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Report of Excavations by Michael L. Galaty and Millsaps College Students at the Millsaps-Buie House, Spring, 2011 Submitted by Michael L. Galaty Professor of Anthropology Millsaps College 1701 North State Street Jackson, MS 39210 galatml@millsaps.edu 601-974-1387 May 6, 2011

“Major Millsaps lives in a charming, palatial home on State Street in Jackson, Mississippi, where he and his accomplished wife dispense a generous and refined hospitality. The home is a delightful center of a cultured circle, no less the dispensary of true and godly charity to the downtrodden ones of the earth.� From an article in the New Orleans Daily Picayune, February 1894.


Excavations at the Millsaps-Buie House

2011

Introduction In the spring of 2011, with permission from the current owners, and in consultation with members of the faculty and administration of Millsaps College, a group of Millsaps College students under the direction of Dr. Michael Galaty, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, conducted excavations in the backyard of the Millsaps-Buie House (628 North State St., Jackson, MS, 39201). The nine students who participated were all taking Galaty’s course in “Archaeological Method and Theory”.1 Three 1x1 m test pits (units 1 and 3-4) and one 1x2 m test pit (unit 2) were opened along a line stretching roughly E-W along the center of the yard (see Figure 1). We dug in arbitrary 10 cm levels, unless or until natural stratigraphic changes were apparent and could be followed. All soil was screened through ¼-inch mesh. A Total Station was used to record all levels and to point provenience some artifacts. We employed an arbitrary north-south grid with a datum at 1000, 1000 (marked by a wooden stake) and a beginning elevation of 100 m. In conducting excavation at the Millsaps-Buie House, we hoped to answer several questions of historical and anthropological interest. 1) Major Reuben Webster Millsaps, the founder of Millsaps College, built the Millsaps-Buie House c.1888, having moved to Jackson with his wife, née Mary Frances Bean, and their adopted daughter, Josie (National Register Nomination 1973). He lived in the house until his death in 1916, when it was bequeathed to his nephew, Webster Millsaps Buie, a successful Jackson businessman (Ibid.). After Buie’s untimely death in 1930, his wife, Joe Ellis Buie, remained in the home, its sole occupant until her death in 1977. Given the importance of Major Millsaps to Millsaps College, and to the city of Jackson, we sought to learn more about the day-to-day life experiences of this extraordinary man. He was one of the most wealthy, accomplished citizens of post-bellum Mississippi, and we wondered if the material culture he and his family produced would reflect their particular class status. 2) During a visit to the house, Mr. Howard McMillan, Dean of the Else School of Management, who had married into the Millsaps-Buie family, indicated that a garage/“carriage house” had once stood in the middle of the backyard and an apartment building at its east end, along North Street. We therefore sought to locate both of these buildings. We reasoned that much activity must have taken place in the space between the back of the house, where the original kitchen would have been located, and the garage. We also wondered who had occupied the rental unit and whether the archaeological record might indicate cultural and status disparities between them and the residents of the Millsaps-Buie House. At the start of the project we made two ground-penetrating radar passes roughly north-south and east-west through the yard (Figure 1).2 The results seemed to indicate a shallow anomaly 1

The participating students were: unit 1 – William Johnson, Erin Sanders; unit 2 – Brendon Barnes, Kate Kay, Andy Kennedy; unit 3 – Dani Rossano, Frances Tubb; unit 4 – Anna Church, Dora Lambert. This report is a distillation and compilation of the reports they wrote based on their excavations. 2 The GPR was operated by Dr. Jamie Harris of the Millsaps College Geology Department.

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Excavations at the Millsaps-Buie House

2011

approximately 10 m to the east along the east-west pass. We hypothesized that this anomaly might mark the edge of the demolished carriage house and unit 2 was excavated to test this hypothesis. Unit 1 was excavated at the bottom of a downward slope just to the east of a patio and fountain. We thought the slope might be composed partially of fill brought in when the patio and fountain were constructed, and that this fill might cover a buried archaeological surface. Unit 3 was excavated in what would have been the interior of the carriage house. Finally, unit 4 was excavated at the eastern end of the yard, close to the location of the former apartment building. Results Unit 1 Levels 1-3 in unit 1 were together approximately 15 cm deep and composed of a soft silt loam that was easy to dig and sift. Artifact density was low and artifacts recovered were mostly recent, including many unidentifiable lumps of metal. These levels are fill, presumably introduced when the house was remodeled and repurposed in the 1980s for use as a bed and breakfast. Following levels 1-3 we subdivided the unit and excavated only the eastern half. Level 4 was 10-12 cm thick, clay loam, and artifact density was high, including lots of coal (anthracite, for heating) and decomposed brick. Thirty-six artifacts were collected from this level (of a total of 56), including ten pieces of historic pottery. This level can be interpreted as a buried surface horizon associated with the historic occupation of the house. It may be part of a wide sheet midden that stretches across much of the back yard, but is thickest and most dense immediately behind the house, between it and the old carriage house. Unit 2 Level 1 in unit 2 was 10 cm deep, an organic clay silt loam, and corresponds to the modern A soil horizon. Artifact density was very low and the few artifacts collected were recent. The soil in Level 2 was more silt than clay, and in that sense was similar to levels 1-3 in unit 1; it was easy to dig and easy to sift. And it produced a lot of artifacts: 140 out of a total of 212. Many of these were historic, including 35 pieces of pottery (Figure 2) and a shell, mother-of-pearl button (Figure 3). We also recovered from level 2 a small, light blue, square sequin (also Figure 3), probably lost from an evening dress, perhaps that of Mary Millsaps, the Major’s wife. Level 2 in unit 2 is the equivalent of level 4 in unit 1, and so this historic stratum must follow the natural, downward slope to the east and away from the house. In both of these levels (4 in unit 1 and 2 in unit 2) we also found numerous chert river pebbles, some of which were highly polished. These may mark the remains of an old path or driveway that connected the back of the house to the garage. The polishing may have been caused by foot traffic and/or horses hooves, or in later years, automobile tires. While digging level 2, we noticed a concentration of darker soil, with relatively more coal and artifacts, in the western third of the unit. This area was excavated separately from the rest of the unit as level 3, and the rest of the unit was excavated as level 4. Level 3 turned out to be a shallow pit (Figure 4, the west end of unit 2 in profile), filled with artifacts (n=49, including a 3


Excavations at the Millsaps-Buie House

2011

second shell button; see again Figure 3) and decomposed building materials: wood, shingles, nails, plaster, bricks, paint chips, etc. This pit may date to the time of the original occupation of the house, having served as a refuse dump for kitchen waste. Alternatively, it may have been opened and filled when the carriage house was demolished, or may mark the location of a removed stump, indicated by the remains of a rotted root that were excavated from unit 1, level 3 as feature 1. Given the large numbers of decomposing pecans in this and other units, there may once have been a pecan tree growing in the backyard. Level 4 produced fewer artifacts than level 3 (n=15), but revealed another feature (feature 2), which may have been a post hole. Feature 2 may mark the edge of the original carriage house, which may have been a wooden pole building, without a substantial brick or stone foundation, which would have left a telltale trench. We did not find any evidence for a packed clay or cement floor. Levels 3 and 4 overlaid red sterile clay. Unit 2 produced quite a few unidentifiable bone fragments, probably from a fairly large mammal, such as a cow, and a lot of egg shell bits, perhaps indicating a chicken coop or at least the disposal of egg shells in the backyard. We also recovered numerous oyster shells. Oysters were an extremely popular food item in the 19th century (Mariani 1999: 226-7) and may have been shipped to Jackson by rail from New Orleans (the line opened in 1858). They were eaten by both the working and upper classes, but usually in different kinds of dishes and under different circumstances (Ibid.); oyster parties were a common affair amongst the upper classes in the 19th century (Stavely and Fitzgerald 2004: 104-8) and a whole range of serving vessels were manufactured to accommodate the preparation and eating of oysters. Unit 3 Unit 3 was excavated towards the center of the assumed location of the carriage house. We had hoped to confirm this by finding a well-preserved floor. As in units 1 and 2, we found many polished chert pebbles, primarily in level 2, which may mark the original ground surface. Level 1 in unit 3 was c. 4-6 cm deep, an organic silt loam that corresponds to the modern A soil horizon. Level 2 was a yellowish-brown clay, very difficult to sift, and included most of the artifacts from this unit (n=50), including 40 pieces of glass (mostly bottle glass) and very few pieces of pottery. We also recovered a whole tooth, probably from a medium-sized mammal, such as a dog or pig. Following level 2, the unit was quartered and we continued excavation in the SE quadrant only. Level 4 was 10 cm thick, contained very few artifacts, and rested on red sterile clay. Unit 4 Unit 4 was excavated close to where an apartment building once stood at the eastern end of the yard on North Street. We have not been able to find photographic or documentary evidence for this building or its inhabitants, but we assume that is was brick and built sometime in early 20th century, a time during which many upper class Americans took boarders or built rental properties. We hoped to identify some evidence for the identity of the occupants of the North Street property, and to determine their relationship to the Millsaps-Buie family. 4


Excavations at the Millsaps-Buie House

2011

Level 1 in unit 4 was 10 cm thick, a clay silt loam with quite a few artifacts (n=27) towards the bottom of the level. Level 2 included many large chunks of brick, large pieces of cement and mortar, and two large pieces of metal sitting on a sterile, mottled yellow clay. We think this was the original ground surface on which the apartment building was constructed. Level 2 produced an additional 36 artifacts. Of the nine pieces of pottery from unit 4, six are from coarse earthenand stoneware storage vessels. Conclusion The limited excavations at the Millsaps-Buie House conducted by Millsaps College in 2011 at this point add little of substance to the picture of life there already painted by recorded and oral histories. We can say that the Millsaps-Buie family ate eggs, beef, and perhaps pork, and enjoyed oysters. Their table ware was refined, painted, white earthenware, manufactured in the mid 19th century, and brought to Jackson as heirlooms by Mary Millsaps. There appear to be subtle differences in the material culture of the Millsaps-Buie family as compared to that of their tenants. The unit near the apartment building produced only one small oyster shell fragment; indeed oyster shells are concentrated in units 2 and 3, where they probably were shucked. The pottery fragments from unit 4 are mostly coarse storage vessels as opposed to the fragments of fine ware serving vessels produced in units 1-3.3 And we found no animal bone fragments in unit 4, which may indicate a different degree or type of food processing and cooking, based on soups and stews versus roasted meats on the bone. These patterns may indicate an elite upper class family at one end of the yard, and their working class tenants at the other. The extent to which they would have interacted with one another is still unclear; certainly the carriage house would have created a degree of separation. Perhaps the most important discovery made at the Millsaps-Buie House in 2011 is that there are a lot of historic artifacts there, under the ground, waiting to be found. We therefore hope to return in 2012 and expand excavations, in particular in the vicinity of unit 2, where the family apparently disposed of at least some of its trash. Works Cited Mariani, John F. 1999 Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink. Lebhar-Friedman: New York. Mississippi Department of Archives and History 1973 Application to the National Register of Historic Places for the Millsaps-Buie House. On file at MDAH. Stavely, Keith and Kathleen Fitzgerald 2004 America's Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill. 3

Dora Lambert should be credited with identifying these two patterns of differential distribution, for oyster shell and pottery.

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Excavations at the Millsaps-Buie House

2011

Figure 1: map of units 1-4 in relation to the Millsaps-Buie House.

Figure 2: piece of shell-edged refined earthenware from unit 2, level 2, 1840-1880. 6


Excavations at the Millsaps-Buie House

2011

Figure 3: sequin and shell buttons from unit 2, levels 2 and 3.

Figure 4: west profile of unit 2 showing level 3, a shallow trash-filled pit. Feature 1, a root, is at left. 7


2011 Millsaps-Buie House Excavations