Built on Andrew Jackson’s property known as the Hermitage in the 1820s, the Triplex was a 20 x 60 foot, three-part housing block located near the mansion in a bustling backyard complex. Though the original designation is unknown, the Triplex, as it is known archaeologically, is one of the most artifact-rich domestic sites on the property, due in large part to the presence of brick-lined cellar features within each housing unit. Identified during excavation by their proximity to the mansion, Triplex North, Middle and South units contained a wide array of artifacts ranging from coarse wheel-thrown utilitarian ceramics to finely painted porcelain doll fragments. The destruction of this building likely coincided with changes in the Jackson family’s management of the property in the 1850s (McKee et al 1994).
This gallery explores some of the unique items recovered during two field seasons that focused on areas within and outside of the stone foundation walls of the three units of the Triplex. The first set is comprised of sewing-related items that provide a glimpse into the clothing production that occurred within the building. The widespread discard of mass-produced metal items like pins, scissors and thimbles is representative of the repair, alteration or improvement of rationed clothing conducted across the plantation (Galle 2004). Delicately carved bone and ivory needlework implements, found primarily in Triplex Middle contexts, indicate the presence of highly-skilled enslaved seamstresses who produced specialty embellishments for garments and home décor pieces.
The second set includes a variety of personal items utilized by a cross-section of members of the Triplex households. These objects reflect a range of activities, from pastimes such as gaming and smoking, to medical care and treatment that likely took place inside these structures. Both sets indicate individual selection of valuable, non-provisioned goods through purchase or exchange for specialized activities.
Taken as a whole, in the context of the Hermitage mansion backyard, these objects recovered from the Triplex suggest a dynamic community using their skill and knowledge to produce specialty articles and acquire costly items.
Artifact photographs in this gallery by Karen E. Price, George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Bone Lace Bobbin
- Lathe turned
- Length: 103.07; Width: 5.78mm
This is a decoratively turned lace bobbin made of bone. One end of the bobbin served to hold the thread that was used to create the lace. The opposite end often held a wire with beads (spangles) to maintain tension on the lace threads (Groves 1973; Beaudry 2006). The lathe-turned decoration on this example suggests that it was purchased rather than carved on-site, though it was likely not mass-produced.
The presence of this object at the Triplex Middle unit is potential evidence of on-site, household lace-making. The loss of the thread end of this bobbin and the subsequent filing of the broken end suggests modification and reuse of this tool after it was broken. In addition to crochet and beading, lace production likely focused on embellishments such as cuffs, collars and edgings for the clothing, caps, handbags and household decorations of the Jackson women. Furthermore, tools like this one also suggest the resources enslaved seamstresses could utilize, along with unused thread and backing, to produce their own goods for sale or exchange.
Bone Tambour Hook Handle
- Lathe turned
- Length: 67.61mm; Width: 8.33mm
This handle has a long, cylindrical carved body with lathe-turned cordons and balusters (Galle 2004; Beaudry 2006). A hole at one end would have been fitted with an iron or steel needle used to guide the white, colored or gold thread through the backing fabric such as muslin. The long handle served as an effective grip for the fine movement required in tambour lace or embroidery work, while the turned decoration reflects the status of the user.
From the French word for drum, tambour lace is a type of lace created by placing fine backing or netting over a wood frame and stitching through paper patterns that overlay the base material. The traditional form of creating this lace is with the specialized tambour hook rather than a needle. Specialty work like lace-making served to satisfy nineteenth century tastes for small decorative pieces that could be added to dresses, shawls and baby clothing.
This identification was made by Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles and Costumes at Colonial Williamsburg.
Bone Crochet Hook
- Length 91.7mm; Width 13.3mm
This is an example of a bone, rather than metal, hooked needle for crochet work. File marks can be seen along the top edge and the curved end is unsmoothed. In conjunction with the less common flat handle, this evidence suggests that the hook was hand-crafted locally (in-house) from discarded animal bone or a re-purposed bone tool. The flat handle may indicate an alternate use for the tool, perhaps for various types of openwork popular during the period for decorative articles such as tablecloths and doilies (Galle 2004; Beaudry 2006). The manufacture of specialty goods using this tool points to the skill of enslaved seamstresses living and working in the Triplex Middle unit to produce articles for the Jackson household and their own use or sale.
Brass Thimble with Stamped Phrase
- Nineteenth century
- Length: 24.92mm; Width: 19.9mm
This brass thimble has regular impressed knurling (machine-applied indentations) and a rolled rim, common in factory-made nineteenth century thimbles. It is stamped with the phrase “Tho Absent Ever Dear” around the base circumference. Similar stamped thimbles from this time period included mottoes such as “Forget Me Not” and “From A Friend” (Beaudry 2006). Despite the mass production of these thimbles, the personalized message selected here suggests the user’s choice to convey its message to those who viewed it, perhaps in commemoration of a loved one.
Ivory Needle Case
- Lathe turned
This bottom half of an ivory needle case has 21 mm of lathe-turned cordons at the cap end of the case. The cap end has a brass screw-thread closure; its missing brass cap indicates a possible reason for discard.
Needle cases of this type were considered more suitable than fabric needlebooks since they prevented rusting (Beaudry 2006). Lathe-turned manufacture of items like this one facilitated both the polish of the base material and the inclusion of decoration. Though this decoration is fairly plain relative to the heavily turned bone and ivory models available at the time, the ivory material suggests that it was a more costly item than a bone or fabric case (Beaudry 2006).
Mother-of-pearl Needle Guards
- Lathe turned
- (Left) Length:18.9mm; Width: 6.2mm. (Right) Length: 20.2mm; Width: 6.5mm
Recovered from the Triplex Middle unit, these two carved mother-of-pearl tubes, with minimal turned decoration on the finials, protected the ends of knitting needles (Galle 2004; Beaudry 2006). Guards like these were made in pairs and were often connected by a ribbon or chain to keep them together, as evidenced by the drilled holes in one end of each guard. The quality and material of these items indicates that, though they were purchased, they were not mass produced.
While not as specialized as beaded, lace or crochet work, knitting remained a popular form of clothing and decorative item construction throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In addition to its utility in creating and mending everyday articles, knitting was a common drawing room pastime in middling and elite society. It is possible that these guards were purchased by an enslaved seamstress with profits from her work using the more specialized tools in this gallery.
Bone Domino, "Double Three"
- Length: 31.41mm; Width: 14.84mm
Recovered from a brick-lined cellar feature in the Triplex South unit, this hand-carved bone domino is a “double three” tile with drilled indentations and no accompanying paint or enamel. Given the quality of the tile, it is likely that it was part of a mass-produced set.
Similar examples have been found in a slave quarter dwelling at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Virginia and in a British soldiers’ barracks at Signal Hill, Newfoundland. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, many domino tiles were comprised of a thin bone strip tacked to an ebony backing, suggesting that this example may have been made prior to this period (Botermans et al 1989). Domino games were an increasingly popular pastime in the nineteenth century that often went hand in hand with other leisure activities, such as smoking and card games.
- 19th century
- Length: 24.72mm; Width: 24.1mm
This curious object was recovered from a builder’s trench associated with the Triplex South unit. It is composed of two intricately carved bone pieces. The bottom portion has an unthreaded hole in the center that fit onto a wooden post with a top notch that held the parasol ribs. The hand-carved openwork shapes on the end of the piece include teardrops and a central star.
Given the ornate, decorative carving, it is likely that the parasol was costlier than those with plain or undecorated metal ferrules. A similar carved bone finial has been uncovered by archaeologists at James Madison’s Montpelier plantation in Orange, Va. Found in the builder’s near the Triplex Middle, this finial is suggestive of the acquisition of specialty personal items by Triplex residents.
Porcelain Painted Toy Marble
- 19th century
- Diameter: 20.78mm
Excavated from the Triplex North unit, this marble is an example of an unglazed “Painted China” marble, likely manufactured in Germany from the mid-1840s to 1870 (Gartley and Carskadden 1998: 130-132). Possibly as a response to the introduction of colored, handmade glass marbles, German manufacturers such as Dressel and Kuster created ceramic marbles with intricate floral and geometric designs. These marbles became very popular in the American toy market, as evidenced by their presence on many archaeological sites dating to the 1850s (Carskadden and Gartley 1990).
Taken together, the hand-painted dark red and green lines and the porcelain material reflect the higher relative cost of marbles like these. Toys such as marbles indicate the presence of children within the Triplex community and the ability of their relatives to procure these items.
Bone Fan Blade
This fan blade has delicately carved botanical patterns across the body on one side, with a simple botanical element at the top of the reverse. It is likely that this is one of the outer edge “guards” of a folding fan whose “leaf” is composed primarily of engraved paper or embroidered fabric. This supposition is based on the observation that, while the decoration is finely executed, it is not pierced through the blade (see similar examples in Baumgarten 2002). Guards of this type also may have painted decoration that overlaid the incised design. The groove carved on the interior base of the blade suggests that the lower ribs of the fan frame fit directly into the guard stick.
Hand fans made of bone, ivory or tortoiseshell were a popular luxury item in the nineteenth century, since the leaves, composed of feathers or satin, could be highly decorated and thereby suggests the user’s ability to purchase such an accessory. While the level of decoration was much greater on many fans from this period, the presence of this guard within the Triplex further indicates the acquisition of costly items by the building’s inhabitants.
Figural Tobacco Pipe Bowl
- 1850 - 1900
- Length: 54.48mm; Width: 35.92mm; Bowl Rim Diameter: 33.64mm.
This molded pipe bowl was painted with colored enamels for the face (eyes and eyebrows), feather in the hat, and leaf decoration on the underside. The complete pipe would have had a wooden stem that fit into the socketed bowl, likely with the potter’s name and the number on the rim of socket. This bowl is a French pipe produced by the Gambier factory in St. Omer; the particular molded pattern was known as “Chatelain” (pattern number 980), produced between about 1850 and 1900.
Beginning in the 1840s, the Gambier factory, and others like Fiolet and Givet, produced these figural bowls that soon became popular throughout Europe and the U.S. Gambier was likely the largest French exporter, with worldwide sales of pipes ranging from historical characters to mythological creatures, elaborately molded and brightly enameled. Given their wooden stems and intricate design, pipes like this one were much more expensive than the common ball clay commonly found on eighteenth and nineteenth century sites. While a majority of the more costly personal items were recovered from the Triplex Middle and North units, the location of this pipe in Triplex South suggests its residents also expended their resources on non-provisioned leisure items. This identification was made by Dr. David Higgins (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Liverpool), with assistance from Arthur van Esveld (independent scholar).
Dr. McLane's American Worm Specific bottle
- Mold blown
- Container Height: 99.64mm; Body diameter: 21.95mm.
This bottle held the contents of “Dr. McLane’s American Worm Specific.” C. McLane, a Pittsburgh doctor, developed and patented this vermifuge (an agent that destroys or expels parasitic worms) in 1844. Upon his death in 1855, the Fleming Brothers Company continued to manufacture and market his popular remedy with his signature on the bottle wrapper. This cylindrical undated example was blown into a mold with lettering and has a hand-finished lip that would have held a cork to secure its contents.
The nineteenth century saw a boom in patent medicine that claimed to cure various ailments from chronic fatigue to intestinal worms. Pin, tape, and roundworms regularly resided in human hosts, regardless of class. Medicinal cures ranged from the questionable, though ever-popular, “snake oil” to anti-parasitic medicines that often mollified the common ailment. Now a primary source for information pertaining to the contents, sale and distribution of these medicines, period newspapers were filled with advertisements extolling the benefits of “cures” like Dr. McLane’s specific.
White Metal Alloy Syringe
- Length: 126mm; Width: 13mm; Height: 6mm
This syringe, possibly made of lead alloy, was recovered from the brick-lined cellar at the Triplex Middle. A total of fourteen glass medicine vials and one possible surgical tool were also excavated at the site.
The lives of enslaved individuals were often fraught with bouts of dysentery, worms and typhoid fever, resulting from cramped and unsanitary living conditions of the nineteenth century (Savitt 1988). Venereal diseases had the power to disable portions of a plantation’s work force for long periods of time. As a result, planters were interested in quickly treating the afflicted. Syringes like this one were used to administer medications containing sulfates, zinc, alum, and tannin to treat various disorders (Galle 2004).