City of Alexandria, VA
Page updated Dec 7, 2010 11:54 AM
Digging out ‘the Bottoms’
March 3, 1994
The free African American neighborhood, historically referred to as the "Bottoms," began developing by 1799 on the 300 block of South Alfred Street. With an increasing number of free blacks in Alexandria, the Bottoms grew. Many small, wood frame homes lined the streets along South Alfred, Wolfe, Gibbon and Franklin. The Henlis family lived at what is now 916 Gibbon Street from 1816 to 1852, as discussed in last week's article.
This free family's ceramic tablewares unearthed from a barrel well/privy are quite different than those found in a slave site on South St. Asaph Street. Rather than the large quantity of fine ceramic serving vessels found behind Harriet William's house, the Henlis household discarded inexpensive and unmatched plates, bowls, tea cups and saucers. The Henlis tablewares are generally plain or hand painted. The few serving vessels, such as pitchers and bowls, are also relatively inexpensive and have a variety of decorative patterns and colors.
One example of a serving piece is a five inch high pitcher with an annular finger-painted design of brown, blue and white coils on a black background. The object also has a green and brown rim, white handle and spout. It was made in England between 1830 and 1860. A recent article in Antiques (August 1993) provides a good overview of slip-decorated annular wares, often called Mocha wares. The coils were created on the pot by a three-chambered bottle patented in 1811. This "worming pot" permitted three colors of slip to move through hollow goose quills at the same time. The result was a variety of three-color designs with names such as cable, earthworm, cat's eye and twig. The Henlis pitcher is a fine example of this type of ware. Many more such annular wares are found in Alexandria's archaeological sites and must have been imported from England in high quantities for sale in the King Street dry goods stores.
The Henlis artifacts also include many other every day objects, such as lenses from eye glasses, clay pipes, clay marbles, and a snuff bottle. Two metal objects shaped like flared footed cups have blue paint and gilt with a palm leaf pattern. Can anyone identify these artifacts?
(These object and many others can be seen in the current exhibit at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, Torpedo Factory Art Center, Studio 327. Call 703-838-4399 for more information.)
Pamela J. Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.