Many people are
surprised to learn that the present Alden House was not the original home of
John Alden in Duxbury. When John received his original land grant in 1627 (about 100 acres), he selected a house site some 100 yards east of the present location on a "rise of land near Eagletree Pond." We do
not know why this particular spot was chosen or even why the house was
relocated several decades later to its present site. In fact, it was not
until 1960 before the precise location was even discovered.
Above - a few
of the objects unearthed during the 1960 dig - pottery shard, tweezers,
Winsor’s History of Duxbury written in 1849, it states, "In 1631
he (Alden) removed to Duxbury and settled on the land which had been
granted to him on the south side of Blue Fish River. He built his house
on a rise of land near Eagletree Pond and the site is still identified
to the eastward of the present building, near the dike, and here was his
well which long since has been filled up. It is now with difficulty that
its precise situation is found." This reference is a bit confusing since
the site was actually found on the north side of the Bluefish River.
However, it seems that the site had everything one might hope for -
ready access to water transportation, land ready for planting, a spring
nearby, and (in time) a well-traveled road that crossed the property.
A key to all of this is the fact that the
site offered ready access to the Bluefish river that flows through
this part of town, a key factor of the time since movement of people
and goods over water was generally easier and faster than through
the heavily forested land. Another small stream called Hounds Ditch,
marked one edge of the property. It is also known that a substantial
portion of the Alden grant was already cleared of forest by the
Indians who had died off in a plague about a decade earlier.
In 1960, the
Duxbury Schools were expanding their playground areas towards the spot
claimed as the Alden House site and there was some concern that any remains
would be disturbed. (This portion of the original Alden land grant now
belonged to the town of Duxbury and some of it had been used to construct an
extensive school complex.) A noted historical archaeologist, Roland Wells Robbins, was
hired by the Alden Kindred to attempt to find and excavate the original
By using a simple probing technique, Mr. Robbins
was able to discover the exact outline of the foundation and the original
cellar hole. The exact overall dimensions of the foundation were 38 feet by
10 1/2 feet, matching the size of the rear "kitchen" portion of the
1653 house. During the excavation work, it was determined that early land
stripping had missed the foundation by only about six feet.
Mr. Robbins and the Alden Kindred received
necessary permissions from the town to perform a full scale "archaeological
dig" and proceeded on this comprehensive project which lasted several
months. The project was broken into two phases (1) the cellar; and (2) the
remainder of the house site.
The cellar was
excavated in three levels. All artifacts, and there were thousands of them,
were carefully plotted. Other than the ones found in the top sod, most
artifacts dated from the early 17th century. Many Indian artifacts were
found, having been raked into the rubble and rubbish when the ground about
the site was cleaned up after the house was removed. It was obvious that
Indians had lived at the site for an unknown number of generations before
the Aldens built there.
Among the more interesting metal artifacts found at
the upper level were a broken lance or pike head, a broken horseshoe, a stud
or shirt button and a steel or battery from a snaphance gun. The steel is of
the late 16th or early 17th century period and is considered a rare find.
At the next lower level, between four and seven
feet below the surface, were found a bell metal pestle, a brass spout for a
small kettle, a lateen spoon bowl, a small and decorative hammerhead,
one-half of a cock’s head hinge, a pair of scissors, a pewter button, a
broken brass buckle, and a broken pan cover from the mechanism of a
snaphance gun. Also recovered from this level were two Charles I farthings
dating from 1625-49.
Articles from the old site. The
is the larger object at the bottom of the picture.
The lowest level consisted of the six inches of
soils that covered the sand bottom of the cellar, some 7 1/2 feet below
ground level. Found here were also many metal items, fragments of
diamond-shaped window glass, earthenware pieces, 4 iron knife blades and the
remnants of a knife handle and a gun fork.
Overall, some 300
cubic feet of soil and debris was removed and examined. There was no
evidence to show that the house had burned to the ground.
The second phase of the project was the excavation
of the balance of the house site, digging to an average depth of a little
under two feet. Approximately another 300 cubit feet of material was
removed. Here were found over a half ton of bricks and brick fragments,
nearly 2,000 hand-wrought nails, hundreds of pieces of diamond-shaped window
glass and some 23 pieces of lead came, 43 pieces of clay pipes, and nearly
500 Indian artifacts.
For those interested in learning about this project
in detail, the book Pilgrim John Alden’s Progress, Archaeological
Excavations in Duxbury (Plymouth: Pilgrim Society, 1969) is out of print but available in libraries and through second-hand bookdealers.
Today the old site
is still clearly visible. A path leads through the woods in back of the
Alden House to the edge of a field. Crossing the field, you will find a
monument and the outline of the original foundation, marked with small posts, can be found. The cellar itself has been backfilled to preserve it.