Green Spring Plantation Archaeology

This excerpt is based on a paper written by Park Ranger Lee Pelham Cotton.

Caywood excavation in 1955
Caywood excavation in 1955

Interest in Green Spring as an archeological site began in the twentieth century. An amateur excavation was undertaken by the owner Jesse Dimmick in 1928-9; three basements were fully excavated and the bricks were sealed with cement to protect them from the elements.
In 1954, two commissions were created to help Virginia prepare for the 350th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. Among other projects planned for 1957 was the reconstruction of Governor Berkeley’s Green Spring mansion. Although the commissions did not find a sponsor willing to fund this ambitious task, the state of Virginia paid for an archaeological survey of portions of the site led by Louis R. Caywood, a National Park Service archeologist.
Caywood succinctly described his task, which began in November of 1954:
The excavations were carried out to search the area in the vicinity of the mansion house for the remains of buildings and features and to expose the foundations of the buildings for further measurements and especially for elevations.

Caywood foundation sketch from 1955
Caywood foundation sketch from 1955

Although the work was done hurriedly in bad weather, many important discoveries were made and measurements taken. Caywood and his staff made a detailed study of the manor house remains. A pottery kiln, built by Sir William about 1665, was uncovered when a test trench was dug. Caywood explored the remains of Berkeley’s greenhouse, discovering the 350-pound cast iron base of the furnace which had heated the structure.
A kitchen site, probably dating to the seventeenth century was excavated; there remains of two hearths and two bake ovens were discovered. Iron filings in a corner of the kitchen foundations indicate that the last possible use of the structure may have been as a blacksmith shop. Caywood also was able to study some landscape features in the immediate vicinity of the house.

Images of pottery found during Caywood’s excavation in 1955

In addition to unearthing and studying structures, the excavation of Green Spring yielded a bountiful harvest of ceramics, metal wares, glassware, smoking pipes, tiles and bricks. Caywood estimated that at least 40% of the artifacts are of the period from 1650 to 1675. These objects, which range from an elaborate brass clock face to a sizable cache of farming tools found near the kiln site, emphasize the wealth of the Berkeley household and the Governor’s interest in agriculture and industry at Green Spring.

Excavation ends as funds dwindle

The excavation ended on May 25, 1954. Much more could have been done, but time and money ran out. When reconstruction of the Berkeley-era manor house proved too expensive, the commission took Caywood’s advice and backfilled the excavations to protect what had been found from the elements. For half a century, the site has remained undisturbed.