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
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
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
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?
See ya later,