Cloverfields as of August 2018: A Master Mason Reads the Walls

Deciphering the Walls  

The exterior walls of the Cloverfields house are far from uniform. Among the more visible irregularities, we find the darker brick of two rectangular-shaped areas next to the windows of the second floor. One needs not to be an expert to suspect that the bricks were added at a later date and that they are covering window openings. What we do not know is when this change occurred, or what materials and techniques were used to make it happen. Raymond J. Cannetti, featured in the video above, was brought onto the team to help us answer these sort of questions. 

Mr. Cannetti is a master brick and stone mason with decades of experience working on historic houses. He has worked on James Madison’s Montpelier, Historic Mount Vernon, and the Wren Building at The College of William & Mary. 

In the video Mr. Cannetti shows a piece of a shell he found in a sample of mortar he took from the Cloverfields facade. It is likely that the section from which this shell was taken dates from the eighteenth century, because at the time it was common to use shells to produce lime for mortar, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Mr. Cannetti explains that it is not uncommon to find large pieces of shell in the mortar, especially on the inside of the walls.

Much more attention to detail was paid to the exterior of the walls, where they were visible to the owners and to guests, and exposed to the weather. While identifying the mortar in the video, Mr. Cannetti turns our attention to the scored line in the "construction mortar." This added detail enhances the appearance of the masonry, and is often replicated on modern construction. Photos below show some of the exterior brickwork that Mr. Cannetti is analyzing.

In the video, we can see Mr. Cannetti taking mortar and brick samples which were then sent to a specialized lab. The analysis will identify their chemical makeup, color, texture, stability, and porosity of the samples. They will tell us about the original building fabric, the location of former window and door openings, patches in the brick, replacement mortar, and sections where structural failures occurred. The analysis will also tell us about the bricks: their material composition, dimensions, color, texture, as well as markings and signatures from the maker. This information will help us to continue to put together a timeline, and to corroborate (or disprove) our theories on when and where the changes to Cloverfields took place. 

Colonial Shoe Buckles Discovered

The archaeologists from Applied Archaeology and History Associates continue to analyze several artifacts unearthed around the house. In this feature, Archaeologists Alex Glass, MSc and Jeanne A. Ward, RPA, describe an eighteenth century shoe buckle and chape (metal pin of a buckle) discovered at Cloverfields:

Several pieces of clothing and shoe buckles have been recovered during the Cloverfields excavations.  A fragment of a cast copper alloy buckle was recovered during excavations of the Dining Room area, while a chape was recovered and found in association with the now demolished kitchen that once stood as the rearmost portion of the house.  The shoe buckle was decorated with rounded glass insets and set into the cast copper alloy frame (Fig.1). 

Figure 1. Copper alloy shoe buckle with glass insets, cloverfields excavations, dining room area

Figure 1. Copper alloy shoe buckle with glass insets, cloverfields excavations, dining room area

It’s size and slightly arching shape suggest it would have been used as a shoe buckle rather than at the knee or waist.  It would have been fastened to the front of the shoe using a chape (Fig. 2). 

Figure 2. buckle anatomy, from american duchess historical footwear.

Figure 2. buckle anatomy, from american duchess historical footwear.

The chape would have been used to fasten the buckle to shoe and may have looked similar to the piece recovered from the old kitchen (Fig.3).

figure 3. buckle chape fragment. cloverfields excavations, tu 2

figure 3. buckle chape fragment. cloverfields excavations, tu 2

Buckle chapes usually have a pronged section that is pushed through the shoe fabric, but this portion is broken on the Cloverfields example and may have been why it was discarded or lost. The whole buckle assembly made it easy to slide the shoe on and off. Different styles could be worn for different occasions.  

figure 4. maryland gazette, thursday august 5, 1762. maryland state archives.

William Hemsley’s 1737 probate inventory lists a pair of shoe buckles and 6 pairs of knee buckles valued at 5 shillings and 6 pence (MSA Prerogative Court 1736/7). Shoe buckles such as this were used from roughly 1720 through the end of the 18th century when they began to fall out of fashion. Advertisements for shoe and knee buckles were often placed in newspapers such as this excerpt from the Maryland Gazette (Fig. 4).Both men and women used ornamented buckles to accessorize their shoes and are often seen in portraits (Fig.5). 

figure 5. colonel benjamin tallmadge, 1790, ralph earl. litchfield historical society.

While the buckles listed in the probate inventory were probably less ornate than the buckle fragment from the dining room, it does indicate that it was a fashion the Hemsley household subscribed to and buckles would have been an everyday item.

The full article, along with other artifacts can be found on the Archaeology section of the website here.


By: Devin Kimmel, AIA, ASLA, for the Cloverfields Preservation Foundation  

Photography: Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Willie Graham, and the Callahan/Pippin family.

Videos by StratDV Video Production