Category Archives: Historical Research

Updates from the Lab

While our beautiful new Maritime Archaeology and Education Center (MAEC) was being built, conservation was disassembled and all artifacts were put into a state of monitored wet storage. Taking those items out of storage and getting conservation back on track has been a slow and detailed process. This process requires an inventory and condition analysis of all items, as well as setting up each area of conservation in order for treatments to begin.

Though we are not quite running at 100% yet, we have made great leaps and bounds. Part of our inventory includes new items recovered from our current shipwreck, Anniversary.  Since everything was essentially put straight into a holding pattern, we are just now starting to analyze the items we recovered last summer. In fact, dredge spoil from the site is still being sorted and new items are being discovered daily.

One of our biggest challenges is to discern what items, if any, are contained within the concretions we recover. Conservation is expensive, so we must focus on items that can answer certain research questions, like the time period or the nationality of the vessel. One way for us to do this is through X-ray analysis. While x-rays won’t show 100% of what is contained within a concretion, they do show us a lot visually and help us narrow our conservation focus.

X-rays allow us to look into concretions without damaging the items inside. This particular X-ray shows a padlock.

Due to the generosity of Doctors Eric Searcy, DMV and John Yselonia, DMV at Antigua Veterinary Practice, we can now begin to take our own x-rays! They donated their previous machine for us to use in our MAEC building, and we have just begun to analyze last summer’s concretions.

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Over 25 brass tacks were found using our new X-ray machine!

Our very first in-house X-ray proved to be exiting for more reasons than just being our first X-ray.  Inside the concretion are more than 25 brass furniture tacks, something we have not encountered on our previous wreck sites, and an iron padlock. We are uncertain if either of these items will help us better date or identify this wreck, but it is always exciting to reveal what history has left us.

Contributed by Director of Archeological Conservation Starr Cox, edited by Social Media Specialist Daniel Lee

Discoveries at the Barracks

The World War II-era United States Coast Guard (USCG) structure on site is currently being restored after serving as office space for many years at the Museum. The structure was constructed after the US entered into World War II. Before December 1941, the US military was in various stages of mobilization that included increasing military personnel, munitions and equipment.

The official telegram that head keeper Daniels received, which initiated a military mobilization plan that officially directed the US Navy to absorb the USCG (note that this occurs in November 1941 before the Pearl Harbor attack).

As war was declared, there was rapid action to train troops and prepare the US for overseas warfare. As the US prepared to enter into multiple war fronts, plans were developed and initiated for home front security. As part of this process, the USCG fell under direction of the US Navy. The Museum’s collections provide a glimpse into some of these rapidly developing events and the role the Lighthouse and Light Station played during the wartime effort. We are fortunate enough to have some of the original Keepers’ records here at the Museum.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, military actions were intensified. Lighthouses along our coastline were immediately designated coastal lookouts serving to monitor boat traffic and identify any German U-boats in a region that would pose as an immediate threat. The US military forces, including the USCG, initiated routine patrol to guard our shorelines, albeit with limited resources. Coastal defense needed additional support and the USCG developed a series of infrastructure series of lookout towers strategically placed along the coastline. Additionally, a beach patrol was established on the coast with a combination of coastguardsmen: on foot with patrol dogs, on horseback and in some areas, in Jeeps. Training centers were established for this new defense effort and local infrastructure further grew to protect our coastlines from saboteurs and to help identify foreign invaders.

At our Lighthouse, the strategy was to construct a coastal lookout dwelling; it was finished and occupied in 1942. The dwelling (aka the Barracks) was built to house at least four coastguardsmen. Their job was to be on duty at the top of the tower 24/7, and report boat traffic (among other things) as part of the coastal defensive system. Unfortunately, there is limited documentation regarding this structure, but some information has been gleaned from past renovation projects as well as some of our original Keepers’ records. A Barracks reroofing project years ago produced a couple of fascinating finds. Among the layers of the former roofing projects, interesting details emerged surrounding construction activity at the Light Station. Original roof material was still present beneath a replacement metal roof. When this metal was removed, examples of original shingles were found! On the reverse side of these shingles was the name and location of the local manufacturer (nearby Palatka).

Shingles with manufacturer’s stamp.

The other amazing find was a section of roofing liner below the wood shingles with a portion of it signed by the individuals believed to have laid the roofing material, as well as the person who completed the electrical work. The fragments of paper are amazingly preserved and one can still clearly read the date of “April 28th 1942” for when the work was completed, and that the laborers were from Daytona Beach (possibly an indication of how busy it was in St. Augustine).

Fragment of paper showing the name and location of the laborers.

By the beginning of May, keeper correspondence suggests the structure is ready for occupation with mentions that the furniture has arrived (including a studio couch, for those who are curious). As staff has conducted searches in correspondence, we have previously been able to note some timeline issues or like most construction projects, a “delay” or “problem” during construction. For example, the coastal dwelling Keeper correspondence from August 1942 indicates the structure and wiring are complete, but additional work is required in order to connect to the main power line. We have also discovered that our first coastguardsmen reporting for lookout duty arrived in July 1942.

Letter from C.D. Daniels confirming arrival and subsequent assignment of coastguardsmen.

A copy of Keeper Daniels’ official report to superiors notes their arrival, and that yet again the dwelling is not quite ready for occupation. When we examine the roster of who arrives, one name is familiar to us: H.D. Defee. He is of interest to us because Defee’s name was previously found etched in concrete by the garage of the same time period. Interestingly, we know the concrete work was completed in 1944 so apparently he had at least a couple stints at the Lighthouse during the war. Restoration projects often reveal history that would not ever be found in any record. This is the case here at the Lighthouse. We suspect that as the restoration project continues, we are sure to find additional surprises!

Contributed by Chief Curator Jason Titcomb, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

Archaeologists + Dating = Success Through Collaboration

The past three months have been very busy for our Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) archaeologists. They have been analyzing artifacts discovered on the Museum property during last summer’s construction of the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center, as well as sites through St. Johns and Flagler Counties uncovered during the storms.

Our analysis started by contacting Dr. Lee Newsom, a Professor of Anthropology at Flagler College. Dr. Newsom is an expert in examining preserved plant remains from archaeological and paleontological sites as well as examining faunal remains, or bones! We were looking to determine the types of animals found in the trash pits uncovered during construction of the new Center. Once the bones were handed over, Dr. Newsom and her students at Flagler College went to work on identifying the types of animals in these pits. They came back with incredible data.

Dr. Lee Newsom directs Flagler College students on bone identification.

There are three areas we uncovered and examined: an 1880s trash pit to the north of the northern-most outdoor brick kitchen, a trash pit dating to the 1900s, and a 1930s pit near the Tin Pickle. Many of the bones in all three areas were identified as cow bones – meaning the keepers here had access to various cuts of beef on the island. Other bones included deer, turtle, snapper and turkey. All of these animals could have been caught on or around the Light Station. This knowledge brings to light the foodways of the Lightkeepers.

We also tasked Dr. Newsom and her students with dating our wood samples taken from the November canoe discovery. This canoe had shifted around during the high tides following Hurricane Irma and became quickly exposed as the high tides and storm surge subsided. To further understand the canoe, wood samples were taken by a joint team of Museum Archaeologists  and the Florida Public Archaeology Network of Northeast Florida. Tests of these samples would yield dates and a wood species. Speciation is determined by looking at the wood at a cellular level and identifying grain patterns within the wood. From their microscopic data based on one of two wood samples taken from the canoe, Dr. Newsom and her students determined the canoe to be made of cypress. Dating wood is a slow process, and only requires a tiny sliver of wood to complete. The second of the two wood samples was sent to the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies. The wood is dated using radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating looks at the amount of Carbon 14 remaining in a decaying piece of floral or faunal remains. As life stops exchanging Carbon 14 with the environment upon death and Carbon 14 decays at a constant rate, the older the piece being sampled, the less Carbon 14 will be present in the wood.

Wood sample taken from canoe for dating and speciation.

The analysis determined that the canoe is 830 years old ± 30 years, from 1950. From today’s date, that translates to a dating of 1000 CE. This is well before the Spanish ever laid foot in Florida. While this does not make our canoe one of the oldest in the state, it is believed to be one of the oldest in Northeast Florida.

LAMP and FPAN archaeologists examine the dugout canoe.

Now that the hardest date to obtain – that of the canoe- was determined, the LAMP team moved on to finding dates for our artifacts! The artifacts discovered on site (pottery, children’s toys, housewares) provided us with dates through historical research based on shape and maker’s marks present on individual objects.

Further research can be done into both the Light Station and the canoe to provide a fuller history of the northeast region of Florida. We appreciate the willingness of Dr. Lee Newsom and her students as well as the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at UGA to aid us in discovering new areas to be explored regarding this wider maritime history.

Contributed by Archaeologist Allyson Ropp, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

A Quick Retelling of the Cuban Archaeologists’ Visit

From second left to right: Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado; Marcos Antonio Acosta Mauri; and Yoser Martínez Hernández of the Gabinete de Arqueología of Havana, Cuba at their rowing stations in the chalupa, “San Agustín”.

By Dr. Sam Turner

Between August 25th and September 14th the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum hosted an archaeological cultural exchange which consisted of a visit by three Cuban archaeologists, Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado, Yoser Martínez Hernández, and Marcos Antonio Acosta Mauri, from the Gabinete de Arqueología, or Archaeology Cabinet, based in Havana, Cuba. This cultural exchange was possible through collaborations with the St. Augustine Archaeological Association which sponsored their travel and the Friendship Association which provided financial and logistical support. The purpose of the archaeologists’ visit was to participate in both underwater archaeological fieldwork with the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and in terrestrial archaeological projects with the City of St. Augustine archaeologist as well as to exchange ideas and methodology from within the international field. Additionally, the guest archaeologists assisted with the analysis of the ceramic material found on the Anniversary Wreck, which is the current focus of LAMP’s field work.

This particular cultural exchange program works to establish and deepen contacts between archaeologists and historians in both St. Augustine and Havana, Cuba in hopes of restoring cultural and scholarly ties between these two cities following a thawing in international relations. This is considered especially important given that these two cities’ histories have been closely intertwined for much of the last 450 years.

The Cuban archaeologists were able to explore the Anniversary Wreck with Museum archaeologists as well as use a new airlift – an underwater excavation tool – which LAMP has been experimenting with this field season. During their visit, they also visited many historically-significant sites in order to get a comprehensive overview of the history of our city. After visiting Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos they became particularly interested in the bronze Spanish artillery captured during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Spanish-American War (1898). Other visits included: the Alligator Farm; the Spanish Military Hospital; St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine; Tolomato Cemetery; and the Father Felix Varela Shrine.

Director of the Gabinete de Arqueología, Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado, was the featured speaker for the St. Augustine Archaeological Association’s monthly speaker series delivered at Flagler College on September 5th. His talk, entitled, The Frigate Navigator and its British Shipment: History and Archaeology, focused on a shipwreck east of the city of Havana which they have recently investigated and identified. The talk was well attended by approximately 75 people.

Our Cuban colleagues were especially pleased to meet and spend time with St. Augustine resident Dr. Kathy Deagan, one of the world’s foremost experts on Spanish colonial archaeology who took them on a guided tour of the first colony exhibit in Government house and discussed her work on numerous Spanish colonial archaeological sites in St. Augustine and abroad. They also had the pleasure and honor of helping crew St. Augustine’s tall ship, the San Agustín, an authentic and faithful replica of a Spanish watercraft known as a chalupa. This watercraft was built as a legacy project of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine as a partnership between the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, The St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation, and the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. This replica vessel is used every year to reenact the landing of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on Founders Day. Our Cuban colleagues were able to take part in the full landing rehearsal and were to have participated in the landing day festivities set to take place on the September 9th but those plans changed when an unwelcome visitor named Irma came to town.

While here, our colleagues pitched in with the rest of the Lighthouse staff to prepare the entire Lighthouse site for the hurricane which was a two-day process that included striking all the tent tops in our Heritage Boatworks area and boarding up windows. They weathered the storm at Lighthouse Field House where field students and visiting scholars are housed during their stay in St. Augustine. Following the storm, they helped reopen the site for business. Towards the end of their visit, we conducted a study and examination of the ceramic assemblage that was excavated from the Anniversary Wreck and currently under archaeological investigation by LAMP. This included a visit to the city archaeology lab where they met with outgoing city archaeologist, Carl Halbirt, as well as his recently-arrived-replacement, Andrea White. Carl shared a great deal of information including some of his most interesting finds here in St. Augustine, especially the recent excavations of the Spanish cemetery associated with the church of Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios on Charlotte Street.

Unfortunately, as another result of the storm, no archaeological work with the City Archaeologist was possible during this visit. Hopefully next time! We were honored to have international colleagues come to share with us. Our thanks to them and to all who helped host!

Keepers of the Light

Keepers of the Light

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Alphonso Daniels, 2nd Assistant Keeper, 1928 St. Augustine Lighthouse

When you think about lighthouse keepers, what comes to mind? Maybe it is long, lonely nights dutifully keeping the lamps burning for ships unseen. Alternatively, perhaps it is a long day spent painting the lighthouse tower. Lighthouse keeping meant a hard life, especially as we think about it today. Who do you imagine did these tasks?

During the lighthouse boom of the 19th century, jobs requiring a rugged self-reliance would have been male dominated endeavors. While both sexes had worked equally hard on the frontier during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Industrial Revolution cemented for the next 200-years western views of men’s role as the worker and women’s role in the house. The Lighthouse Service was no exception to this rule. Even though entire families worked from dawn until dusk at light stations across the country, males made up the overwhelming majority of government appointed lighthouse keepers, who received pay for the work they performed.

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