English Brown Stoneware

by Jean Cascardi – Archaeological Crew Chief

It has been some time since any CART archaeologists have been to Colchester to excavate. If you have been following our blog and weekly updates, you know that most of the winter saw the field crew holed up in the lab to lend a hand with the many indoor tasks that come with the processes of excavation. Since spring, the crew has been working on different compliance projects around the county; looking to the future, the team will be heading back to Colchester to continue excavations around the park. With our return on the horizon I thought I would discuss an interesting artifact CART found excavating on the Enyedi Property in 2014.


The artifact pictured above is a sherd of English Brown stoneware, with a very special detail. If you look closely at the image on the left you will see a round stamp below the rim.

According to the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum Diagnostic Artifacts (JeffPat) webpage English Brown stoneware was patented by John Dwight in 1672. English Brown stoneware can be buff-bodied (like the piece found at Colchester pictured above) with brown slip and salt-glaze. On chronology, in Colonial America and the United States JeffPat suggests that this ceramic type most commonly occurs on sites dating from and around 1690-1775.



The stamp displays the initials “WR.”

Ceramics marked with the “WR” stamp, an excise (or tax) stamp representing William III, were of standardized volumes and are commonly found on archaeological sites associated with ordinaries or taverns. This sherd of English Brown stoneware was recovered from feature context, the in-fill of a dry lain stone foundation on the Enyedi property (shown below).


During the American Colonial period the local governing body attempted to closely control the sale of food and alcohol in establishments such as taverns and ordinaries. One way this was done was through the use of standardized measures- for example, the volume of liquid sold in vessels such as tankards. Based on the circumference of the rim, the artifact pictured above is probably a tankard sherd. In addition to standardized volumes, tavern and ordinary establishments were required by law to post prices for the goods and services offered by the keeper. These two regulations are only glossing over the vast amount of legislation in place regulating these establishments.

There is historical evidence of multiple ordinaries operating in the town of Colchester, as these establishments had to be licensed yearly. Today we know of one location where a tavern operated in Colchester. This is the privately held residence that is still standing today known as the Fairfax Arms (shown below with a 1980s addition to the right).


The Fairfax Arms is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a tavern.

Taverns and ordinaries on the Colonial landscape were common place. Often they are associated with the Colonial travel, along roads and near ferries; but are more often associated as fulfilling a social purpose for the towns in which they were located. In truth they served both these functions, as well as an economic function. Taverns and ordinaries were a place where an out-of-towner could find a meal, a drink, and a bed. Speaking specifically of the Fairfax Arms (a.k.a. the Essex House), one traveler recorded:

“I dined at the Essex House, a commodious tavern or ordinary near the ferry, build partly of stone and partly of wood, the great outside chimneys of stone having capacious fireplaces. The dinner was of smoking venison and fish taken from wood and water that morning, and supplemented with tempting cakes of maize and a pitcher of excellent cider. The rate was one shilling and sixpence which I did not demur at for so good a repast” (Sprouse 1975:63)

Locals used taverns as places to catch up on the news or even local gossip; for both locals and non-locals alike discussed business such as the going market prices for a variety of crops. Taverns and ordinaries were also places where ideas spread. During the lead up to Revolution, in particular, taverns served as places were locations of debate and during the war militia often mustered at taverns. As a tobacco port town with a functioning ferry all of Colchester’s taverns served the full range of economic and social functions.

CART has not yet had the opportunity to examine any known tavern or ordinary sites on the Old Colchester Park and Preserve. However, we plan to return to the Enyedi Property and expand excavations in the vicinity of the dry lain stone foundation. With luck, we will determine the function of the structure associated with this find. The Enyedi Property would have been “officially” outside the boundary of the 1754 Town of Colchester according to the map. Though CART archaeologists do suspect a strong and close relationship between the residents of this structure and the town of Colchester.


Several Colonial period taverns have been excavated in our region. These investigations provide researchers with a wealth of information pertaining to the daily lives of different people who frequented these establishments. What other types of artifacts would you expect to find on a tavern site? Do you think that these types of artifacts would vary regionally? Would they vary from town to town? Would these artifacts change based on location; such as port town, city, or rural neighborhoods?


Further Readings and References:

Archeological Society of Maryland. (2015). Out of the Ordinary: Tavern Archeology in Maryland. Maryland State Highway Administration. Retrieved from https://mht.maryland.gov/documents/pdf/archeology/MAM-Booklet-2015.pdf.

Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. (2016). Jefpat.org. Retrieved 27 August 2016, from http://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/ColonialCeramics/Colonial%20Ware%20Descriptions/English-Brown.html

Ensign Edward M. Riley. (1943). The Ordinaries of Colonial Yorktown. The William and Mary Quarterly, 23(1), 8-26. doi:1. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1920360 doi:1

Rockman, D., & Rothschild, N. (1984). City Tavern, Country Tavern: An Analysis of Four Colonial Sites. Historical Archaeology, 18(2), 112-121. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25615502

Sprouse, Edith Moore. (1975). Colchester: Colonial Port on the Potomac. Fairfax County Office of Comprehensive Planning in cooperation with the Fairfax County History Commission. Fairfax, Virginia.

Struzinski, Steven. (2002). The Tavern in Colonial America. The Gettysburg Historical Journal, Volume 1, Article 7. Retrieved from http://cupola.gettysburg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=ghj

Watson, A. (1968). ORDINARIES IN COLONIAL EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA. The North Carolina Historical Review, 45(1), 67-83. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23518134





About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Artifacts, Colchester. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to English Brown Stoneware

  1. Pingback: Rhenish Stoneware | C.A.R.T. Archaeology

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