Colonial Village Treasures
By: By Bill Ladd
My hunting partner, Rob Fahey, and I had almost given up trying to locate a lost ghost town in a neighboring New England state. I had stumbled onto an account of "a village" of several Colonial homes abandoned for reasons unknown. It sounded very interesting, and conjured up visions of multiple detecting sites, but we kept putting it off for one reason or another. Since it was a long drive, we talked ourselves into believing that other treasure hunters had also done research and beaten us to the punch. Besides, we had other productive areas closer to home that we'd been working successfully.
Finally, one weekend we decided to take a gamble. Even if the site of the ghost town had been previously detected, we could still enjoy the adventure of locating and photographing a site that dated back to the 1700s. It's fun to try to go back in time and imagine what life was like with no running water and no electricity. Of course, actually metal detecting at early settlements like this is the pinnacle of our quest, and I enjoy creating displays of whatever relics may surface.
Conflicting theories surrounded "The Village" high in the hills of New Hampshire, and research turned up speculations from various historians: a hamlet of Revolutionary Tories, freed slaves, people afflicted with diseases... to me, all guesses. Additional tips from a hiker brought us up the same winding dirt cart roads once used by the original settlers. Unfortunately, however, vague directions and unfamiliarity with the area led us to every path but the correct one. After going in complete circles with tiring legs, cliches like "striking out" and "can't win 'em all" were uttered. It was now late afternoon. I looked at my watch and said, "Let's drive just a bit farther to be sure." I'd hate to think we were so close and gave up. Finally, we spied stone walls leading into a depression resembling a house site. "The Village!" we yelled.
Although it was late in the day, we felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Then we spied an old truck parked nearby. "See, someone's already detecting!" I half-joked, thinking it was really just hikers. But Rob saw an elderly man in the truck and said, "Howdy, sir." Receiving only a strange look and no response, I chimed in, attempting to explain we were just history buffs looking for a lost village we'd read about. Of course, he looked at me as if I was totally crazy and said, "It's on my land, and I don't want nobody out there!" So, we began to apologize, and I tried to shift the blame somewhat, explaining that a hiker had led us here. Backing away, the gentleman exited the truck and said, "Follow me... I'll show ya some places."
Overly excited, and focused only on Colonial relics, I eagerly began walking with the stranger. Rob hung back, fully aware that the man had just picked up a rifle! Rob began to ask the landowner several questions. Was he just hunting? When, "Hunting humans" came the reply, we weren't sure whether to laugh or start running! Luckily, the man chuckled, obviously joking, but explained that he disliked trespassers. Our politeness helped our cause, and he enjoyed showing off rural land that had been in his family for years. He probably didn't entertain many visitors.
Concluding a tour that included viewing two probable homesites, I began to explain our hobby. I mentioned that we had metal detectors and would love the chance to try them in his forest. We were both uncertain of a reaction but heard, "Sure, but someone already did the whole woods." Of course, this was not what we wanted to hear, but we figured that since we'd come this far, it was worth a quick swing.
Dropping our gear behind a large foundation, I envisioned a Colonial tavern, took photographs, and marveled over a 20' deep well. Rob, a detecting "newbie," had excitedly begun swinging his Fisher 1236-X2. My first signal near our backpacks was a nice 1844 large cent. "So much for the whole woods being hunted out!" I shouted. Next, we each added several large Colonial coat buttons to our pouches. Many featured handmade dot patterns, and our hearts jumped every time another button came to light, as most Washington Inaugurals are that size.
Next to the well, the sandy soil had preserved a beautiful Colonial cast silver knee buckle, still shining with its iron pins! Recently reading a Revolutionary account of a father passing down silver shoe buckles to his son made this find seem extra special. It was probably a devastating loss, involving work around the well.
Meanwhile, I could see that Rob was just as happy to be closely examining a Colonial brass keg spigot. Although some might toss this into a junk box, I saw that Rob recognized its historical significance, saying that it was his favorite find yet. Maybe it was a tavern. Moving across the cart road to a smaller foundation, another first target high tone produced a detailed large cent dated 1835.
Weeks later we arrived at the ghost town again to continue working "the tavern." After having recovered coins and a solid silver buckle, we now figured that the "runaway slaves" and "poor subsistence farmer" theories were inaccurate. Armed with another detector with a larger coil for depth, I scanned an area previously overlooked, pulling out a silvered 1700s button. Nearby, a similar weak signal made me assume, "Another deep button." So, I dug a large plug and pinpointed a strong reading in the dirt. I called Rob over as I brushed off an 1803 large cent.
Rechecking the spot, I got another high tone and told Rob, "Sorry, but there's another copper in the dirt." Instead, I felt around and excitedly removed a large silver 1724 Spanish 2 reales "pistareen"! Speaking of great losses, this one must have been huge. I wondered what 21¢ could buy in Colonial days? Did someone sit behind the house and have two coins roll out of his pocket? Or perhaps they were in a small leather pouch... now long since rotted away.
When the landowner used his rifle to point out a third house, I was about to pull off a feat I'd never done before. After ground balancing my Coin$trike, for the third site in a row my first signal was a large cent! This one was a beautiful 1817 was a perfect patina. Next, an 1858 Flying Eagle cent emerged, but I felt guilty because Rob had yet to dig a coin. Thinking, "Some detecting teacher you are," I quietly slid it into my pocket. But just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rob walking toward me holding something. Hoping for a coin, he'd done far better, unearthing the largest 1700s decorated shoe buckle I'd ever seen! It was completely intact, too. Rob knew he'd done well when I immediately offered the 1817 large cent in trade.
Soon, Rob had his first coin here, a British George II copper. Near this home's well, Rob dug an 1803 large cent while I was brushing off a Connecticut copper. Later, after finding a silver spoon, I switched to all-metal mode to get a deep coin, later identified as a 1690 British William & Mary copper. Interestingly it had two holes and had been made into a "buzzer" toy for a child. Some might call this a defaced coin, but I think it has great additional character, since a child once played with it long before store-bought toys were readily available. This simple toy was representative of a simpler lifestyle as well.
Next, Rob called me over to see perhaps the strangest thing I've ever encountered in over 25 years of digging. One outstretched hand held an 1861 "fat" Indian Head cent. "Not bad, but you called me over for that?" Then he opened his other hand, which clutched a white quartz Native American arrowhead- from the same hole! He said he was sifting through the dug dirt with his fingers for the coin, and had felt the stone twice. Finally, thinking its point was unusual, he picked up his very first arrowhead! By some very strange twist of fate, a coin depicting an Indian had been dropped on exactly the same spot where an Indian arrowhead had come to rest 3,000 years earlier. I told Rob he had "oldest find" bragging rights for sure! Now confident with his detector, he kept his hot streak going by adding an interesting Naval hat badge to his growing relic collection.
Later, we hiked up a hill to an area where the older man had not ventured. I imagine that he'd overlooked the large, carved native granite stones and "pin & feather" markings that we recognized as an early quarry site. Across from the quarry was another square depression. Was this a quarry worker's home? It was certainly something significant, as I quickly dug two worn George II coppers. Next, I also discovered a hole containing multiple items. A Chinese cash coin, c. 1736-1795, emerged from the same spot as another Colonial coat button. Had Chinese immigrants worked at the quarry, or was the center-holed coin someone's pendant?
We searched "The Village" several more times, using different detectors and coils to make certain that we did not miss anything. One-piece buttons, large cents, and British coppers were plentiful here, and each outing we cherished as a trip back in time. "The Village," consisting of four houses and one quarry, was small, but the array of relics and knowledge we gained were quite rewarding. Rob's 1861 Indian Head penny was the newest item to surface, so we feel it's probable the village was abandoned during the Civil War period.
I had to keep reminding Rob that future sites will not all produce like this one... this was a rarity, and well worth the extra effort and long drive. Some of the best Colonial shoe buckles in my collection were excavated at "The Village," and iron relics were preserved for the future as well. This forgotten ghost town in the hills was perfect, too, for a "newbie" to earn his spurs. I know it's easy to become hooked, and at the time of this writing Rob says it's the best site we've hunted, and that the keg tap and shoe buckle remain his favorite finds. So, I believe it's safe to assume that "The Village" has inspired a new detectorist to appreciate history, long for more backwoods adventures, and resolve to stick with the hobby for years to come.