In 2017, the City of Newport News contracted New South Associates to conduct archeological investigations at three sites of interest (44NN278, 44NN280, and 44NN281) at the former City Farm at Riverview Farm Park. The sites were thought to be associated with the historic settlement of Warwicktowne, a county seat established around 1680. With the passing of an act to move the courthouse to a more inland location in 1809, the town lost prominence and was eventually abandoned.
Artifacts from the Warwicktowne period were found at sites 44NN278 and 44NN281, while cultural features from this same time period were exposed only at site 44NN278. A significant Civil War Confederate encampment was identified at both sites and incorporated into the archaeological excavation.
Nine features were identified at site 44NN278 that are related to Warwicktowne. They include a foundation and cellar associated with an ordinary (tavern) owned by Mary, and later, Richard Young, a well, an unfinished well, a small root cellar, two pits, and two posts.
Artifacts directly related to the use of Young’s Ordinary date from about 1780 to 1809. Test units in the Ordinary revealed a brick cellar measuring approximately 16 by 26 feet with a bulkhead entrance. One of the most striking aspects of the ceramic assemblage in the cellar was the quantity of plain creamware and pearlware, which suggests the tavern owners focused on mass produced and inexpensive ceramics—in other words, “dinner ware.” Another striking aspect of the kitchen assemblage was the quantity of eating and serving utensils: seven bone utensil handles, one metal utensil handle, 21 knife blades, and a large pewter spoon. This indicates that meals were actually consumed there.
The abundant faunal remains in the cellar indicate that customers enjoyed a varied menu of both wild and domestic species, with pork the most frequently consumed. Wild species that were commonly consumed included ducks and geese, turtles, oysters, and several types of fish. The faunal evidence indicates that Young’s Ordinary offered a higher quality and more varied meal than would be found at taverns in the countryside.
During excavations at 44NN278 and 44NN281, 10 Civil War-era winter huts were uncovered, along with two cooking pits and five other features. Artifacts recovered during excavations indicated the presence of 15th Regiment of Virginia Infantry at 44NN278 and 5th Regiment of Louisiana Infantry at 44NN281.
Historical research suggested that these encampments were established in October 1861 when Gen. John Bankhead Magruder made plans to settle his men in for winter. The encampments were probably abandoned by March 1862. The soldiers’ pit accommodations were large and deep, allowing them to get out of the cold and wind coming from the Warwick River and Deep Creek. They would have been covered with a tent. Some had single chambers, while others had two or more chambers to house multiple soldiers.
As soldiers abandoned the encampment, they filled the pits with trash and other materials to render the pits useless to the enemy. Many contained charcoal and areas of burnt soil, suggesting that some of the fill was taken from nearby campfire locations or that any wooden elements of the hut were burned and pushed into the pits. The food bone and shell found in the pits represents food waste that was probably consumed around the fire or near the huts.
Artifacts recovered included military and civilian buttons and buckles, tobacco pipe fragments, wine, beer, and liquor bottles, condiment jars, medicine bottles, nails, bricks, tools, and other items. Archaeobotanical remains found evidence of coffee beans, fruit (apple and blackberry/raspberry), squash/pumpkin, and wheat seeds. Faunal remains indicated that the soldiers subsisted on a limited diet of fresh, salted, and pickled meat, particularly cow and pig.