House 14 was the second domestic site excavated at New Montpelier, House 26 being the first. The House 14 site was chosen because before excavation it suggested a rectangular shape consistent with the other potential house sites, though only partially identified in the grassy surface and not revealing all of its corners. This site was located towards the northern boundary of the village area and immediately beside the stone wall shown on a plan of 1821 that separated the village from a pasture. Extensive excavation in 1975 and 1976 exposed a complete stone foundation with evidence of occupation during the final decades of slavery and beyond abolition down to about 1850.
Detailed documentary data for the houses standing at New Montpelier in 1825, published in British Parliamentary Papers in 1832, includes information on 24 stone houses. These made up only 27 percent of the total village housing stock at that date, the other houses being wattled (wattle-and-daub) or Spanish-walled (timber frames infilled with stone and mortar). Although the houses of 1825 are described in some detail in the surviving documents, and associated with family household groups, it has not been possible to relate these specific descriptions to particular house foundations at the village site. Only houses with stone foundations were visible by surface survey and only these stone foundations were excavated. Within the village a total of 42 complete stone foundations were identified and traces found at least another ten. House 14 is one of the former, with a complete foundation. Probably it is also one of the houses described in 1825. The precise boundaries of the village are known from a plan of the plantation surveyed in 1821. By 1975 the stone wall that enclosed two sides of the village in 1821, immediately beside House 14, had been levelled to allow free grazing of livestock but the aqueduct that marked the other two sides remained and was supplemented by a barbed wire fence. Generalized documentary evidence of objects that might survive in the archaeological record (such as iron cooking pots and thimbles) can be found for Montpelier, specifically Old Montpelier, in the early nineteenth century, but none of this evidence can be attributed directly to House 14 or any other house site. The list of houses from 1825 did enumerate the cattle, hogs and poultry belonging to each household but again it is impossible to link this evidence specifically to House 14. Descriptive accounts of plantation life at Montpelier exist from scattered points in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, making the broad context well known.
Excavation history, procedure and methods
Surface surveys commenced in 1973 and excavation of House 14 was undertaken in 1975 and 1976 by students from the University of the West Indies, staff from the Port Royal Archaeological Project, and volunteers, led by Barry Higman and Tony Aarons. Elevations were taken using the plane table and tied to a local datum, and a north-south grid established, for the entire village site. Excavation was principally by levels of varied depth and excavation units or quadrats linked to the site grid, though construction trenches and other special features were treated separately. Most of the excavation was achieved using hand tools, generally trowels and brushes. Occasionally, the tools used were inappropriate to the task, as was the wielding of the pick that chipped the top of the unique blacking bottle in House 14. Screening was used throughout most of House 14, using a 1/8 inch screen, but no flotation. Ceramics were mended to enable a Minimum Vessel Count (MVC), and the bores of clay smoking pipes measured using drill bits. Specialized analysis of the beads was carried out by Karlis Karklins. The faunal remains were studied by Elizabeth J. Reitz, assisted by Thomas Pluckhan and Philip Cannon, using the comparative skeletal collection at the Zooarchaeological Laboratory, Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens. In estimating the Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), each house was regarded as a discrete analytical unit.
Excavation proved House 14 to have a foundation completely constructed of stone with external dimensions 27 by 18 feet, matching exactly House 26 that lay 50 yards away. Whereas the foundation of House 26 was uniform at 18 inches width, that of House 14 varied from 24 inches in its western wall to 30 inches in the south. House 14 also contained less regular cut stone. Perhaps this difference reflected the somewhat more sloping site of House 14, with larger stones typically making up the downslope foundation. The corner stones were less massive than those of House 26. The stone was all limestone, blocks readily found within the site itself or transported short distances from quarries on the property.
All of the evidence derived from excavation suggests that House 14 was not merely a house with a stone foundation, perhaps topped by a Spanish-wall or wattle-and-daub, but rather a structure in which stone constituted the walls all the way up to the eaves. The walls above the foundation level appear to have been a consistent 18 inches thick, as found in House 26. No construction trench could be identified at House 14, perhaps because of the difference in the dimensions of the foundation. The roof of House 14 was probably shingled, as suggested by the documentary report of 1825. Large quantities of nails were excavated in a fairly even scatter that suggests they secured the rafters, laths and shingles. The weight of construction using stone probably meant that the walls narrowed towards the eaves and that they were low, perhaps not more than 7 feet in height.
The floor of House 14 was composed of packed marl and small stones, mixed with soil and tamped to a smooth surface. This layer averaged 3 inches in depth and extended throughout all areas of the house. There is no evidence of floor boards. It is possible that House 14 was divided into two rooms but the traces are less certain than at House 26, and the identification of doorways is equally difficult. House 14 did yield some door hinges but no door keys.
Summary of research and analysis
The orientation of House 14 suggests that it was one of a series of houses laid out in parallel lines (as in the case of House 26) and therefore perhaps built in 1819 when enslaved people were moved from Shettlewood to New Montpelier and had houses prepared for them. That this was the approximate year of construction of House 14 finds support in the evidence of the artifacts. The Mean Ceramic Date is 1837, the Binford Pipe-stem Formula gives an average of 1767, and the house contained a coin dated 1841. Thus it may be argued with confidence that House 14 was built under supervision of the plantation management, in terms of precise layout and dimensions, and that resources of labour and materials (including stone, lime, timber, shingles and nails) were made available. The actual work of construction would have been performed by the enslaved masons and carpenters of New Montpelier. It may have been occupied for a longer period than House 26.
Interpretation of the occupations of the persons occupying House 14 come most directly from the tool-related artifacts. During slavery, and beyond, annual distributions were made of various imported metal agricultural tools, notably cutlass or machete, bill and hoe, but other tools emerged from the excavations. Significantly, no hoe heads were found in House 14 but the site did yield a bill hook blade and a cutlass. Other artifacts found in House 14, related to tools not distributed directly by the planters, included a pickax, a pair of pincers and a soldering iron. This pattern suggests that House 14 may have been occupied by at least one person engaged in metalworking, perhaps producing items for sale in local markets or for use in the village, as well as other people who performed agricultural labour.
Of the domestic life that was lived within the walls of House 14, little can be established, with items of furniture and methods of lighting hard to identify.
The food history of the household can be reconstructed more successfully, at least in some of its aspects. The documentary record for Montpelier describes the annual distribution, in the 1820s, of imported iron cooking pots and knives. These are present among the excavated artifacts but House 14 also yielded two metal spoons, one eating fork, and fragments of a metal grater, used for the preparation of cassava, coconut or spices. Wear marks on stones may indicate that they had been used to grind corn or other grain. It is known, however, that vessels and utensils crafted from organic materials, such as wood, calabash and bamboo, were in common use, and these items were not recovered archaeologically.
Most of the many ceramics found at House 14 related to the preparation and consumption of food, and most of these items were imported (British-made) goods, purchased in the local markets or obtained from the plantation’s resources. It is surprising that so little locally made pottery was found, in light of the vigorous African tradition that survived in the island. House 14 was unusual in having not even a small representation of locally made ceramics or yabbas. Once again, it is difficult to assess the extent to which the ceramics, whether local or imported, were balanced by objects of organic materials. Of the excavated ceramics, the MVC showed House 14 to have 50 unique vessels, significantly fewer than House 26 (84 vessels) and House 37 (76 vessels). In terms of shape and type, the vessels of House 14 included large proportions of jars, bowls and plates, and it was unusual in having a teapot and two jugs. House 14 had a relatively high ratio of plates to bowls. Compared to the other house sites, House 14 also had a relatively high proportion of stoneware items (reflecting the role of the jars), and a low proportion of pearlware. The proportions of creamware and whiteware were closer to the average for the village at large.
Direct evidence of the food consumed at House 14 is confined to animal sources and the data obtained from the vertebrate faunal analysis carried out by Elizabeth J. Reitz. House 14 is interesting because it yielded by far the largest MNI (21), more than twice as many individuals than in any of the other house sites. The most common species were unidentified rodents (5), pig (3), horse/donkey (3), chicken (2) and dog (2), along with sheep/goat, cow and cat. Contemporary descriptive accounts refer to the use of all these as potential food but whether the individuals found in House 14 were actually eaten is less certain as is the question which parts were used as human food. Some of the bones had been sawed or cut, indicating butchering. Fish, distributed in the largest quantities in pickled and salted form to the enslaved people of New Montpelier, left little trace.
Clothing and costume is known archaeologically principally through its technologies and accessories, whereas the documentary record specific to Montpelier emphasizes the kinds and amounts of cloth distributed by the planters during slavery along with caps and hats, and general descriptive accounts focus on style and fashion. The point of overlap is found in the needles, thimbles and scissors, that occur in both contexts. House 14 yielded two thimbles. It was also the only house site to produce a needle, the most common sewing artifact by far, handed out in the thousands each year, but the hardest to find. Outside the documentary record specific to Montpelier, House 14 yielded 17 buttons, most of them attributable to the later stages of occupation as indicated by the text on one of them dating it to 1841. This dated button was found in an excavation unit immediately beside the unit that contained the English shilling of 1841. House 14 also held a belt buckle, with its tongue intact, and a blacking bottle. The imagined metal worker of the house can be pictured stepping out on a Sunday morning, around 1845, dressed in buttoned shirt, belted trousers and blacked boots.
House 14 produced a relatively large number of beads, 22 of the 64 excavated from the village sites. House 14 contained a relatively large proportion of the beads excavated at New Montpelier, 22 of the 64 overall. Analysis by Karlis Karklins has identified 22 bead types represented in the New Montpelier collection. House 14 had representatives from eight of these types, and also contained two of the three carnelian beads found in the village. Most common were drawn glass beads, particularly tubular, undecorated blue beads.
Karklins argues that the evidence from the beads suggests that all four of Houses 14, 24, 26 and 37 were occupied at about the same time. This interpretation fits closely the conclusions drawn from the other datable artifacts as well as documentary record for New Montpelier, that the houses were occupied in the later decades of slavery and for perhaps two decades beyond abolition. The people who lived in House 14 experienced the brutality and hardships of slavery, the rebellion of 1831/32, and the apprenticeship, but remained on the estate after 1838 (or, less probably, were replaced by like individuals) to endure the immediate post-slavery period at least down to the abandonment of sugar production.