Archaeological folks do not play fast and loose with the facts, so they are not saying for certain that Quash once lived here.
But as far as you and I are concerned, Quash probably really did live here. Here, in this case, refers to the tumbledown antebellum-era ruins of a tabby brick and clay-lined chimney on the marsh side of Little St. Simons Island. Some strong anecdotal evidence exists that these are remains from the humble home where Quash once greeted Fanny Kemble, the famous abolitionist-minded wife of the slave-owning Pierce Mease Butler.
A Philadelphian, Butler owned the nearby Hampton Point Plantation on St. Simons Island, as well as all of Little St. Simons Island at the time. A boatman by trade, Quash was among the hundreds of people who were enslaved on Butler’s coastal Georgia holdings.
Near the ruins of this house, archaeologists have mapped a well-beaten path to the remains of a boat dock — something that would certainly be useful to a boatman. But, until a proverbial “Quash Slept Here” sign is uncovered, archaeologists will not say for certain that he lived here.
What archaeologist are certain of is that a part of us all resides on this spot, where kindred members of the human race made their imprint well over 150 years ago. As a vital link to our past, this is hallowed ground for archaeologists and those who share their passion for uncovering the truth in our ancestral rubble.
A desire to protect these ruins for posterity led to the most recent chapter in the saga of Quash’s House. The folks who operate this pristine little island as a really groovy ecotourism destination are keen on preserving the site. The patient ravages of time that reduced this former abode to tumble down ruins in the first place insist upon marching ever onward.
Scott Coleman, the staff ecological manager on Little St. Simons Island, turned to local archaeologists Maria Maranda and Myrna Crook earlier this year for help with protecting the site from rain and erosion. Maranda is the staff archaeologist for the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. Crook is a member of its board of directors and the widow of Morgan Crook Jr., the archaeologist who conducted the first digs at this site in the early 1990s.
Maranda and Myrna Crook suggested a simple but specific type of shed that is typically employed to protect important archaeological sites against the elements. This tin-roofed structure over the chimney ruins requires four postholes to hold it up.
A construction worker could have dug all four holes in less than an hour. But this job required the kid work gloves of archaeologists who know that digging is more about the journey than the destination. Maranda, Crook and their team of volunteers spent three days (April 29-May 1) digging the postholes, all four of which were one meter deep and 50 centimeters (about 20 inches) across.
Their finds were consistent with those established by Morgan Crook Jr. during a preliminary dig in 1991 and a more thorough excavation in 1994. The most recent findings included pearlware, pipe stems, lots of tabby construction debris, roofing nails and an iron door lock, among other things, Maranda said.
“Everything appears to be congruent with the antebellum period that would have been when Quash was there (on Little St. Simons Island),” she said.
The dig also uncovered four buttons, including one of porcelain with green stripes on it and a brass one engraved with an eagle and wreath, she said. They also found fragments of a graphite stick that was known to be used as a slate board pencil in the early 19th century. Turtle shells, deer and avian bones found at the site likely were refuse from the occupant’s diet, she said.
Particularly exciting for Maranda was the discovery of still more evidence of the natives who lived here long before Quash. Crook’s earlier digs clearly established that the home was built atop a native American midden, dating between 900 and 1400 A.D., according to the 1994 dig’s report. Discarded oyster shells from the midden were used in making the tabby for the home’s chimney.
The recent discoveries included numerous pieces of native pottery, she said. “But the coolest native American find had to be a bone pin, probably used to hold garments together,” she said. The pin was broken in two, but the pieces “fit together perfectly,” she said.
Crook’s 1994 dig established the structure’s dimensions by excavating a long trench a distance away from the chimney and parallel to it to find each side. Another trench ran farther back and sort of lengthwise to the chimney to establish the rear wall. The home was 15-feet wide and 35-feet long, “elevated on wooden piers” and constructed of “wood with a wooden floor,” the report said.
That is a much larger home than a planter would have provided for an enslaved person, the report noted. Typically, one building of similar size would have been divided into a duplex for two families with a shared fireplace in the middle. Not so at this site. However, other “artifacts recovered are consistent with other slave sites,” the report said.
In her “Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839,” Kemble chronicles meeting Quash on a day trip to Little St. Simons with her two daughters. She notes that Quash’s accommodations on this “forest in the sea” were “larger and better, and more substantial than Negro huts in general ... “
The ‘94 report agrees that Kemble very likely met Quash at or near this site. “However,” the report stated, “there is no firm documentary or archaeological evidence that this was his home.”
The recent dig added still more circumstantial evidence Quash may have slept here. Among the pottery found were pieces of salt glaze stoneware, produced in England from 1690 to 1775, Maranda said. This was way before Quash’s time on Little St. Simons. “That’s much later than the date of production, but we know enslaved people always got hand-me-downs,” Maranda said.
Maranda, meanwhile, is sidetracked with a historical head-scratcher. It concerned the door lock. “Even if he were the only person on the island, he felt like he still needed to put a lock on the door,” she mused.