Exploring Charlestown’s Past

Joseph Bagley leading an archeological tour through Charlestown on Oct. 7

Joseph Bagley Leading an Archeological Tour through Charlestown on Oct. 7

In celebration of archeology month, City of Boston Archeologist, Joseph Bagley, led a tour from the Bunker Hill Monument, through the big dig, and down to City Square on Oct. 7. Presented by The Charlestown Historical Society and the Charlestown Preservation Society, the tour was free and open to the public. It covered 3,000 years of Charlestown history, and highlighted the true shape of the fortifications on Breed’s Hill, and Native American sites.

“One of my goals is to find sites that are hidden in my own space that were curated by my predecessors, and use the materials that are here to write the history of Boston,” Bagley said.

Beginning on Breed’s Hill, Bagley discussed the archeological testing done since the 1970s to document the earthworks built on top of the hill. Ground-penetrating radar indicates granite tracks leading up to the monument located between the obelisk and the business center. The tracks were used to cart the massive blocks that were used to build the monument. Some musket balls, gun flints, and rifles were also uncovered.

“It’s not exactly a natural hill. It has been built up in the corners and leveled off in some areas. Overall, everything you see has been mucked around with,” said Bagley. Much of the landscape features that would have been preserved underground were gone already by the time this monument went in.”

The surrounding landscape was open cow pastures during the American Revolution. The hill would have extended into the training field in Winthrop Square, which served the militia prior to the Revolution.

In 2013, Bagley’s team conducted an archeological survey of the area and found a massive deposit of household refuse that was dumped sometime around 1820. They also discovered Native American sites that are 2,000-3,000 years old.

“What we were able to find is that every square inch of this park has 2 ½ – 3’ of fill that has been dumped on top of the park sometime after 1840,” Bagley said. “Underneath that is a perfectly preserved 18th Century Park where there may have been four different school structures at one time.”

Bagley guided the tour down to City Square, where in 1981 – in the initial phases of the Big Dig – archeologists found 500 artifacts from the colonial city. In the square were remains and indicators of the Three Cranes Tavern (1624-1775).

The Garrett site, at the edge of the town dock in the navy yard, is also an important 17th Century location. Garrett and his wife escaped the English Civil War and became some of the first Charlestown residents. The colonial merchant lived on the property sometime between 1683-1658.

“I have 30-40 boxes that have been in my archeology lab for 20 years, completely forgotten about. There were thousands of artifacts found,” Bagley said. “It’s one of the densest 17th Century sites in the country. This is a potential site that is going to be groundbreaking for the history of New England.”

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