I've been working on several extensive historical research and detecting projects, but in my occasional spare time I still comb through the forests in search of forgotten 18th century homesteads. Earlier this fall I finally chanced upon a new one that seems to have been missed by everyone else. I visited it a number of times and I seemed to come up with better and better relics each visit culminating in the most recent which produced two especially rare colonial copper coins!
The old county maps showed a dead-end road with no houses on it, but which still had a 90 degree bend and crossed over a river. Roads were always constructed for a purpose so I knew there had to be at least one homestead along it that likely predated the map. I focused around the river crossing and sure enough there was an unmistakable foundation buried in a thick blanket of ferns.
The foundation had eroded significantly which is always a sure sign that it has been abandoned for well over a century. The subtle nature of the structure is also probably why it hadn't been found by anyone else. I say that because almost immediately dug a few flat buttons on the lip of the cellar and numerous large iron signals. Had the site been previously detected it's likely such obvious signals would have been the first to be scooped up.
It's always exciting finding a new undisturbed site and I had a lot of ground to cover so I moved a little away from the foundation into a patch of rocks that were probably part of the hearth before it collapsed. The first coin was a deep 1804 copper half cent and only a few steps from that an 1808 large cent. A terrific start, but I could tell there had to be older pieces buried in the ground.
I had my confirmation shortly after when a strong, deep tone produced an exquisitely preserved Georgian-period shoe buckle!
It's clear that the mechanism broke leading to it's loss or discarding, but even so it's rare to find a shoe buckle with an intact frame; especially one with such a fancy and delicate design.
At this point I'm beyond excited and I get a new signal practically every few steps so I'm digging constantly. Unfortunately my time was short that first day so I had to wrap up before I could even finish half the sweep around the foundation, but I knew there would be tons more in the ground waiting for me!
I could hardly wait to get back, and the very next weekend I was there again to pick up where I left off. Between the foundation and the road was a low signal that I was sure was going to be another brass button. To my surprise it was much larger, but mangled, pewter disk. It wasn't until I cleaned it up that I was able to see details on both sides and I realize that I had found another of the enigmatic cast pewter large cents that seem to turn up on early sites.
I've found several of these over the years and in a variety of counties/states. They also turn up in coin collector circles from time to time and are usually made from matron head large cents (1816-1839.) However earlier this year I excavated an example made from a liberty cap large cent dated 1794 so it wasn't exclusive to that type of large cent. They tend to be very crudely cast and with a low relief which suggests they were made at home by individuals and not skilled pewter smiths.
It's also clear they they were not made as counterfeits with the intention of passing as real large cents. The silver color would have obviously distinguished them, but there's also the fact that the authentic copper pennies were so loathed at the time that they were routinely (and legally) refused in everyday transactions. Counterfeiting them would have been a pointless exercise so they had to have been made for another purpose.
It isn't known for certain, but the best guess is that they were made to be used as tokens or chips in various card and board games. Around the same time there were mass-produced tokens made in Europe for the same purpose, but those were made to look similar to British gold guinea and half-guinea coins. It's possible that clever individuals who couldn't afford, couldn't find, or didn't want to purchase manufactured tokens, simply made their own out of pewter and spare pocket change!
By the end of the first two days I had accumulated a very large number of buttons and some very cool relics. Of particular note is the thimble that, upon cleaning, revealed a surprise hidden inside.
It seems the individual who did the clothing repair and sewing around the house was so busy with their work, that their finger became sore. To help, they wadded up two little pieces of linen in the top of the thimble before it was eventually lost. The copper salts from the brass prevented them from decomposing, and the cup shape shielded them from any sort of ground or root action that could have separated them from the brass. Despite being in the ground for two centuries, those little bits of linen have survived in almost perfect condition!
While these were all very cool finds and I had a number of 18th century pieces, I had yet to come across any 18th century coins which was a little unusual. It wasn't until my third trip that I managed to find where they were hiding and in doing so unearthed some truly magnificent specimens.
Now that I had covered the ground closest to the foundation I pivoted to gridding the section extending back from the house. While typically the finds are few and far between in this area, sometimes larger relics can be found and there's always the chance of stumbling on outbuildings. I did find a few buttons right off, and a fragmented pewter shoe buckle so I had good reason to continue. Not far away, I came across a very deep high tone and dug out a massive plug. Even at 10 inches I still hadn't reached the target, but another two inches down and I pulled out a copper disk that was instantly recognizable.
That's a Fugio Cent, minted in 1787 and the very first Federal coinage. I could write a whole post about their unusual and dramatic history, but in a nutshell they were an absolute disaster and very few were actually released into circulation. As a result, digging one is extremely rare even on period sites. Of course digging two is practically unheard of, so when I dug up the second one about a half hour later I was ecstatic!
The design is striking and quite unusual. The obverse has a sun shining down on a sundial and the word "Fugio" translating to "I flee/fly" in Latin which is meant to say that [time] flies by. The reverse has thirteen chains symbolizing the 13 colonies and the words "we are one" surrounded by "United States." Covered in powerful symbolism, each one of these coins is a piece of history.
The back area produced several other colonial copper coins, although not as well preserved as the two Fugio Cents. There were also a number of large dandy buttons which is odd given that I didn't find them around the foundation. It suggests to me that something was going on in that back area, a regular gathering perhaps, but I'm holding off on a conclusion until I completely cover that ground.
I'm still hoping that the ground is hiding some personal effects that could be connected to a name. The unfortunate part of this site predating the landowner maps is that I have no idea what family name may correspond to this homestead. So far no military buttons have turned up so I don't have any rosters to look through. It's possible that I may never be able to identify the occupants of this site, but even if I can't it's still produced a dazzling and informative array of historical relics.
I can't wait to return again and see what else is hiding under the soil there!
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: