Tag: Saints Rest

Thirsty Throwback Thursday: A History of Ginger Beer

Thirsty Throwback Thursday: A History of Ginger Beer

Today is the day! Campus Archaeology is throwing it wayy back with an 1860’s-inspired three-course meal. For my blog post this week, I thought I’d get into the spirit of historic food and drink with a little history—and some of my own, highly professional market 

A Closer Look at the Berlin Swirl Ceramic Pattern

A Closer Look at the Berlin Swirl Ceramic Pattern

Happy Fat Tuesday! After flocking to the nearest paczki-filled bakery, I hope that you sit down and enjoy your Polish donut on some fine china. Perhaps, if you’re historically or archaeologically inclined, you might want to enjoy your treat on a nice British ceramic plate. 

Wedgwood Ceramics on MSU’s Historic Campus

Wedgwood Ceramics on MSU’s Historic Campus

Last week I spent some time in the CAP lab with Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright resorting and accessioning artifacts from the 2008 and 2009 Saint’s Rest rescue excavation. This excavation uncovered many ceramic artifacts (among other items) including plates, bowls, and serving dishes. Among the many fragments of whiteware, Lisa showed me one fragment that stood out: part of a plate, embossed with a pattern of figs and bearing a Wedgwood maker’s mark.

Wedgewood blue jasperware. Image Source
Wedgewood blue jasperware. Image Source

If you’ve ever found yourself deep in the throes of an Antiques Roadshow binge-watching spiral, chances are you’ve heard of Wedgwood china. Perhaps you’ve seen pieces of Wedgwood’s iconic blue jasperware decorated with Greek figures in white bas-relief. Or, perhaps you’ve seen one of Wedgwood’s Fairyland Lustre Art Nouveau vases, opulently adorned with jewel-toned elves and dragons. Since the founding of the company in 1759, Wedgwood has graced the tables of such dignitaries as Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, Catherine the Great of Russia, and President Theodore Roosevelt (1). And, as the Saint’s Rest bowl fragment indicates, Wedgwood also graced the tables of MAC. For my blog post, I researched Wedgwood to get a better idea of how a piece of the ceramic dynasty made its way to our campus.

The story of the CAP Wedgwood begins in the 17th century in the rural English county of Staffordshire. The soil in Staffordshire wasn’t much for farming, but the region was rich in clay, salt, lead, and coal – key ingredients for making pottery. The use of coal for fueling kiln fires gave Staffordshire potters an advantage over other rural workshops that still depended on timber for fuel (2). For centuries, Staffordshire was known as a prominent center for pottery production and innovation.

Josiah Wedgewood. Image Source
Josiah Wedgewood. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery (source)

The Wedgwood dynasty began with a Staffordshire potter named Josiah Wedgwood (1). Born into a family of potters, a leg amputation left Josiah unable to work as a “thrower” in his family’s workshop (3). Instead, he developed an interest in experimenting with formulas and design. Wedgwood developed a durable, attractive, cream-colored type of earthenware that gained favor with Queen Charlotte (3). The serving set he made her pleased her so much, Charlotte agreed to allow Wedgwood to call himself the “Queen’s Potter” (1). This celebrity endorsement set Wedgwood’s sales booming.

Over the years, Wedgwood continued to innovate. He developed two new types of stoneware known as Black Basalt and Jasperware (3). Both are known for their matte, biscuit finish. Jasperware was produced in a variety of colors, though light blue was the most iconic. White ornamental appliques were molded separately and baked onto the pottery in emulation of Roman cameo glass vases. In 1773, Wedgwood developed a method of transfer printing enamel (4). This decorative technique reduced inconsistencies, eliminated the need for hand-painting decorations, and gave customers a wider array of customization options (3). Perhaps Wedgwood’s greatest innovation was as a businessman. Wedgwood sold his products via printed catalogs and advance orders (5). Since he knew which pieces his customers wanted, he was able to reduce waste and therefore costs.

So how did we get from the elegant designs of the Staffordshire Potteries to the humble piece of CAP Wedgwood? The answer is in the design: white ironware, to be precise.

Wedgewood plate base with makers mark and RD stamp.
Wedgewood plate base with makers mark and RD stamp.

The ceramic game changed in 1813 when a Staffordshire potter developed a new type of vitreous pottery dubbed “ironstone china” or, sometimes, graniteware (6). In the 19th century, ironstone quickly gained popularity as a cheap, mass-producible alternative to porcelain. It was especially popular in the America. In the 1840’s, undecorated white ironstone headed for America comprised the largest export market for Staffordshire’s potteries.

Wedgewood fig design fragments.
Wedgewood fig design fragments.

In contrast to England, where customers favored elegant designs, American consumers preferred plainer tableware (6). In the 1850’s and 60’s, however, English potteries (including Wedgwood) decided to introduce some whimsy into the American market. Potteries began embossing designs inspired by the American prairies. Stoneware from this era were commonly embossed with grains such as wheat, corn and oats, or fruits such as grapes, peaches, berries, and— like the CAP Wedgwood—figs. Because of its durability and popularity in rural America, this china became known as “farmer’s” or “threshers’” china (6).

So, there we have it. The CAP Wedgwood fragment from Saint’s Rest may have made its way to campus as a piece of thresher’s china. Its durable form and folksy fig design likely appealed to someone living at a rural Michigan college.

In parting, I’d like to leave you with some (non-alternative) facts about Josiah Wedgwood, a fascinating figure in his own right.

Fact 1: We may have Josiah Wedgwood to thank for theory of evolution. Wedgwood was the grandfather of both Charles Darwin and Darwin’s wife, Emma (7). Inheritance from the Wedgwood fortune is often credited for allowing Darwin the leisure time to sail on the S.S. Beagle and formulate his theory of evolution.

Fact 2: Apart from his pioneering efforts in the ceramics industry, Wedgwood was a prominent abolitionist (8). In the late 18th century, he commissioned and paid for a series of iconic cameo medallions that became the emblem for the abolitionist movement. The design depicts a kneeling slave beneath the inscription “Am I not a man and a brother?” The figure is prepared in Wedgwood’s own Black Basalt against a white background. It became fashionable for men and women to wear these medallions, which helped popularize the abolitionist cause.

Anti-slavery medallion (courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History)
Anti-slavery medallion (courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History)

Author: Mari Isa


  1. https://www.wedgwood.co.uk/history/
  2. http://www.thepotteries.org/six_towns/index.htm
  3. http://www.thepotteries.org/potters/wedgwood.htm
  4. http://virtual.parkland.edu/lstelle1/len/archguide/documents/arcguide.htm
  5. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/quick-history-wedgwoodretrospe-131733
  6. http://www.thepotteries.org/types/ironstone.htm
  7. http://www.thepotteries.org/misc/Darwin.htm
  8. http://www.abolitionseminar.org/the-eighteenth-century-atlantic-world/wedgwoodmedallion/
Let’s Get Trashed! A Comparison of the Saint’s Rest Dorm, Privy, and Trash Pit.

Let’s Get Trashed! A Comparison of the Saint’s Rest Dorm, Privy, and Trash Pit.

Archaeologists care a lot about garbage. We can learn a great deal from looking through what people throw out, how much they throw out, and when they throw it out. Because trash is the byproduct of what humans consume and use in their daily lives, 

The Kitchen Girls Part 2: Early Campus Female Life

The Kitchen Girls Part 2: Early Campus Female Life

In my last blog I introduced the female employees working at the Saint’s Rest boarding hall in 1866. These 33 women were paid an average of $2.00 – $2.50 a week for their work and were purchasing personal items through the university, charged against their 

The Kitchen Girls: Getting to Know Female Campus Employees in the 1860s (Part 1)

The Kitchen Girls: Getting to Know Female Campus Employees in the 1860s (Part 1)

Saint's Rest Boarding Hall circa 1865. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections
Saint’s Rest Boarding Hall circa 1865. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Michigan State University is a big place. Today the main campus is over 5,200 acres, there are 545 buildings, and over 50,000 students. Campus is essentially its own little city and there’s a large work force of approximately 6,800 support staff employees that work around the clock to make things run smoothly. In the early years of the campus, although the campus size and student body were much smaller, a large staff was still necessary to run the college. We’ve been able to do extensive research on experiences of the early faculty and students, but finding information on the employees is more difficult because their experience is often missing from the historical and archaeological record.

As part of the ongoing food reconstruction project, I’ve been going through the Saint’s Rest boarding hall receipt books with Susan Kooiman and Autumn Beyer at the MSU Archives. While recording the 1866-1867 book I noticed some purchases that didn’t quite maker sense; corsets, garters, ribbon, parasols, hoops skirts, etc. Each was associated with a woman’s name. Female students weren’t officially admitted to the university until 1870, so who were these women showing up in the boarding hall account books?

Boarding Hall Receipt 1866 showing purchases of hoop skirt, belt riot and shoes. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.
Boarding Hall Receipt from 1866 showing purchases of hoop skirt, belt riot and shoes. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

I think that they were the employees of the boarding hall.

Before going through this receipt book we only knew of them through brief mentions in other archival material. In his essay “The Dawn of Michigan Agricultural College” James Gunnison, a member of the inaugural class of 1861, mentions that boys used the parlor (in Saint’s Rest) to visit with the “dining-room girls” (UA 17.107 Box 1140 Folder 8). A 1859 letter notes that the following women were employed at the boarding hall: 2 girls to do the laundry, 2 women as cooks, 1 women in the kitchen to wash dishes and do other odd jobs, 2 girls in the dining room to serve, 1 girl for “chamber work”, and 1 girl for the general washing, washing towels for the washing room, and making candles (Madison Kuhn Collection 17.107 Box 1141 Folder 66). Thankfully now we have identifies for at least 33 of the women that worked at the boarding hall in 1866:

  • Mary Bage
  • Mary Bates
  • Ellen Connor
  • Susan Connor
  • Mary Gannon
  • Matilda Gidley
  • Phobe Gidley
  • Mariah Horbeck
  • Martha King
  • Maria Martin
  • Annie Martin
  • Jane Phillips
  • Adelade Place
  • Mary Roller
  • Rachel Roller
  • Lovina Shattuck
  • Barbary Stabler
  • Jane Trembly
  • Mattie Trevallee
  • Pamelia Trevallee
  • Angie Trevallee
  • Millie Trevallee
  • Mollie Trevallee
  • Malvina Trevler
  • Pamelia Trevler
  • Delia Tyler
  • Lucinda Van Horn
  • Susan Wilson
  • Matilda Wilson
  • Mary Young
  • Mollie Young
  • Jennie Young
  • Agusta Young

The 1859 letter indicates that at least 9 women at a time were employed at the boarding hall, and as enrollment grew it’s logical to assume that more women were hired to work on campus. The receipt book also notes when employees left for a period of time, and when new ones began working.

Unfortunately the timing of the employment records, 1866, makes it a little difficult to track down more information on these specific individuals. The 1860 Michigan census can be a bit sketchy, and by 1870 many of these women may have moved out of the area, or gotten married and thus changed their last name (although Pamelia Trevallee appears in the 1870 census still working as a domestic servant in the boarding hall (spelled Travailla in the census)). Most likely these women were in their late teens or early 20s when employed by the university, further complicating finding them by traditional genealogical means (Pamelia Trevallee is 21 in the 1870 census, making her 17 in the 1866 book). Interestingly many of these women share the same last night, suggesting that they are related.

April 1866 - showing purchases and being marked paid. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections
April 1866 – showing purchases and being marked paid. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In the mid 1860s there were approximately 100 students on campus, so why was there the need for so many female employees at the boarding hall (there are male laborers listed in the receipt book but that is a blog for another day). We need to remember that housework in the 19th century was incredibly laborious and highly gender specific.

April 1866 - Barbery Stabler began work at a rate of $2.50 per week. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections
April 1866 – Barbery Stabler began work at a rate of $2.50 per week. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The women were being paid $2.00 – $2.50 per week for their work. It appears the room and board was also included as part of their employment. What I’m seeing in the receipt books appears to be purchases/charges employees made against their weekly payroll. At the end of every month the accounts are balanced, with any remaining money being paid out to the individual.  For example Millie Trevallee charges $11.28 in May and $4.05 in June and is paid $4.90 at the end of June, balancing the ~$20 she would have made for two months work.

These receipt books provide a unique glimpse into the lives of female university employees in the 1860s. Stay turned for The Kitchen Girls Part 2 next week where I will explore the fashionable purchases they were making.

Author: Lisa Bright


Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

UA 17.107 Box 1140 Folder 8

Madison Kuhn Collection 17.107 Box 1141 Folder 66

UA 17.107 Box 2461 Item #40

United States Census 1870 State of Michigan, Ingham County, Town of Meridian schedule 1, page 30


Rim Diameter for President!: An Archaeological Distraction for Your Anxious Election Day

Rim Diameter for President!: An Archaeological Distraction for Your Anxious Election Day

Hopefully, like me, you have already voted today and are awaiting the results.  While we all wait anxiously to hear what the next four years will be like, let me distract you with some good, old fashioned archaeology.  In my last blog post, “Let’s Dine 

Let’s Dine Like It’s 1872!

Let’s Dine Like It’s 1872!

Dining as a student is not quite as classy as it used to be.  In today’s fast paced world, many meals for students are enjoyed on the run or in front of the TV, while others take theirs on a tray in a cafeteria full 

Ten Years Since Saints’ Rest… A Brief History of Campus Archaeology

Ten Years Since Saints’ Rest… A Brief History of Campus Archaeology

For those of us who have been involved in Campus Archaeology for a while, it is hard to believe that it has already been almost a decade since the first MSU excavation occurred. In honor of this, we are beginning the 2015 year by looking back at some of the major finds and events for the program!

2005: Saints’ Rest

Saints Rest in 1857, via MSU Archives and Historical Records
Saints Rest in 1857, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

In 2005, MSU was celebrating its sesquicentennial, its 150th year that it was a university. As part of this celebration, Dr. Lynne Goldstein proposed the excavation of the first dormitory on MSU’s campus. Saints’ Rest was built in 1856, but burned down in 1870 over winter break. Since its demolition, the site had remained open grass and sidewalks, marked only by a small cornerstone. Research into the site revealed that there was a chance that the foundations of the building were still there, and that we could learn more about this early era of campus life. The Saints’ Rest excavation took place in June 2005, and over six weeks, the archaeological team discovered foundation walls, a sand floor and cobblestone floor basement, original stoves that heated the dorm, barrels and buckets of building materials used to maintain the dorm, and dozens of historic artifacts like ceramics, bottles and more. It was a highly successful dig that demonstrated the importance of conducting archaeology on MSU’s campus.

2007-2008: MSU Campus Archaeology Officially Begins with major excavations of  Faculty Row and College Hall

With the importance of conducting archaeological work demonstrated to the university, Campus Archaeology began as a small program dedicated to the protection and mitigation of MSU’s archaeological resources. The goal wasn’t just to excavate known sites, it was also to work with construction crews to prevent destruction of the archaeological record everywhere on campus, as well as to educate the campus community about the importance of these resources in learning more about our university.

The foundation of College Hall. Photo courtesy of University Relations.
The foundation of College Hall. Photo courtesy of University Relations.

Two of the first major digs that occurred in this earliest stage of Campus Archaeology was the excavation of  Faculty Row and College Hall in 2008. New utilities were installed underground near the West Circle dormitories in this year. It was known that the first faculty houses, called Faculty Row collectively, were once located in this area. Prior to replacement of the new utility lines, Campus Archaeology excavated and tested the area around the West Circle dormitories in order to determine if any of the original buildings or materials from Faculty Row remained in this area. Excavation revealed glass bottles, bricks, construction materials, trolley rail spike, and a wooden water pipe, and the stratigraphy revealed a number of landscape and structural modifications from the destruction of Faculty Row

College Hall was the first academic building on MSU’s campus, and after it came down in 1918, its foundations were used to create an Artillery Garage. This didn’t sit well with alumni who had fond memories of this important and historic building, so money was donated to create Beaumont Tower. In 2008, when construction was being completed to update the sidewalks around the tower, Campus Archaeology got the opportunity to find the foundations of College Hall, still beneath Beaumont Tower.

2010 + 2011: First and Second MSU Campus Archaeology Field Schools, and First Prehistoric Site

2010 Field School
2010 Field School

During 2010 and 2011, the MSU Campus Archaeology program had its first archaeological field schools on campus. These field schools gave students the opportunity to do archaeology in their own backyard, and learn archaeological methods without having to travel too far. The field schools revealed a lot of new information about the area within West Circle Drive known as the Sacred Space. They located some of the earliest sidewalks, and found a major trash deposit on what would have been the banks of the old river that used to run through campus. Most important, in 2011, members of the field school discovered the first prehistoric site on campus. While we had found some evidence of prehistoric peoples, it was limited to a few flakes and small stone tools. In 2011, an actual prehistoric fire pit and site was discovered.

2012 + 2014: Morrill Hall Boiler Building and Veterinary Lab Found

Mapping the west wall of what we believe was the Vet Lab.
Mapping the west wall of what we believe was the Vet Lab in 2014

Over the past few years, we’ve made more exciting discoveries, like finding a building that wasn’t on any of the historic MSU maps below East Circle Drive. This building turned out to be a boiler building that provided heat to Morrill Hall and a dairy building when it was first erected in 1900. The boiler was only in use for a couple years, and then was torn down when a newer heating system went into place on campus. The building was forgotten until construction crews revealed it in 2012 digging up the old road to replace the steam tunnels. Another exciting find was last summer, when our archaeologists found the foundation walls of the first Vet Lab under West Circle Drive. The team discovered foundations to the building, as well as some really cool artifacts like keys and metal labels for specimens, as well as animal bones.

2015 and Beyond: Third Field School and More!

This upcoming summer, we are very excited that we will be having the third MSU Campus Archaeology field school, which will teach students proper excavation techniques and archaeological methods on campus. It is an exciting opportunity to excavate our campus and learn more about how our university developed and changed over time. In the past decade, Campus Archaeology has done a lot to improve our understanding of the development of MSU, and it is exciting to look ahead- imagine how much more we’ll learn about MSU in the next decade!


Author: Katy Meyers Emery

The Saints’ Rest Spoon

The Saints’ Rest Spoon

The two trenches dug at the rescue project CAP conducted at Saint’s Rest (1856-1876) this summer were very different in terms of artifacts found. The first trench, located inside of the building, yielded many nails, bits of metal, and other hardware like door knobs and