Monday, February 14, 2005

Life on the Margins

sherds from a box under the bed
Walthall p. 252

A treasure box under a young boy's bed reveals broken sherds of faience, usually a type of eating plate found only in established areas, but found in this case, at 21-Mo-20, a French outpost in the wilds of Minnesota, and the possible location of the Fort Duquesne of Jospeh Marin. Broken personal accoutrements here highlight the type of life lived on the margins fully two and one half centuries ago--a life with faience dishes and glassware lugged deep into the bush and used for only a season and a half during the winter of 1752 and part of the following year. Not only do the faience sherds speak to the fineness of the table, but the design on one plate illustrates typical colonial French housing.
sherds natched up after professional archaeological dig
Walthall p.258

Today, we laugh at the native porters in safari flicks lugging trunks deep into the bush so the commandant can have his tea at a table covered by white linen using silver and porcelaine dishes. But evidently our ancestors liked to keep up appearances, even in the bush, on the margins between Native cultural overlap in American fur trading areas.

Sherds recovered from Fortress Louisbourg in Nova Scotia and Fort Massac on the Ohio in the Pays Illinois show evidence of mending using channels drilled and filled with lead. It would seem that pretty dishes were so treasured that when broken were mended, whether to sit on a sideboard or for actual use.
18th Century Faience from Fortress Louisbourg
Faience recovered from Fortress Louisbourg excavations

We appreciate that special plate to highlight our latest culinary creation--but that spot of color used on the wall or nestled among the rails of the sideboard brings pleasure, too.

1991 French Colonial Achaeology: The Illinois country and the western Great Lakes, edited by John A. Walthall. Springfield, IL

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