The St John’s Site is a seventeenth century plantation site located within historic St. Mary’s City.  Archaeology at the site has focused on development and use of the property during the Colonial period, and revealed evidence of Woodland period oyster processing activities underlying the historic site.  St. John’s describes a seventeenth century plantation, manor house and place of government.  Three phases of occupancy during the Colonia period are generally recognized at the site:  Phase I (ca. 1638-1665) when the property was developed and occupied by Maryland’s first Provincial Secretary John Lewger, and in the 1650’s by Simon Overzee, a merchant of Dutch descent: Phase II (ca. 1665-1685) when St. John’s was controlled by Charles Calvert, the third Lord Baltimore, and served as official Governor’s residence; And Phase III (ca. 1685-1715) when the Calvert family leased the property to a succession of innkeepers.  In addition to serving as a home, inn and tidewater farm, St. John’s also provided public space for conducting the business of Maryland government for much of the seventeenth century.

Today, an extensive museum incorporates open archaeological contexts and interprets the history of the site .

Archaeological Investigations

Archaeology at the St. John’s site began in 1962 when H. Chandlee Forman located and excavated test units on the site with a crew of volunteers.  Historic St. Mary’s City began excavations in 1972 under the direction of Garry Wheeler Stone and Alexander Morrison.  Archaeology continued from 1972 to 1976, with addition work in the late 1980’s.  Ruth Mitchell and Henry Miller led major excavations at the site between 2000 and 2005.  Excavations at St. Johns documented a colonial earthfast structure, 20ft by 40ft and likely constructed in the early 1650’s. An estimated 1.4 million artifacts were recovered from the site.

Archeobotanical Studies

Sixteen flotation samples secured during the 2001-2005 archaeological excavations at the St. John’s Site (18ST1-23) were submitted for study in the fall of 2013.  Soil samples for water flotation were selected for processing and macro-botanical analysis based on their potential to provide information regarding foodways, site economy, construction, and the definition and management of space.  The selected samples derive from eight discrete cultural features (258, 302, 313, 320, 338, 344, 456 and 545) relating to Woodland period and to middle seventeenth century historic period occupations at St. John’s.  Flotation-recovered plant remains from 16 soil samples collected from eight cultural features  (two pre-contact Woodland period features, three features dating to ca. 1650’s and three features of indeterminate age) excavated at St. John’s were analyzed.   A total of 488.5 liters of feature fill was flotation-processed yielding 185.36 grams of carbonized plant macro-remains (an average of 0.3794 grams per liter of soil).   The recovered archeobotanical assemblage provides a rich array of wood charcoal, fungi, and food remains – including nuts, the seeds of fleshy fruits and field crops (maize and wheat or oats).

In addition to the 16 flotation samples analyzed from the 2001-2005 period of archaeology at the St. John’s site, two other flotation-recovered archeobotanical samples were analyzed.  These samples were taken during archaeological excavations under the direction of Garry Wheeler Stone between 1972 and 1976.  These samples were secured from Feature 55H, a privy dating to the early phase of historic occupation (Phase I, ca. 1638-1665) and from Feature 77C, a small storage pit in front of a kitchen hearth and dating to last phase of occupation (Phase III, ca. 1685-1715).

Soil samples were collected from unscreened feature soil and water-flotation processed at the archaeological laboratory of Historic St. Mary’s City.  Samples were processed using a bucket-type manual flotation system and employing an aquarium strainer to skim off the floating fraction.   Recovered light and heavy fractions were air dried and packed for storage.  Original soil volumes were not recorded.

Sample 55H was recovered from an historic privy fill layer.  Both carbonized and unburned plant materials were present within the sample, and due to exceptionally good organic preservation within the privy, all of these plant remains are considered to be historically significant.  A total of 0.28 grams of carbonized plant material, and 0.17 grams of uncarbonized plant material were recovered.  Wood charcoal (16 fragments weighing 0.28 grams) included white oak (Quercus spp.) and hickory (Carya spp.) species.  The uncarbonized remains of seeds and pits total 19 specimens (0.17 grams).  Gum (Nyssa spp.), pine (Pinus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.) and rose (ROSACEAE) were identified.  A single seed was unidentifiable. Sample 77C included three sample groups assigned unique numbers recovered from a small storage pit located in front of the kitchen hearth associated with the final period of Colonial occupation at St. John’s (ca. 1685-1715).  The sample associated with ABN-ADQ (originally cataloged as 56 specimens) contained wood charcoal (78 fragments weighing 5.79 grams) (hickory [Carya spp.], yellow pine [Pinus spp.], oaks [Quercus spp.] and elm [Ulmus spp.] were identified) and unburned wood (one fragment of sycamore [Platanus occidentalis]).  The sample associated with AXO (originally cataloged as one specimen) contained carbonized remains totaling 24.26 grams.  This sample included abundant wood charcoal (248 fragments weighing 24.18 grams) (yellow pine [Pinus spp.] and oaks [Quercus spp.] were identified) and maize (Zea mays spp. mays) (one cupule weighing 0.08 grams).   The sample associated with object LU-LV (originally cataloged as two specimens) contained only scant uncarbonized remains (a total of 0.02 grams).  A cherry pit [Prunus spp.] and 10 fragments of unidentifiable seed material were documented.

While not directly comparable to the 2001-2005 dataset due to differences in field sampling, preservation and processing, these samples from privy and kitchen storage pit provide important information about plant use at the St. John’s Site.  Exceptional organic preservation within the privy provides more detail on the kinds of plants grown and used on site.  The gum, pine and rose species identified suggest these species grew close to the manor house and formed a meaningful part of the vegetative landscape.  Cherry and plum seeds from the privy and the kitchen pit may represent the remains of fruit used for food. The carbonized maize cupule recovered from the kitchen pit conforms to the pattern of maize consumption and cultivation provided by the larger flotation dataset.  Similarities in wood charcoal types between the two collections are obvious (hickory and oaks are important), and the presence of pine within the house interior accords with other data from the 1970’s excavations, where yellow pine floorboards were identified (Stone 1974: 148).


McKnight, Justine W.
Report on the Analysis of flotation-recovered Macro-botanical Remains Recovered from the St. John’s Site (18ST1-23), St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  Report Submitted to Historic St. Mary’s City. 
McKnight, Justine W.
Analysis of Two Additional Flotation Samples from the St. John’s Site (18ST1-23).  Appendix to the Report on the Analysis of flotation-recovered Macro-botanical Remains Recovered from the St. John’s Site (18ST1-23), St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  Report Submitted to Historic St. Mary’s City.
Stone, Garry Wheeler
1974 St. John’s Archaeological Questions and Answers.  Maryland Historical Magazine.  Vol 69, No. 2, Summer, pp. 146-168.

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