A Day at Avery’s Rest in Delaware

I recently began a new job as an archaeologist with Delaware’s Department of Transportation.  While this usually means long days in the office, I am able to spend one day a week working at an amazing 17th-century site in southern Delaware.

The site, Avery’s Rest, was first identified in 1976 during an archaeological survey of the area around Rehoboth Bay by Delaware’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs (DHCA).  Development threatened the site in 2006 and Archaeological Society of Delaware volunteers along with DHCA staff began excavations to recover as much information as possible before the site was destroyed.  A large portion of the site is located on private property and excavations continue under the direction of Dan Griffith.

John and Sarah Avery with their five children moved to Avery’s Rest on the north shore of Rehoboth Bay in Delaware in 1674 from Maryland.  John was a member of the local court and an officer in the militia.  The family occupied the site until John’s death in 1682.  After his death, the 300 acre property was divided between his wife as part of her widow’s dower and his three eldest daughters and their spouses.  Jemimah Avery Morgan and her husband, John Morgan, received a portion of the land and probably reoccupied the site around 1698.  It is likely that they sold their property and moved out of the area by 1715.

I started my day at Avery’s Rest working on a plowzone unit on the west side of the site.  Earlier in the field season, a feature was identified in shovel tests and we are working to remove the plowzone to identify its extent.  Volunteers over the past several weeks have opened over fifteen units in this area and we are finally starting to get a picture of this feature.

Dan prepares to photograph a section of the possible cellar feature, looking north.

Dan prepares to photograph a section of the possible cellar feature, looking north.

Two units were finished today (the ones at the top and bottom of the photo below).  These revealed the easternmost portion of the feature, which runs at least another 10 feet to the west (right in the photo).  The holes in the feature are shovel tests that were excavated earlier in the field season and first identified the feature.  The feature appears to be one of the largest on the site thus far and measures approximately 18 X 18 feet square.  At the surface, the fill looks fairly clean, meaning it doesn’t have a lot of artifacts that may give us information about the time or function of the feature and the associated structure.  In the coming weeks, the crew will remove the plastic from the entire feature, photograph and map it, and begin excavating it in hopes of getting more information.

East corner of a possible cellar feature, looking south.  Photo by Dan Griffith.

East corner of a possible cellar feature, looking south. Photo by Dan Griffith.

What is this feature; another cellar (there are already two that have been excavated on site)?  What is the associated structure; a dwelling or possibly a storehouse?  How does this feature relate to others on the site (this is located approximately 5 feet from another cellar)?  Does the feature date to John Avery’s occupation or his daughter’s, Jemimah’s?

It was a great day in the field, and as is usually the case, answers to questions usually lead to more questions.  Excavations at Avery’s Rest will hopefully answer questions about what the landscape of the area looked like over 300 years ago (very different from today!), what life for the Avery family was like, and generally what life in 17th century Delaware was like.  All very exciting stuff!  For continued information on Avery’s Rest excavations, visit the ASD website at http://www.delawarearchaeology.org/.


Heidi Krofft
DelDOT Archaeologist