Duxbury dig finds signs of Pilgrim dwelling

Archeologists and volunteers believe they may have found evidence of a house built around 1630 in Duxbury by Elder William Brewster, the chief religious leader of the Pilgrims.

“It’s really, really rare to have a site that early — really rare to find the location of a first-period house,” said Patrick Browne, director of Duxbury’s historical society, which sponsored a just-concluded archeological dig on the site.

The same words being used for the Brewster site —“very rare” — were used for the recent discovery of an intact 18th-century woodworker’s shop with original benches and tool shelves, also found in Duxbury. Specialists in early American architecture and woodworking called that discovery “the rarest of the rare.”

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The Brewster house site has long been known to historians, but physical evidence for a 17th-century house has been lacking.

Under the direction of archeologist Craig Chartier, director of the Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project, 25 to 30 volunteers a day began the painstaking process last month of digging through the dirt in a 40- by 60-foot area with hand trowels to look for signs of human activity and habitation.

Their work produced numerous artifacts for study and analysis, including arrowheads, pottery shards, a 1720s coin, window lead likely from a 17th-century house, bricks, mortar, and plaster. Some of the arrowheads were thousands of years old. Personal artifacts such as buttons, remains of buckles, and a boot are more recent than that, but go back to the earliest eras of European settlement.

Volunteers drew scores of artifacts from the site. “A lot from the 18th century, some from the 17th century,” Browne said.

Historians and history lovers in a region proud of its Pilgrim forebears hope that Chartier’s analysis of the findings will provide answers to the site’s major questions: Did Brewster build his “first-period” 17th-century house here? Did his ancestors, or others, build an 18th-century house on the same site?

“It really looks like he [Chartier] found Brewster’s house, and that an 18th-century house was put on top of it,” Browne said after wrapping up the dig.

First-period homes were built by the Pilgrims, who arrived in Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620. They lived in small houses within a walled village on land held in common until the division of the colony’s land.

Historians believe Brewster moved to his site around 1632 — the exact date is not known — from the Pilgrims’ Plymouth village and built a house between the years of 1628 and 1632. Land belonging to Plymouth colony, including Duxbury, Kingston, and parts of Marshfield, was granted to Plymouth Colony members a little before that time.

“They were given big farm grants, from Plymouth all the way up to Marshfield,” Browne said. “What you got was the luck of the draw.”

The Duxbury site also draws significance from the prominence of its owner.

“Brewster was one of the organizers of the colony back in England. He started the whole thing,” Browne said.

The Duxbury Rural and Historical Society, which acquired the property in the 1940s, had been planning to dig there for a long time, Browne said. “We know this was a special site.”