are extremely tricky to find mostly because there are so few of them left. In my region the early towns were mostly settled between the 1750s and 1760s. Populations were low and early settlers tended to stay towards the town centers and so their homesteads are often under more recent construction. Even if I can manage to find land that hasn't been disturbed in all these years, I still have to contend with the fact that 200+ years of natural erosion can erase all traces of a homestead. As if to illustrate the point, this particular homestead presented almost nothing that would draw the eye:
As I went up to the site I was skeptical that the depression wasn't just the result of a long rotted away tree fall. Initially I couldn't spot any brick fragments nor porcelain weathering out of the ground. That's not a promising sign, but the detector was picking up a handful of minor iron signals. In the interest of thoroughness I dug after a consistent signal and was rewarded with a rosehead nail. These are nails that were fully blacksmith wrought and date prior to 1800. A good sign, but it took awhile before I happened on a mid-tone and out popped out a cast pewter button. And then a short time later a second and third button, which pretty much confirmed that I was on the right spot.
Like most 18th century sites the targets weren't everywhere, but they were sufficiently dense that I was positive that this area hadn't been detected before. After a number of buttons I was hoping that I could tease out a colonial copper. Many of these coppers are fascinating in their own right and it only takes one or two to make a day feel like a success. It took less than an hour, but I got my wish:
An absolutely stunning 1787 Connecticut Copper! These were privately minted from 1785 to 1788, but under contract with the State of Connecticut. These are by far the most numerous of the state issued coppers floating around in the 1780s, but finding one in such an incredible condition right out of the soil is a rarity!
Excited by the early success I continued gridding the area around the top of the knoll. Not long after I unearthed a crusty looking pewter button, but unlike the others this distinctly had lettering on the face. A little bit of careful cleaning revealed that I had found a treasure:
That is a Revolutionary War Continental Army button! Not only is it a physical piece of the Revolutionary War, but they are extraordinary rare to find. The Continental Army had few resources compared to the British Army and prior to the war, button production took place chiefly in Britain. As a result there was no capacity for mass production of uniform buttons in the colonies and so buttons, like the one above, were cast by hand using a little tool about the size of a pair of pliers.
Most US militia members simply wore their own clothes in the service anyways, so there were comparatively few soldiers who wore what little buttons were made in this fashion. Even on known Revolutionary War encampments these are scarcely found. Despite having detected numerous homesteads of known Revolutionary War veterans, this is my first in many years of detecting!
Already having found some incredible 18th century pieces I had to wonder what else was hiding here and exactly how old was this structure? Judging by the buttons it was becoming clear that this homestead may have been among the first in the town.
The above buttons are just some of the ones recovered at this site so far, but they represent some of the oldest construction types. The cast pewter buttons on the ends and the center front date from the 1760s up through 1800 at the latest. The largest button is what's known as a 'drilled shank' tombac. This refers to the fact that the button was cast as a single piece and then the hole for thread was drilled into it afterwards. These date from the 1720s through to the 1760s. And finally the odd looking button with the hole next to the shank is known as a 'blowhole button.' These were made from two pieces that were then soldered together and the holes allowed expanding gasses to escape during the process. They're typically associated with sites much prior to the 1750s and sometimes seen on sites as old as the 1680s!
While I don't believe this site is as old as the 17th century, just the fact that this button is there suggests that it's mid-1700s as it would have been quite old even by those years. Altogether, and taking into account the known history of the area, I'm very comfortable in saying that this homestead was built in the late 1760s and perhaps a few years before that!
While the recovered buttons were mostly plain, the shoe buckle fragments were anything but! The above fragments are from five different sets of buckles and the pewter example on the top right being especially fancy. The center bottom one is likely the oldest, perhaps 1760s, while the rectangular examples are classic style for the 1770s and 1780s. Shoe buckles were meant to convey wealth and status, so having this many ornate pieces is a sure sign the owner was the fashionable sort.
I now had a good sense for the site based on where I had found artifacts to be the most concentrated. Closer to the homestead usually means better target density so I was focusing next to a pile of rocks that seemed to be the remains of the collapsed hearth. It was there that I stumbled on an incredible find. One copper coin became a second, and then a third. I would scarcely remove one colonial copper from the hole, then a signal would appear from deeper down. I moved a rock to the side and two more were under that! In the space of an hour I had recovered more colonial coppers than I usually find in a month!
I had stumbled on an incredibly rare colonial coin cache! The coins above don't represent an extraordinary amount of money in those days, but there was an extreme shortage of small change during and after the Revolutionary War. Because of this, few people had regular access to physical coinage and even fewer would have had a quantity on hand.
It seems likely that this particular person had a small change bag tucked away in the hearth that was forgotten when the house was abandoned. Later the hearth collapsed, scattering them among the rocks.
Almost as amazing as the existence of the cache, is the condition of the coins. The rise in the ground created a persistently dry soil condition which preserved the coins in exquisite detail. I spent many hours carefully removing the thicker dirt that was encrusted, but the patina on each coin was stable and preserved even the most subtle of features:
Above are just some of the examples unearthed. In total I have so far found 5 Connecticut coppers, 1 Vermont copper, 3 King George III coppers (all counterfeit), 3 King George II coppers, 1 Nova Constellatio token, and 2 coppers worn so smooth that no features are left. Interestingly this is actually a fairly good cross section of the coins in circulation after the Revolutionary War. Even the fact that all three KGIII halfpennies are fakes was common in those days since both domestic and British counterfeiters were churning them out by the barrel full!
The Nova Constellatio is perhaps the most exciting of the recovered coins since very little is known for certain about their origin. Various contemporary sources state that they were made in Britain as ordered by a "New York merchant," but the identity and motivations of this merchant are still a matter of debate. They circulated for a few years, but were very light and quickly supplanted by heavier and therefore more valuable state coppers.
So far there has been a good variety of relics found in association with the coins and buttons. Above is an 18th century 2-pronged fork, a wrought iron harness buckle, musket balls, and even part of a clay tobacco pipe. A good deal of personal effects have turned up, but the real question becomes the identity of this settler and possible Revolutionary War veteran.
I was fortunate in that the landowner is quite the history buff as well, and quite knowledgeable about the area. As it turns out there is a small family cemetery not 600 feet from this homestead. Fairly buried in brush and fallen trees, were a number of large and detailed headstones.
A few are clearly legible, while others I had to do rubbings to make out the text. There are three family names that the various stones belong to. Most are Peabody (or some spelling variation.) The other two are Clark and Mallison. I'm currently in the process of doing detailed research into the three families, but the headstones range in date from 1788 to 1812 which puts them solidly in the time-frame I would have expected this site to have been abandoned. One name in particular immediately turned up a Revolutionary War connection.
Parker Pabody does appear on the local rosters for the Revolutionary War, but it's also possible that a son of one of the two other families served as well. Being just the first real pass over this site I have a feeling that there is much more to be found and potentially pieces that could shed further light on the settlers. I'm also pursuing deeds of the area that fortunately survived in archives and could map out the original plots.
This site promised to be an ongoing project and there's a good chance that some real historical connections can be made thanks to the survival and discovery of this homestead. You can be sure that this is one post that will be continued...
Max Cane is an avid detectorist and historian specializing in 18th century sites, but exploring all sorts of historical structures. At both ruins and existing homesteads he recovers, preserves, and researches the artifacts that settlers lost long ago.
Lost homesteads and structures are all around us and virtually every section of woodland I investigate has at least one hidden amongst the trees. I'm continually amazed by just how many there are waiting to be found and the history that they represent.
If you would like to read more, I have many previous articles in my archive! Click the below link to browse through them: