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Archaeology at the 1761 Brearley House

The Brearley House was probably built in 1761 by John Brearley II (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 the Township of Lawrence. 

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 was fully restored in 2000.

As part of the restoration effort, a series of archaeological investigations were conducted on the property by Hunter Research, Inc..  The Brearley research team, led by Dr. Ian Burrow, continued to conduct digs as part of the restoration planning and in the following years.  These digs were completed with the help of the 8th grade students from Lawrence Middle School, who came out once or twice a year and sifted through materials on the site,  The school digs were part of the history curriculum and partly sponsored by the Lawrence Township Education Foundation and ETS.

In 2016, the Township of Lawrence received a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior - National Parks Service to complete a report on the cumulative findings of the digs and research done by the team at Hunter.  Dr. Burrow was contracted to complete the report, which was delivered in December of 2016.  A link to the PDF version of the report is on the right.

Following the completion of the report, all the artifacts from the digs were transferred from storage at Hunter Research, Inc. to the 1761 Brearley House loft.  Dr. Burrow's research team completed an index to the artifacts, which is also to the right.  To view artifacts, please make an appointment by contacting the society.

Digging Up the Past

The first dig, done in 1996, 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 to consider:

  • 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?

Sources of Destruction  

Unfortunately, any number of things can destroy archaeological evidence before it is found so some of these questions may never be answered given the state of the house and landscape.  Here are some examples of destructive forces that impact archaeological sites:  

  • 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

About Dr. Burrow

Ian Burrow served as  the supervising archaeologist of the Brearley House digs and following his retirement, was contracted to complete the final report on the findings of the digs.  After receiving a doctorate in history and archaeology from the University of Birmingham, England, Dr. Burrow was a county archaeologist, an associate staff tutor at the University of Oxford, and director of the Oxford Archaeological Unit.  In 1988, he joined the Hunter Research, Inc. team in Trenton as a principal archaeologist.  Dr. Burrow has taught archaeology and is a published author with special expertise in 18th century military sites, urban archaeology, and database management.