As seen in the March 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine
An Old Soldier's Home
By: Ed Fedory
Older folks might remember them... deer hunters often stumble upon them... relic hunters search for them... and more than likely, you probably have at least a few of them just outside your neighborhood. They're often hidden, sometimes quite evident, and always interesting. They usually reflect the lifestyles of generations and are time capsules of American living and history. One of the key things about them that you never know exactly what will come out of the soil around them. This last statement was given further credence about three weeks ago when Jimmy Mead arrived at my woodshop with a bag of recent finds. Jimmy had been doing what Jimmy does best... finding and searching old cellar holes!
Jimmy had lined up a couple of other relic hunting spots for later in the day if the first site didn't pan out, but within the first half hour he knew he had his search plan for the rest of the day.
In an old painting we see the style of uniforms worn by American soldiers during the War of 1812. An American infantryman is in the foreground, while just to the right is an American rifleman. (Watercolor by Henry Alexander Ogden. Published by the U.S. Army Quartermaster General 1890)
"I started my search in the area where I suspected the front of the house was, and began sweeping my coil around and through the brush and leaves. Within the first few minutes I had pulled a couple of shotgun shells from the ground, but the third target proved to be an Indian Head penny. I kept searching, and minutes later, only a few yards away, I pulled the first large cent. I knew then where I would be spending the rest of my day!"
From the types of coins found around the site of the old home, one can assume that it was inhabited for quite a length of time.
Jimmy's site was little different from your typical cellar hole site- except for two things. There was an unusual amount of coins around the site, spanning well over a century. They ranged from large cents and Indian Heads to relatively modern silver coins. There was one particular area on the site where Jimmy recovered a "miniature glory hole" of silver, probably dropped by a hunter at some point in the past. The other feature that was unique about the site was the buttons that it yielded. There were several large, one-piece brass and copper coat buttons, and three really nice old military buttons.
Still covered with Sheffield silver plate, this is the United States Infantry, 13th Regiment, button that Jim recovered behind the site of the old ruin.
It would not have been unusual for our "old soldier" to have joined a local militia following his active duty as a regular. In researching the history of our county, I have found that every town had its own company of militia and would meet at local farmers' fields for drilling and military exercises. It seems that the militia was almost a social experience during those days prior to the Civil War.
A day in the woods really paid off for Jim, who displays the results of his day-long search of the old site.
For those just entering the hobby, or for those who want to expand their interests and metal detecting experiences with older coins and interesting artifacts, cellar holes and early dwelling sites might just be the answer. There are plenty of them out there, and finding them isn't really that difficult. Here's a little "primer" for those who want to continue the search.
Water Drawn & Water Borne
Industries rose and fell on the banks of rivers. In my backyard, the Hudson River was an ice-harvesting bonanza during the last century, and the remains of ice houses and the homes of former workers literally dot the shoreline. Where they worked and where they lived are buried the artifacts and history of their lives.
These are just some of the obvious places to begin your search for the past. There are hidden places along mountain ridges where whole communities once existed for logging, charcoal production or stripping bark for the tanning industry. There are lost mills for the production of boards and gunpowder... for grain... for the production of axe handles. Or, you just might get lucky like Jimmy Mead and, while on the trail for white tail, find your own old soldier's home!