Monday, December 2, 2013

Brunswick Town Site: A Time Capsule from 1776

For those who can manage to escape to Sunset Beach during the "off-season" months of Autumn and Winter, avoiding the Summer crowds is a real perk! And once in awhile, showing up at a time most folks are not around presents opportunities for a little behind-the-scenes "red carpet" treatment - the kind of attention that those who staff an attraction cannot usually provide to their visitors during the busy seasons. The first week of November, my family and I were reminded of how lucky we are to be here during a quieter month.

On a sunny Fall day, we visited the site of historical Brunswick Town, an easy 45 minutes' drive from Sunset Beach Bliss. Brunswick was an important trading port on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina in the years leading up to and throughout the Revolutionary War, but was destroyed and abandoned near its end. Some decades after the founding of our nation, the site also was used for the Confederate-built Fort Anderson during the Civil War. Today, it is a peaceful and beautiful several acres of meandering trails and fascinating ruins.

Spoon of a style popular all through
the 18th Century. The bowl is half-melted
away, suggesting exposure to significant
heat.  Possibly was on board the doomed
ship Fortuna, docked at Brunswick in 1748?
Those who come to see the Brunswick Town site will find a visitors' center and museum, which give newcomers an excellent introduction to the dramatic events witnessed here. But after just a few minutes' talk Jim McKee, a historian and archaeologist we met there, our time at Brunswick became much more exciting than just another afternoon at a museum. We witnessed cutting edge historical research, as Mr. McKee shared with us the on-going daily discoveries of freshly discovered artifacts at the site. It was fascinating to hear his accounts of how historical objects more than 250 years old have come to light once again, after lying forgotten for so long, buried in the mud.

Fragment of a German oil vessel, found
by Jim McKee at Brunswick Town site.
An active trade in naval supplies was the reason Brunswick grew to be such an important port during the early 18th Century. Its surrounding forests of North Carolina long-leaf pine were important as a ready supply of lumber - and, most particularly, a vital source of essential tar, pitch, and turpentine used to preserve and protect the timbers and rope on a seagoing ship from water damage and rot. Luckily for today's historians, routine spillage of these substances along the dock during its economic heyday formed an approximately 4" layer of tarry sediment, which had the effect of preserving anything discarded
Fine china that may have graced the table
of a well-to-do resident of the Town.
in that spot, not unlike a prehistoric creature trapped in amber. In recent years, the movement of the tides has been gently eroding away the soil to gradually reveal the objects from that time, even items made of materials like fabric, wood and leather which would not normally survive intact after being buried for so long in damp soil, were it not for the effects of the tar that permeated them. This treasure trove of such well-preserved artifacts can help historians confirm stories of the people and events of that period, making the Brunswick Town site a uniquely valuable source of new knowledge about our history.
What is this?  An entire Revolutionary-war
era leather shoe - believe it or not - preserved
by the presence of pine-tar in the soil.
More than a year's worth of soaking in
springwater baths will be needed before this
artifact is ready for museum specialists to
prepare it for display.

Notice, the subject of the Revolutionary War has dominated this entire post, and yet the Brunswick Town site was also the scene of important Civil War events, as the location of Fort Anderson. A peaceful meander in and around the still visible earthworks from those tumultuous times is a pleasant way to enjoy this park as well. The beauty and peacefulness of this riverside spot may cause you to reflect with a sense of irony, as you consider all the violence, catastrophe, and tragic struggle witnessed on these shores a mere two hundred years ago.