The NAVAIR site is located in the middle of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County, Maryland. The NAVAIR (18ST642) site got its name from the Naval Air Station but it was once part of a plantation complex known as Mattapany-Sewall. The site was discovered as part of a large-scale survey of the Naval Air Station to investigate the impact of construction and expansion of the base in light of the Defense Department's 1993 Base Realignment and Closure decisions. Cultural material associated with the site was found in a 250-x-200 foot area (Tubby 1995: 1, 1998: 8).
The remains of a brick chimney associated with a mid- to late-eighteenth century structure were uncovered. Three pit features associated with the structure were excavated as well. A Phase I survey was conducted in 1994, with Phase II excavations conducted later in the same year. Full-scale Phase III work was performed in 1995 and the plowzone was removed to expose historic features. The site probably constitutes the remains of a tenant or slave household associated with the Mattapany-Sewall plantation (Tubby 1995: i, 1, 1998: i, 1).
NAVAIR (18ST642) was located in an outlying part of a plantation complex known as Mattapany-Sewall. Mattapany-Sewall was an 1,000 acre tract on the south shore of the Patuxent River patented in 1663 by Henry Sewall. It was one of ten plantations in the Mattapany area patented between 1648 and 1665. Sewall died in 1665 and following his death, his widow, Jane, married Charles Calvert, who was governor of the colony. Upon their marriage, the property was ceded to Calvert, the third Lord Baltimore. The two resided on the property until they returned to England in 1684 and remained there until their deaths (Chaney n.d.; Tubby 1995:1, 11-12, 1998:6).
Charles Calvert, and later Sewall owners, appear to have practiced diversified farming when at all possible. Calvert was something of a progressive farmer, who experimented with different crops in order to lessen dependence on tobacco. While living at St. Johns in St. Mary's City in 1664, he wrote to his father about planting large quantities of wheat, barley, oats, and peas, and of sowing flax, hemp, and "garden seeds" sent to him by his father. Other accounts mention gardens, orchards, and pastures on the property. When Calvert moved to Mattapany a couple of years later, he apparently tried most of the same practices. In 1672, he wrote of his success with wheat, barley, oats, and peas, and of planting a barrel of "white flaxen wheat." His wife also sent dried peaches back to England several times, but it is not clear that they came from Mattapany's orchards. But tobacco was still an important crop for Calvert and no doubt corn was as well (Chaney n.d.).
After Calvert returned to England in 1684, Mattapany underwent a long period of absentee ownership/trusteeship, occupied largely by tenants. Not much is known about what they grew there, other than one mention of corn. During these tenant farming years, it is likely that the agricultural focus was on tobacco and corn (Chaney, personal communication).
In 1772, the property was re-patented to Major Nicholas Sewall, Henry and Jane Sewall's son, by Charles Calvert, the fifth Lord Baltimore. Major Sewall's estate, which included Mattapany-Sewall, amounted to 10,000 acres and included thirty-one slaves when he died in 1737. Five years later, property heir Nicholas Lewis Sewall came of age and took over ownership of Mattapany-Sewall. By all accounts, he was a successful planter and is thought to have built the current Mattapany manor house. Much of his income was derived from diversified agricultural pursuits. His account books indicate that tobacco and corn were grown there and that he bought flax seed. Other listings include things like rye, wheat, peas, and cranberries. It's not clear that these things were grown by him, but most were certainly possible crops. Sewall also ran a mill and a salt works, which added to his income and gave some of his enslaved laborers non-agricultural roles on the plantation (Chaney n.d.).
Mattapany's size and value decreased during the American Revolution due to British raids and post-war economic hardships. Sewall's slave holdings decreased from thirty-nine slaves in 1790 to twenty-seven in 1796. And in 1798, the amount of land he owned was 827 acres. But by his death in 1800, the Mattapany-Sewall plantation was 830 acres and the number of enslaved individuals had increased to thirty-six. Sewall's son took over the property and an 1801 probate inventory mentions wheat in the field as well as clover and flax. After that, we don't know much about what was grown at Mattpany until the Thomas family takes over in the 1840s (ibid.). The property remained in Sewall hands until 1840 (Chaney n.d.; Tubby 1995: 15-16, 1998:21-22).
Excavation history, procedure, and methods
Archaeological survey, testing, and excavation conducted between 1993 and 1995 by Tidewater Atlantic Research, Inc. revealed the remains of a single-dwelling structure and associated yard located on what is known as the NAVAIR site. The site was initially discovered during a Phase I survey in 1994, conducted in order to investigate areas slated for new construction as part of the U.S. military's 1993 Base Realignment and Closure decisions. Subsequent testing and excavation were recommended based on the presence of eighteenth-century artifacts and the location of the site within the historical boundaries of the Mattapany-Sewall plantation complex, an eighteenth-century property (Tubby 1998:i, 1, 23).
All phases of survey and excavation were carried out by Tidewater Atlantic Research, Inc. (TAR). During Phase I survey, 168 shovel test pits were excavated, revealing artifacts dating from the mid- to late-eighteenth century. Phase II excavations were conducted in 1994 in order to further define the site limits. Eight radial STPs were excavated around positive STPs from Phase I and six 5-x-5 foot units were excavated. A brick chimney and trash pit were discovered and the site extent was defined as an area measuring 250-x-200 feet to be further examined during Phase III excavations (Tubby 1995:24, 1998:8, 23).
Forty-three 5-x-5 foot units were placed in the delineated site area during Phase III, conducted in 1995. The units were systematically placed so that the distance between them was no greater than thirty feet. Additionally, 93 STPs, on 25-ft intervals, were excavated. Phase III quadrats were not excavated stratigraphically; topsoil, plowzone, and subsoil were removed as a single context (Tubby 1998:9-12).
Four block areas were defined based upon artifact distributions and features found during STP and unit plowzone testing: a 90-x-10 foot area, a trench 30 feet long and varying in width from five to eleven feet, an area 55-x-60 feet referred to as the "house block", and a 20-x-30 foot area (see site map). Plowzone in these blocks was then mechanically removed and shovels and trowels were used to expose subsoil and any sub-surface features within the blocks (Tubby 1998:12-15).
The major features of the site are associated with the "house block" and the adjacent trench to the northeast, the "east trench." The three features located in the "house block" and thought to be associated with one structure are: Feature 1, a chimney base, Feature 15, a refuse pit, and Feature 16, a subfloor pit. The "east trench" features include Feature 5, a probable tree fall later used as a trash pit, and the smaller Feature 6, located approximately twenty feet west of the trash pit. It was thought to be a possible posthole but there is no substantial evidence to support this. Feature 18, an unidentified pit, is located 15 feet to the northwest of Feature 6. It was identified as a shallow, circular depression at the ground surface and became irregularly shaped with depth. All features were bisected and excavated in natural levels (Tubby 1998:15-18, 25-47).
Summary of research and analysis
Tidewater Atlantic Research Inc.:
Based on historic documents and artifacts recovered, it was concluded by Ray Tubby, the principal investigator, that the NAVAIR site (18ST642) was a small structure dating to the third and fourth quarters of the eighteenth century. The structure was located nearly a mile away from the manor house on the outskirts of the Mattapany-Sewall plantation and would have been associated with agricultural activities. Given its location, low artifact density, and subfloor pit, Tubby concluded that the site was most likely a slave quarter (Tubby 1998:101).
Tidewater Atlantic Research produced several artifact distribution studies based on plowzone artifact density. The highest density of plowzone artifacts occurred in the central and southern part of the site. Tubby argued that, based on high levels of domestic artifacts, the areas west and southwest of the structure were the main yard space. The high density of brick on the east side of the house probably indicates where the chimney collapsed after the site was abandoned (Tubby 1998:80-84).
DAACS attempted to produce a seriation-based intrasite chronology for the NAVAIR site. There are no discrete occupation phases evident in the ceramic assemblages from non-plowzone features. As a result, DAACS produced a site-wide mean ceramic date and TPQ for the site, with the MCD of 1790 and TPQp90 of 1762. Please see the NAVAIR Chronology page for more details on DAACS dating methods and dates for the NAVAIR site.