Monday, March 27, 2006

The Damnedest Things

You find the damnedest things lying around in the dirt.

My good friend and neighbor Jim came around this Saturday, a fine sunny day full of auguries of success in treasure-hunting. He brought along his metal detector, on the off chance that some metal was lying around the place feeling undetected.

As I may have mentioned a time or two, Jingo Acres has been around in one shape or another for quite a bit of time. I find mention of what I strongly suspect (but can't yet prove) is its original (European) owner in a reference to the recipients of a Lutheran rite performed by an itinerant bishop, down from Frederick, Maryland, in the 1760s. One day when I've better established the fellow's authorship of the room in which I'm typing this, I'll post up the inventory I found at the Leesburg Courthouse of his worldly goods and chattels on his death in 1816. Suffice for now to say, it is not a long or gaudy list. The man lived in a one-room cabin with a family of (at least) five, although I've found some evidence that leads me to think he added on to his place when his children were born.

The estimated value of the clothes he owned when he died amounted to 50 cents, in 1816 money.

He didn't lose the coin in the picture below, but I can easily imagine perhaps a grandson or -daughter being devastated at its loss. More about it below.

Of course, a few decades after the death of the fellow who built this place, we had ourselves a bit of a dustup of a different sort. The man who owned it then, one Joseph L. Virts, owned no slaves -- in this part of Virginia very few people did, for either religious or economic reasons -- and in 1861 he voted with 90% of his neighbors to stay in the Union.

Jim suspects, from the evidence we've found, that Union soldiers were camped here for at least some part of the Recent Unpleasantness. What's particularly thrilling about this is the knowledge that John Mobberly was particularly effective in attacking small outposts of Union stragglers -- his local reputation was made on it, in fact. Union soldiers camped in my yard cannot possibly have been unaware of the guerrilla eyes watching them from the densely wooded Short Hill Mountain behind their campground.

Perhaps our next find was dropped in response to the whispered alarm: Mobberly's comin'!:

Colonial-era buttons and a rivet:

An unimaginably cool find: The butt-plate from an Enfield rifle. Beaten out of shape on some Secesh head, no doubt. (Actually, it's impossible to tell which side lost this particular piece of materiel. It may have crossed the Mason-Dixon Line twenty times, for all we know):

Two pieces of that most vital piece of campground gear, the harmonica. Found 75 yards apart, and another piece (not pictured) was found in a third spot, Conclusion: The harmonica was one mighty, mighty popular piece of nineteenth-century campground instrumentation:

Bullets, cleaned up:

A piece of a padlock, found in the very spot where I suspected an outbuilding once stood. Well divined, sir!

Hand-wrought, utterly gorgeous, and completely incomprehensible. A tool for picking your nose? Pulling the brains from dead bodies prior to mummification? A local expert suggests a farrier's tool for taking stones out of horses' hooves. I'll buy it.

This one's pretty damned boss: An axe-head. The walls of my cabin have axe-marks on them, from the process of squaring them off. I tried desperately to fit the marks to this lump of rust. Middling success, I'm afraid. But God, wouldn't it be indescribably cool if I could make the two fit?

Here's that coin from the first photo in this post, cleaned up as much as I'm gonna. An 1831 copper penny. Ain't she a beaut?


cd said...

As we used to say in the '60's in the Midwest, "Farm out!"

Bob Dwire said...

Fascinating. Could the nose picker be a boot-button puller, or were the ladies of the cabin perhaps not wealthy enoigh for buttoned boots?

Gavin M. said...

Two pieces of that most vital piece of campground gear, the harmonica. Found 75 yards apart, and another piece (not pictured) was found in a third spot, Conclusion: The harmonica was one mighty, mighty popular piece of nineteenth-century campground instrumentation.

Or the converse: One evening, somebody had altogether too much of that particular harmonica.

Sluggo said...

"some metal was lying around the place feeling undetected."

And now detected, it is inspected and delected, far from rejected.

gscpi - ask DeLong, something about consumer prices, I think.

Kevin Wolf said...

She's a beaut, alright. So's this post.

Some of this stuff may clean up with a little nbprxwd and elbow grease.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Wow, that kicks serious ass.

I found a Bucks Fizz 8 track once in Reseda.

eRobin said...

Very cool. Jim was certainly right about all that metal.

Ronzoni Rigatoni said...

I found, in circulation no less, an 1859 penny of the same vintage as yours. The coin books at the time listed it as a $60 value. This was about 25 years ago, so it may have depreciated somewhat since then. Your nose picker is actually a buttonhook. You kin lukkittup.