The Lt. John Hollister Site

2016 Field Season

Hollister Site photo

2016 Field Season with excavation areas arranged over the three main cellars.

Lieutenant John Hollister

Lieutenant John Hollister arrived at the young settlement of Wethersfield Connecticut from a village near Bristol, England in 1642.  He married Johanna Treat (daughter of Richard Treat, a man of high social standing in the community), the same year and was admitted freeman in 1643.  Preliminary genealogical research suggests that Hollister was a second son, thus unable to inherit his father’s estate in England.  However, he appears to have arrived in New England with ample capitol, and according to Wethersfield land records, by 1655 had acquired twenty-three parcels of land totaling about 240 acres.   Sixty acres of this land included a working farm located at Nayaug, on the east side of the Connecticut River.  This farm was likely purchased prior to 1650 and included a house and outbuildings.  Hollister’s growing family already occupied a home in Wethersfield center, and records indicate that he let out the farm to the Gilberts (another West Country family) in 1651.  The Gilberts worked the farm for Hollister until 1663.   Josiah Gilbert’s family included six children born during their occupancy, and his father and some of his brothers likely lived there as well.

John Hollister Jr.

Lieutenant Hollister died at a relatively young age in 1665.  His lengthy probate lists assets valued in excess of  £1600.  His son John received “his house and barn, orchard and pasture” with “sixty acres of plowing and mowing with other land” in Nayaug, with the understanding that he would provide his mother with twenty bushels of apples and two barrels of cider a year.  The probate also indicates that large quantities of both wheat (20 acres) and Indian corn (23 acres) were being grown on the farm.  John married in 1667 and started his own large family at Nayaug.  The farm was fortified with a palisade in 1675 to protect neighboring families and their farm products during King Philips War.  During this time, John also aided the local Wangunk tribe with the construction of a palisade on high ground just north of Nayaug. Toward the end of his life, John parceled off his lands to his sons who began to raise their own families nearby.   John Hollister died in 1711 and the house is believed to have fallen out of use by ca. 1715.

Boy Scouts helping in 2016

Boy Scouts helping in 2016

Scouts helped to excavate a 5-meter grid of test pits around the site to document artifact distribution in the topsoil.

Excavating the Middle Cellar

Excavating the Middle Cellar

Finding the Site

In 2015, the Glastonbury Historical Society and landowner Mark Packard, a Hollister descendent, approached the Connecticut Office of State Archaeology to run a public excavation in the large horse pasture believed to be the location of the John Hollister farm.  In preparation for this, I asked UConn graduate student and ground penetrating radar expert Peter Leach to survey the area for features that might be worth investigating.  That preliminary survey produced remarkable results – three large rectangular cellars were identified, as well as other probable outbuilding cellar features and a number of large pits or posts.  The one-day Historical Society dig produced a small assemblage of artifacts that hinted that this could be the location of the Hollister farm, so a more intensive follow-up study was scheduled for 2016.

Ground Penetrating Radar Investigations

The 2016 field season began with a magnetometry study of about three acres of the pasture surrounding the core site area.  This work was conducted by graduate students Maeve Herrick and Jasmine Saxon from the University of Denver.  Herrick and Saxon followed this study with additional GPR work in July and August, expanding on Leach’s original survey.  Archaeological excavations were undertaken in August through public programs associated with the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History (UConn) and the Historical Society of Glastonbury.   The excavation season focused primarily on the three main cellar features identified in the radar surveys.  Portions of these cellars were excavated to their floors at a depth of about 150cm.  The cellar fill, passed through 1/8-inch hardware cloth, proved to have preserved very rich deposits of faunal remains, including both wild and domestic mammals, as well as turtle and fish bone, scales and abundant shellfish.  Carbonized maize and bean were also identified during the excavation, and smaller botanical remains will likely be recovered from flotation samples.

Radar image and excavation areas

Radar image and excavation areas

Italian marbleized slipware

Italian marbleized slipware

This uncommon high-status ceramic was manufactured near Pisa Italy between 1600 and 1650.

Artifacts

Artifacts from 2016 and 2017 have now been inventoried.  They included a large fragment of a north Italian marbleized slipware bowl, decorated and plain delftware sherds from both hollow and flat wares, abundant red and white clay pipe fragments (typically with 8/64-inch diameter stems), glass beads, a brass bell, a latten slip top spoon, rhenish stoneware and a variety of English slip-decorated and lead-glazed earthenwares, including probable examples of Midlands blackware and yellow borderware.  Of particular significance was the recovery of fragments of a very large Native-made storage vessel near the bottom of the central cellar.  This item is a tangible reflection of the close relationship between the Hollister family and the local Wangunk people.

Artifact images from the 2018 field season are also available.  The 2018 excavation was focused on a possible “wigwam” feature that was determined to be a second plank-lined cellar (now referred to as Cellar 6).  Images from the field include ceramics, small finds, clay pipes and excavation images.  Artifacts from this southern portion of the site suggest a somewhat later date of activity in the fourth quarter of the 17th century.  The abundance of large red earthenware sherds from this cellar feature suggest it may have been part of a dairy structure at the site.

Ongoing Research

The site is arguably one of the state’s most significant because of its age, richness, and lack of subsequent disturbance.   In terms of material culture, it is perhaps most comparable to the Governor Sir William Phips Homestead in Woolwich, Maine (examined by Robert Bradley) and the Chadbourne Site  in South Berwick, Maine (examined by Emerson Baker).  Architecturally, the Hollister residence may prove to reflect a very long West Country style “cross-passage” house, but further work will be required to determine if the three aligned cellars formed part of a single household structure or not.   The site’s mix of wild and domestic food remains as well as the use of Native made pottery also bring to mind Sylvester Manor at Shelter Island, Long Island investigated by Stephen Mrozowski. Both of these sites represent similarly wealthy plantations and trade centers associated with important colonial families.

Analysis of the materials recovered from the site is ongoing. A special session on the Hollister Site is scheduled for the Society for Historical Archaeology conference in January 2018 in New Orleans.

Lab work at UConn

Lab work at UConn

Refitting earthenware sherds