As seen in the February 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine
Pictures Of The Past
By: Ed Fedory
They say that, "The longest of journeys begins with but a single footstep," and I'd have to say that this expression is very close to the mark when it comes to relic hunters. All we have to do is look back to that initial old non-coin recovery. In some cases it might have been a Colonial buckle, or perhaps one from the Civil War. Was it a Minie, or a musketball... an old button with an interesting design or number? At that point in time, and with that recovery in hand, we probably didn't realize that we had opened a new door and were heading down a very long hallway leading to the past.
Among the cache of pictures were memories of digs on a fort dating from King George's War... a place where clay pipes and King George coppers abounded!
It is a hallway filled with numerous doors, and as we travel its course, we might chance to open a few of those doors as we pass. Some might lead to Indian Wars sites, another to recoveries from the Civil War. As we travel farther down that corridor of time, we pass other doors which are clearly labeled: War of 1812... the American Revolution... French & Indian War... Queen Anne's War. Indeed, it is a very long hall down which we travel!
Some of the rooms beyond the doors we may find interesting and comfortable. The walls are lined with legions of books, dusty and time-worn, their pages dog-eared by others who have been here before us, sought the secrets of the past, and left their own notes, in a crabbed hand, in the margins. They are the clues that lead us to the field and forests, with digging tool and detector in hand, to learn of the past from the relics we recover.
The bent and sorely worn love token was later transformed into a lucky piece when it was given to a young British soldier before he left for battle in the New World. Whether the coin brought him luck or not is just another question we'll never be able to answer.
I'll let you in on a little secret... this little piece that I'm writing wasn't supposed to be this month's column. The column was supposed to deal with "Big Silver" of the Colonial sort. I guess that column might be written next month, and it all stems from the fact that I got lost in one of those "rooms" yesterday. It was a cool day, one of my office windows was open, and I wanted to check out some recent photos I had taken. I rarely get visitors in my office, so everything is usually where I put it. However, due to some mental preoccupation, the photos were not where I thought I had put them, so the search began. Once I entered my photo files, my day was gone... I was lost.
Colonial fishhooks, a thimble, and a clasp knife reflect camp life in the mid 18th century. A wide assortment of interesting relics can be found on sites once occupied by troops as they wintered or awaited battle.
As I flipped through the photos, I saw many images of relics still found on the shelves of my office, or in the glass-faced cabinets. I saw other images of artifacts that were sold by some fellow relic hunters who saw only the dollar signs and cared little for the historic value of their recoveries. For the most part, they were relic miners, and I go to great lengths to avoid searching with them.
At half-cock and primed, these Brown Bess locks were among my best finds on site dating from the American Revolution.
I found a picture of my relic hunting buddy, Roger Maben, yesterday, and he was holding what he considers to be the best find he ever made. It wasn't the 1839 half dollar, or the half dozen War of 1812 buttons he dug from a very small area. It was a picture of Roger holding a little hand-forged frying pan. I wrote a story about it once. It was a story about a father making his way back from the village blacksmith's shop with a very special present for his daughter on a snowy December evening. You could read volumes into that one-pound piece of rusty, beaten iron that you'd never get from recovering a silver dollar. We'll never know the true story about that little frying pan, but I'm sure that one existed and it revolved around a smile on a young girl's face.
Recovered lead projectiles from any war still give me a thrill, whether I'm digging them up or looking at an old photo.
To give you the short version, if a young Englishman was endeared to a young lady he would give her a new sixpence. The ends of the sixpence were bent, so when looking for coins in her purse, the young lady would know which coin not to take out for payment. The coin, through numerous years of being abraded by other coins in the purse, had become completely smooth.
Iron targets, such as these "ice creepers", were not forgotten in the collection. Either lost of discarded, they remained beneath the soil, tangled in roots, for over two centuries.
That little piece of twisted silver was representative of a love that was centuries old... and forever, as well, it will stand as my best find.
While looking at pictures such as this one, I was reminded of one of my best hunts... a day when I dug 91 individual musketballs. There was a smile on my face, but my right hand felt like it had been beaten with a baseball bat!
We've lost numerous pewter buttons on our campaigns, and I still can't find one of my two-tined forks. There's more than one discarded musket flint littering the field along with its lead wrapper, and for the life of me, I don't know what ever happened to that pewter copy of a piece-of-eight I used to carry in my "possibles" bag- although, I do seem to remember a smile on the face of a comely tavern maid as she refilled my tankard with shrub!
Roger Maben's best find, a small, hand-forged frying pan, must have really put a smile on some little girl's face as she braved frontier life with her parents.
Yes, it all comes down to the beauty of history... whether you're digging it or doing it!
Beyond relic hunting is the realm of re-enacting... learning about history by playing out the part of those long-gone Colonials. I am constantly amazed by the number of small things I learn about the 18th century each time I shoulder my musket, don my leggings and frock, and hit the field with my regiment!
It's strange how fast an afternoon can pass while looking at stacks of old photos and remembering old times... old hunts... old friends. I'd like to think that future hunts will hold as many thrills and joys- and smiles. Photos of new finds and new friends will be added to those of old, and perhaps next month I can stop all this wool-gathering and get on with that story about "Big Silver."