William S. Godfrey's Old Stone Mill Archaeological Collection

Ingrid M. Hattendorf

The Newport Historical Society has in its collections some 1,600 artifacts recovered during an archaeological excavation in Newport, Rhode Island. Taken out of context, the artifacts themselves hold little mystery. Fragments of salt-glazed mugs, tobacco pipes, and rusty nails are objects commonly unearthed in New England soil. Place these artifacts at the original site of the excavation, however, and they become more exciting. These 1,600 artifacts are the product of William S. Godfrey's excavation of Newport's Old Stone Mill, or the "Newport Tower." Countless articles have been written about the Old Stone Mill raising many questions, several of which pertain to the artifacts from Godfrey's dig. […]

The bulk of the Old Stone Mill artifact assemblage is comprised of pottery sherds. In archaeology, pottery shards are often one of the most important tools in dating a site. In this case, the dates for the sherds recovered range from the colonial period to the twentieth century. A few examples of the identified pottery types include English Delft (18th century), Canton (18th-19th century), Lowestaft (18th-19th century), Blue Willow (19th-20th century), as well as several local American wares (17th-19th century). A significant number of clay tobacco pipe fragments also were found during the Old Stone Mill excavation. Pipe fragments are probably the second most common artifact found at colonial sites.

[…] The pipe fragments in the Old Stone Mill collection reveal a range of dates from the 17th to the 19th century, and come from such places as Scotland, England, and possibly even Jamaica.


William Godfrey did not present a detailed list of artifacts in his thesis. However he did call attention to a specific few. […] a rusty piece of a meat cleaver, fragments of grist mill stones, gunflint, a plaster cast of a footprint, and two fragments of clay pipe found imbedded in the soil under the footprint. The mill stones were an important find for Godfrey, helping to prove the original function of Newport's mystery tower. The gunflint, the foot print and the pipe fragments were also important finds. All were uncovered in a layer of soil beneath the footings of the tower. This meant that the objects ended up in the soil either before the construction of the tower or during. In the case of the pipe fragments, Godfrey was able to date them to the 17th century.[…] the only conclusion one can reach is that they come from the 17th century or later. The irrefutable fact that these artifacts were excavated from beneath the Old Stone Mill strongly suggests that the tower dates to the 17th century as well. Perhaps some will be saddened or disappointed by this conclusion, but mystery surrounding the Old Stone Mill is not lost. There are several important questions still to be definitively answered about its use and function.[…]

Source: Ingrid M. Hattendorf, "William S. Godfrey\'s Old Stone Mill Archaeological Collection," Newport History 68, Part 2 (1997): 109-111.

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