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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - February 5, 2004

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. Golly, I took one step outside and I started slipping and sliding and my feet got really, really cold! EJ must have been cold too 'cause he packed up and went home! I have a furnace, as you know, and I've saved some food and believe me, I am staying in until this weather changes!


Henry here finally has the scoop on the privy at "my" house! I listened real carefully when I overheard Sid talking to Kathryn, Debbie and Meg. Did you know that the location of a privy was very important? Yes sir, the privy or "necessary", as George Washington called it, had to be in the back of the house and it needed to be down wind from the house. The prevailing winds would then blow away from the house and that helped keep everyone comfortable, especially in the summer heat! Illness was a big concern and the folks knew that the privy had to be situated on a downslope away from the well. Also, the privy had to be close enough to the house to be convenient but not a major problem. "My" privy met all those considerations. Good job, Col. Ben!


Sid said he did not find evidence of a brick walkway to "my" privy so there must have been a pathway probably lined with plantings of Lambs Ear. Why Lambs Ear? The moonlight reflected on their slivery leaves that led the way to the privy. I did hear Sid say that the Tawny Day Lily, often called privy lily, was the most common plant used along the privy path. Gosh, flowers and herbs had all kinds of uses!
I also learned that "my" privy was definitely built by the Stephensons because it was made of the same bricks used in the 1820 house. The bricks used were kiln brick that had a glaze caused by the kiln. This kind of brick is not used in the 1845 addition. Now, let me tell you more about the Stephenson privy. It was a real dandy and a real status symbol. A standard privy was 3 x 5 feet, a spacious one was 6 x 6 feet, but "my" privy was 9'2" long from north to south and 6 feet wide from east to west. Hey, that was one special privy! The underground construction of the privy was brick eight courses thick and set in thick lime mortar. "My" privy was very well constructed and probably a 3 or 4 holer. Why so many holes? One reason was to accommodate the different size bottoms of men, women and children. Silly me!! I wondered why there were so many holes.


Ol' Henry heard that no one really knows what the Stephenson privy looked like except it is known that they were often built in a style similar to the house. During the privy excavation a lot of square nails and a hinge were found which leads to thinking this privy was made of wood, and it deteriorated over the years and finally collapsed. Shoot, they probably got real tired of making all those bricks and decided to build the privy of wood and all in all the wood lasted a pretty long time, Henry thinks.


Ol' Henry heard Sid say they didn't find that much in the privy. 'Reckon we were all disappointed when we heard that! Just what did Sid find in the privy? There were articles found that covered a span of 50 years, from 1820 to 1875, during the time the Stephenson and Wolf families owned the home. Henry thinks the findings from the time of the Stephenson era are pretty cool. They found a bone button that was common during the 1820's and an animal rib bone that had been made into a fastener. The bone had been ground flat on one side, tapered on the top side, had small holes drilled at the ends and was polished. Sid figures this could be of Native American origin or it could easily be a cheap fastener used for servants clothing at the Stephensons. Pieces of Kaolin pipe stem that were manufactured in England from the 1600's until around the 1850's were found in the privy. These pipe stems are almost certainly from the time when the Stephensons lived in their house.


A lot of broken pottery or ceramic fragments from plates and platters were found in the privy. Most of these were plain, white undecorated dinnerware called pearlware, creamware, or China Glaze and was made in England in the early 1700's. By the 1800's men like Wedgewood and Spode in Staffordshire, England, had perfected pottery with a printed blue pattern. This ol' mouse understands that the color in the pattern is how an archaeologist - you know a guy like Sid - can tell when and where the pottery was made. Some pieces were found that were first produced in 1815 that could have been used by the Stephensons. Hey, maybe Lucy bought this dinnerware in 1815 when she and Col. Ben visited back home in Virginia! Also found were fragments with a shell-edge and Sid thinks they were most likely from the Stephenson household. He called it a "Feather Pattern" creamware that was produced between 1790 and 1820. This dinnerware had a cobalt blue trim which told Sid the approximate time it was made.


Why wasn't more found in the privy? Henry heard two reasons; one is that the early 1800's bottles and dinnerware were expensive and saved. Henry remembers that demijohns and several cordial bottles were sold at the Stephenson auction, which tells me that they had good value then. In the 1850's, the Industrial Revolution came along and bottles and dishes were mass-produced. As a result they became inexpensive and were discarded in the privies in great numbers. Another reason there was little found in privies is because of the "honeydippers". They were men who periodically cleaned privies during the 1800's. With each cleaning more lost or broken items were removed.


What was found from the Wolf family? The privy contained a lot of dinnerware fragments and bottles from the Wolf family. Once again, the color of the dye and the type of application was how Sid could tell when the dinnerware was made.


Oh gosh, Cousin Jake just stopped by to see me! I have not seen him in ages and want to spend time with him. Sorry. I will tell you about the Wolf family and the privy and the dump next time - OK?


Keep warm!!
See ya later,

Henry


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