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Aptucxet and its Role in the Late Nineteenth to Twentieth Centuries

An archaeological site is not merely a collection of broken pottery, pipe stems, bones and features, it is a product of history. Any site is a product of the historical period during which it was a homesite, farm, factory or battlefield at which people lived, worked and died. After the site has been abandoned it is transformed by time and weather to become an archaeological site. When the site is excavated it then has the potential to become more than it ever was. The "truth" concerning the site will never be known. When I say this I mean that we will never know who exactly it was who butchered that sheep or broke that dish. We can hypothesize that since men usually were the ones who butchered the animals, then we can say that possibly, maybe, Mr. X was the one who butchered this sheep and his wife Mrs. X is the one who dropped that dish. But, on a greater level than the mere interpretation of the activities at a site, the interpretation of site within a larger cultural context is largely a product of the culture that excavates and interprets it.

The Aptucxet site is just such a site that was and is interpreted as a result of the culture that excavated and reanalyzed it. The original Aptucxet of the seventeenth century was a relatively small structure located in a cove at the southern end of the Manamet River. It was possibly used for as little as two years or as many as eight. The Plymouth Colony saw it as a stepping stone, as a middleman in their attempts to repay their backers in England. Its initial function was negated by the Dutch from the New Netherlands when they supplied the English with wampumpeag and suckahoc beads. These beads were then brought to Maine to be traded to natives there. Aptucxet was probably abandoned and was destroyed in 1635 during one of the worst hurricanes on record. In the eyes of the Plymouth Colony, Aptucxet had served its inceptual purpose, it had supplied them with trade beads and it was not a great loss to see it destroyed.

The site disappeared, as did people's memories of the location of it. No one knew of Aptucxet until the middle of the nineteenth century when the nation was looking to its past for social and political purposes. Aptucxet became one of a number of sites and historical places that were visited due to their association with the Plymouth colonists. A pair of cellarholes in a field in present day Bourne, Massachusetts were assigned the identification as the site of Aptucxet. Three quarters of a century later, at the height of the tricentennial of the landing of the Pilgrims, the site was excavated and reconstructed. This reconstruction was based on the knowledge available to the investigator at the time and the site became a symbol to the town of its connections to Plymouth.

Recently, in 1994 and 1995, the collections of the site were reanalyzed and new fieldwork was carried out at the site. Building upon the knowledge available in 1926, the assemblage that would be expected at such an early site was deduced and the artifactual assemblage recovered from the site was tested against it. The artifacts were found not to date from 1627 to 1635 but from c. 1673 to 1730. The site was discovered to most likely have been the farmstead of Ezra Perry II, one of the earliest settlers of Bourne.

Knowing that the site had been misinterpreted for almost three-quarters of a century, it would be simple enough to have said, well, the old interpretation was just wrong and now we know better. But to do that would be to loose sight of the most important element of this research. The old interpretation was a product of two contributing factors that had come together at just the right moment in time to create a legend surrounding the site. The first factor was the creation of a "powerful and pervasive tradition..a distinctive genre in American folklore called..'The Pilgrim Story'" (Baker 1994:344). The story of the Plymouth colonists suddenly became a unique driving force in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. It was a story which people felt could be shared by all, whether you are of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant old New England heritage, or more importantly if you are one of the tired and huddled masses immigrating into America at the time.

The legend created a history for America that it had longed for. It justified the right to rule by the dominant classes and tempered the Melting Pot with its promises of hard work and struggle to reach the zenith in turn of the century America. Just as Victorian England was seen as the pinnacle of civilization, so to did America yearn to be seen as an equal to Victorian England. Every patriot's, whether old family or new, turned their eyes to the seventeenth century New England past. As a result, the bones of the Pilgrim fathers were unearthed and sites were discovered which had been trod upon by Pilgrim soles. Those sites were venerated and any town that was fortunate enough to own one such site, was part of the story of the Pilgrims.

At the same time, an era of economic depression was sweeping through Cape Cod. Large factories such as the Sandwich Glass works were leaving or going out of business and people were leaving their small town homes and values. "The stresses of American society frightened many people who saw their old small town ways changing or coming under attack." and all that the people on Cape Cod felt that they could do was to sit back and watch it happen (Baker 1994:350). A new hope dawned for those towns that were hit by the depression in the late nineteenth century. Tourism was seen as an answer, as the savior that would allow towns to recover their financial freedom. Thankfully for the town of Bourne, they had within their town an archaeological site which was believed to associated with the very Pilgrims on whom so much attention was focusing.

The Aptucxet Trading Post became a symbol to the towns people of the small Cape Cod town. Plymouth was the foundation of American Democracy on which the country's government had been built, but here in Bourne was the Foundation of American Commerce. Visit Plymouth, and then come to Bourne and hear the rest of the story, and while youre here, shop and spend.

Truly, in the twentieth century Aptucxet was and is more important than it ever was in the seventeenth. It proved to be an impetus still felt in the town. It still attracts tourists who wish to learn of the trade in "wampum money" which was carried out at this site, who want to hear the guides speak of the trials and tribulations faced by the Pilgrims when they were trying to pay off their debts.

The study of American mythology and legend creation is truly a fascinating realm. Learning what elements of the legends are factual and what are not, and especially learning when and how the legends were created, can lead to insights into the national culture of the present day United States. By discovering why we believe what we believe, we can truly understand and appreciate the culture we live in today. By being aware that archaeological sites are interpreted the way they are, even to this day, helps us to avoid the pitfalls and snares which have entangled other researchers in the past in our search for the "truth".

Future Research Directions

The Aptucxet Trading Post Museum Site does not appear to be the location of the 1627 Plymouth Colony trading house at Manamet. Although the site originally identified as such as early as 1852, the 1994 reanalysis of the 1926 collections and the 1995 field school failed to yield any traces of an early seventeenth century occupation. The fact that negative evidence would not be considered as a satisfactory indication of presence of an early seventeenth century site. As a result, it can be stated with a high degree of confidence that of the three hypothesis which were to be tested at this site, only the final one is born out.

Our tight testing pattern around the house and the intensive excavation Unit testing showed that there were no early seventeenth century remains present in this area. This eliminates hypothesis one that the structure present is the original trading house, or that the trading house was in the immediate vicinity of the structure. Our testing of the remainder of the Bourne Historical Society Property indicated that other sites do exist, including one small Native site, but that there is no evidence of any early seventeenth century occupation anywhere on the property. This eliminates hypothesis two, that the trading house was not where Lombard excavated but was on the property somewhere. This leaves us with hypothesis three, which stated that the trading house is not on this property but is somewhere else.

Our failure to locate the site was not due to limited testing strategy or to the fact that we did not excavate deep enough. We did not find it because it is not there. In all actuality, what we did find is actually more exciting than the 1627 trading house. We have discovered the remains of a structure built during the tumultuous times of the late seventeenth century on what was once one of Plymouth Colonys frontiers. Due to Lombards excavations and the preservation work which he initiated and which was pursued over the years by the Bourne Historical Society, a large percentage of a late seventeenth century farm has been saved from development. The features which were found only hint at the incredible archaeological resources which remain to be investigated at the site. The possible palisade trench, the possible blacksmiths shop and the extensive artifactual remains in the south and west yards remain as mere glimpses of what can be considered one of the few, if not the only, late seventeenth century farm complexes to remain virtually intact.

The site has the potential to yield information concerning the yard layout of a seventeenth century farm. Remains which are yet to be recovered from the site can be speculated to include the floorplans or a barn, dairy, smith shop, animal pens, fencelines and garden beds. With the proper excavation strategy, the whole layout of this farm could be reconstructed. This would make it unique in New England archaeology.

Questions which remain to be answered include the following: What is the exact nature of the possible Palisade trench? Is this the correct identification for this feature? How long is it? What doe the junction of the west and south lines look like? Where exactly is the stone paving that Lombard and Hornblower excavated? Is it in the area postulated by the 1995 excavations? Was it truly related to a blacksmiths shop? Why is there such a difference in artifact concentrations between the north and east yards and the south and west yards? What activities are evident in the south and west yards? Where are the fencelines and outbuildings? These are only some of the questions which the need to be investigated at the site.

I agree with Barbara Luedtke that any more development at the site should be closely monitored to prevent further damage to the archaeological remains. Area of new activity should be tested and closely monitored to avoid impacting any more of the site and archaeological testing should be done if the parking lot is ever removed.

This report does not have to be the end of the story of Aptucxet. In fact, in light of the incredible amount of material which has been recovered to date, it can be just the beginning. The Aptucxet Trading Post Museum Site is not the site of the 1627 trading house, but there is a good chance that the site may still exist at the end of the Cape Cod Canal. Archaeological testing in the area where it is believed that the site lies could confirm the authors suspicions and lay to rest the question of where the site is.