Found in Privies in Philadelphia

privy-tankerIn Colonial Williamsburg, VA; the archaeologists for years have been finding all types of buried ‘trash’ that was thrown in the colonists’ privies (or outhouses) back in the 1700s. Much of it was broken dishes or pottery (the main items to survive, regular food and waste garbage would not), but once the archaeologists have found most of the pieces they have been able to piece the tankard or bowl back together to have a good representation of common everyday housewares. It demonstrates, to be careful how it is thrown away, future generations may be uncovering buried trash and learning more about you.

Just recently in Philadelphia, PA; an old colonial land area known as Carter’s Alley (located at South Third and Chestnut Streets) has been prepared starting back in 2014 for the construction of a future Museum of the America Revolution. As machinery dug down the top surface, a dozen brick-lined privy pits (brick-lined circular shafts) were clogged with more than 82,000 artifacts. As the archaeologists began to examine the find they knew the items dated back to the early and to the end of the 1700s. Reviewing records for this area of Carter’s Alley in the 18th century, there were many businesses, shops and residences. So in turn, there were many privies used to dispose of household waste – garage and trash. For one privy used by a print shop some 750 printing type were found. Other items found in the privies included wig curlers, beads, parts of a hand fan, sets of dishes and silverware, drinking tankards and animal skin tanning supplies.

privy-plateAnother business’ privy, that for an illegal tavern owned by Benjamin and Mary Humphreys in the 1770s had some interesting items. No taverns were allowed in this area back then, but finding the drinking vessels, beer, wine and liquor bottles, broken tobacco pipes, serving dishes and broken punch bowls led the archaeologists to research further. Benjamin Humphreys was a licensed tool maker / blacksmith, but then they discovered that Mary Humphreys had been arrested in July 1783 for operating an illegal tavern there. Also found there was a windowpane with an etched words “We admire riches, And are in love with idleness.”

Finding animal bones for birds, fish, raccoons and other animals gave researchers also ideas of the type of meat consumed by residents in that area in the 1700s.

privy-MuseumAll these found artifacts will be a part of the new museum which will open in April 2017. There will be a wealth of true artifacts from all the colonies representing the people and events before, during and after the American Revolutionary War. Definitively a place for anyone who had ancestors in the American Revolutionary War will want to visit.

Photos: A German tankard; a red earthenware charger plate put back together; proposed Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

Related genealogy blogs:

Ancestors during the American Revolution

Databases from DAR – Daughters of the American Revolution

Vintage Scenes of Philadelphia

< Return To Blog