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Lawrence Township NJ

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Home Brearley House Brearley House Dig

Brearley House Dig

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The Brearley House was probably built in 1761 by John Brearley 11(1699-1777) and his son James. In 1761 John II was living in an earlier house whose location on the property is unknown. This house had been built by John I before 1722, when it was mentioned in his will. 

The Brearley family retained ownership until the late nineteenth century, when ownership passed to the Pidcock family. In 1957 the long-standing farm tract of 125 acres was subdivided, and in 1978 the house and about 60 acres came into the ownership of Lawrence Township. 

The house is located on Lawrence Township's Meadow Road, off Princeton Pike, close to Shipetauken Creek. It is a fine example of the group of southern New Jersey brick colonial farmhouses characterized by the use of glazed brick headers in the gables to record dates of construction and the initials of the owners. In this case the date, 1761, appears on the east gable. The house was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and is to be fully restored.

Digging Up the Past

A 1996 archeological dig uncovered the site of a kitchen wing as well as 1,252 domestic artifacts, including:

  • Buttons

  • Nails

  • Fragments of white clay tobacco pipes

  • Stoneware fragments, circa 1730-1780

  • Fragments of bird bones

  • Bottle fragments

  • Pencil fragments

  • Clock fragment, circa 1880-1910

  • Fragments of oil lamps

  • Nib pen fragment

  • Shards of ointment pot, circa 1775

  • Prehistoric projectile points

  • A five-inch bottle, circa 1855, embossed, MRS. WINSLOWS SOOTHING SYRUP, CURTIS & PERKINS, PROPRIETORS

  • Bead

  • Window lead fragment, circa 18th century

  • Brick fragments

  • A .22 caliber bullet shell

  • Bottle fragment, probable ink bottle

  • Pig incisor

The October 1998 dig uncovered dozens of additional artifacts including an old belt buckle, bricks, nails, ceramic pieces, and 3,000-year-old Native American tools.

Some Nagging Questions

When John Brearley died in 1845, an estate inventory indicated there were five or six rooms on the house's first floor, where four now exist. It was deduced that more rooms, including a kitchen, were contained in an addition to the house. This was the kitchen whose foundation was uncovered in the 1996 dig.

Evidence suggests, however, that two coats of stucco were applied to the house's exterior over a period of years before the additional wing was constructed. So, the wing probably didn't contain the original 1761 kitchen. Since none of the fireplaces in the house is large enough for eighteenth century open-hearth cooking, where was the original kitchen?

Other questions, some of which the Middle School dig may address:

  • Where was the original house mentioned in the 1722 will?

  • There is a second doorway on the south wall. 'What was it used for?

  • 'Where were the house's outbuildings, including barn(s) and outhouses?

  • 'What was the house's water source?

Who's the Archeologist?

Ian Burrow will be the supervising archeologist. After receiving a doctorate in history and archeology from the University of Birmingham, England, Mr. Burrow was a county archeologist, an associate staff tutor at the University of Oxford, and director of the Oxford Archeological Unit. He's taught the subject and, since 1988, has been a principal archeologist at Hunter Research in Trenton. He's a published author with special expertise in 1 8thcentury military sites, urban archeology, and database management.

Sources of Destruction  

Unfortunately, any number of things can destroy archaeological evidence before it is found. Here are some:  

  • Human vandalism

  • New construction

  • Roof runoff erosion

  • Flooding from nearby bodies of water

  • Fires

  • Wind erosion

  • Rodent burrows, which can contaminate with modem material

  • Agricultural tillage

  • Rubble removal


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