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Drive down any rural or suburban road in Maryland on a summer’s day, beneath the trees and the dappled sunlight. Try to imagine what your surroundings looked like a century ago. Two centuries ago. Contrary to popular belief, the area through which you are driving probably was not forested.

Larkington map
Throughout much of Maryland, and the Eastern United States, much of the land had been cleared by the end of the 1800s and one could see for miles from almost any point. As farmers moved to cities and suburban tract housing replaced many farms, trees returned to the landscape. Where a passerby in 1900 might have seen several farms and, perhaps, a water vista, the modern suburbanite can’t see more than a block or two, the view obscured by trees.

Among the newly grown trees, sometimes in entirely unexpected places, archaeologists find sites. Some were occupied for decades, others for centuries, and some for millennia. Larkington in east-central Anne Arundel County, Maryland, has been occupied for centuries, first by Native Americans, then by European Americans. Unfortunately, archaeologists weren’t the first to find this site, and much has been lost to illicit digging by local artifact collectors. Nonetheless, archaeological excavations in the summer of 2005 revealed some interesting information about life on the Mayo peninsula from around A.D. 500 to the first quarter of the 20th century. This is a story about the people who lived above Glebe Bay.

Indian Life on the South River

Crushed oyster shell made visible by a nearby fence-post excavation
Crushed oyster shell made visible by a nearby fence-post excavation

Native Americans used land extensively, camping by a marsh for a few days to collect roots and hunt birds, then moving to the banks of the Chesapeake Bay or a tributary to collect oysters and to fish, then moving inland to hunt deer and collect various foodstuffs. Sometimes an entire group of two or more households moved, other times just a few individuals decamped long enough to use some distant resource, returning to the larger group with the foods or materials that they had collected on their trip. Native Americans periodically visited the shores surrounding Glebe Bay and Brewer Creek on the South River for millennia to collect and process oysters. In their wake, they left little besides a pile of oyster shell, possibly some bits of stone tools and pottery, and a few bones from fish or game, or burned hickory nuts.

Oyster shell
(From a nearby prehistoric site) Beneath several inches of recent humus, you can see a layer of oyster shell damaged by plowing

Plowing over the years has damaged or destroyed the piles of shell and archaeologists often consider themselves fortunate to find a few intact deposits of shell and artifacts. At Larkington, the traces of aboriginal occupation from a millennium or more ago were visible on the surface…fragmented oyster shell that had been pulverized by plowing and human traffic. Sherds of pottery similar to those found at other sites allowed the archaeological team to date the aboriginal component of the site to the centuries between AD 500 and 900, a period we refer to as the Selby Bay Phase of the Middle Woodland. These people didn’t t have a writing system—at least not one that has survived. In the absence of a preserved language, archaeologists make up their own terms to describe past cultures.

Only one very small area (less than two feet square) of intact oyster shell, perhaps two shell layers thick, was found and it produced only a dozen small pottery sherds and two flakes of a metamorphosed volcanic stone that geologists call rhyolite. Rhyolite (pronounced rye-o-lite) is not native to the area and had to come from around modern-day Frederick or points west, indicating long-distance trade. The pottery is thick-walled earthenware with large oyster shell inclusions that served as temper. (Potters then as now included temper into clay to allow the material to dry thoroughly and evenly before firing, and to reduce the chances of breakage during firing.) Unfortunately, there were no animal bones or burned plant material among the shells that would have shed some light on what these people ate and how they moved across the landscape. The few aboriginal finds at Larkington add little to our understanding of Native American cultures…those finds simply confirm what archaeologists have learned from better preserved sites elsewhere in the region.

Mockley pottery sherds Rhyolite flakes and projectile point

Mockley pottery sherds (left) and rhyolite flakes and projectile point (right)

What became of these people? Did they die out? Or did their descendents encounter newly arrived Europeans in the 1630s? We do not know, although groups of Native Americans still living in Maryland and Virginia have oral traditions through which they understand their history. Perhaps someday archaeologists will learn those traditions and find ways of relating archaeological finds to Native traditions.

Middle Woodland Subsitence Model
Middle Woodland Subsitence Model



In the late 1990s, archaeologist Phillip Hill conducted an extensive investigation of a small wooded lot in the midst of a residential community on the Mayo Peninsula. The owners wanted to build a house on the site; however, federal and state historic preservations laws required that the historical value of the site first be determined and, if the site proved significant, then the owners either had to avoid damaging the site or fund archaeological salvage of the information for which the site was deemed important.

Oyster shell indicating previous looting

A depression with shell and brick  indicate where looters dug


Dr. Hill found the remains of several buildings and artifacts dating back to the 1700s. He also noted that he was not the first one on this archaeological site…there were numerous indications that people had been digging around the site, presumably in search of artifacts. Searching through Anne Arundel County’s land records, Hill established that the land was once owned by the Brewer family and they called it Larkington. He recommended to the state and federal agencies that Larkington was historically significant, and they agreed.

In 2005, Gibb Archaeological Consulting undertook a more extensive investigation of the site, the owners deciding that they wanted to develop the lot and it was worth funding an archaeological recovery project. Data from Dr. Hill’s excavations, combined with those recovered from 17 excavation units, each measuring five feet on a side, were documented in a lengthy technical report (about 180 pages of text, tables, and illustrations, not including appendices). This web page summarizes what we found and what we learned.

Field working
Grantor Grantee Instrument Date Acres Description
Margaret B. Kenney Glebe Bay LLP Deed 6122/774 1993 Lot 60
Mary O. Collinson, John & Mary M. Collinson, Thomas & Margaret Kenney Deed 629/260 1951 27.8 Lot 1 of Larkington
Mary E. Collinson John Collinson (II) Deed 282/287 1943 27.8 Lot 1 of Larkinton
John Collinson (I) Mary E. Collinson & children Will OBD2 238/389 1932 ? Lots 1-4 of Larkington
Nicholas Brewer Mary E. Collinson [nee Brewer] EquityGW63/107 1892, 1915 40.75 Larkington Farm
Joseph A. Robinson Nicholas Brewer Will OBD1 47/280 1916 100 Larkington Farm
Nicholas Brewer Joseph A. Robinson Deed of Division SH20/192 & 193 1882 100 Larkington
Joseph A. Robinson Nicholas Brewer Deed of Division SH20/192 & 193 1882 50 Larkington
Joseph N. Brewer (I) Joseph N. Brewer/Nicholas Brewer Will TTSI 40/422 1841 300 Halves of Larkington Farm
William Brewer Joseph Newton Brewer (I) Will JG2 37/545 1811 300 Larkington
[William Brewer I] [William Brewer II] ? ?  
Eleanor Brewer William Brewer Will 111/201 ? 300 Larkinton
John Brewer (III)r Eleanor Brewer Will 111/201 1754 Larkinton
John Brewer (II) John Brewer (III) Will ? 1730 300 Larkinton
John Brewer (I) John Brewer (II) Will 2/202 1690 700  
Cecil, Lord Baltimore John Brewer (I) Patent 11/135; Pat 11/462 1667 300 Larkinton
John Larkin John Brewer (I) Assignment ? [300]  
Ellis Brown John Larkin Assignment ? [300]  
Cecil, Lord Baltimore Ellis Brown Survey; see MD Rent Rolls 1707 1652 300 unnamed

Building on Dr. Hill’s research, we examined different kinds of documents at the Maryland State Archives and Anne Arundel County Courthouse, both in Annapolis, including: land records, census es, and probate records (last wills and testaments, estate accounts, etc.). This table summarizes the chain of title for the land; which is to say, it documents who owned the land and when.

Lord Baltimore granted John Brewer 300 acres in 1667. Most of that 300 acres remained in Brewer family hands through the late 1800s and into the early years of the 20th century. In his 1809 Last Will & Testament, William Brewer bequeathed to his eldest son, Joseph Newton Brewer, all of his apparel, furnishings, stock, slaves, and the 300-acre Larkinton (as it was then spelled) tract.

Martenet map
Hopkins Map
(left) Martenet map of Anne Arundel County, detail (1860); (right) Hopkins atlas of Anne Arundel County, detail (1878)

Although not, in and of itself, an unusual bequest, the terms of the will were distinctly archaic: “It is my desire that the entail shall stand good and go from heir to heir as mentioned in my Great grandfather’s will who was the entailer thereof.” The entail, probably initiated by John Brewer in 1690, was a legal instrument that prohibited division of an estate and required its passage from one generation to the next by way of the eldest surviving son. This medieval and early modern practice was largely abandoned in the United States and restricted in its enforceability in the early 1800s.

Joseph N. Brewer did not sustain the entail, possibly because he lacked sufficient wealth to set up his younger son, possibly because its observance flew in the face of the realities of the mid-1800s agricultural economy. His will, written three weeks before his death in January of 1841, divided Larkington between his sons, Joseph N. Brewer (II) and Nathaniel N. Brewer. Joseph (the eldest) received “half of my farm, on which I now reside, called Larkington.” Joseph (I) earmarked money from the sale of his estate in neighboring Calvert County for payment of debts and, ultimately, conveyed his movable property to his daughters, Rebecca Robinson, Mary Jane Brewer, and Sarah Ann Brewer. His sons, however, could retain use of that movable property for a period of five years, another indication that the father lacked the capital necessary to set up both of his sons in the manner in which he had hoped.

Part of Larkington, Plat GW62/107, January 26, 1892
Part of Larkington, Plat GW62/107, January 26, 1892

In 1882, Nathaniel N. Brewer and Joseph A. Robinson executed simultaneous deeds that divided the lands of the late Joseph N. Brewer. Joseph Robinson, Joseph Brewer’s nephew, inherited the land upon which the archaeological site is located. He was a farmer and, in his later years, a carpenter. Robinson died in 1916, at which point the site appears to have been abandoned and the property sold to the Collinson family who, in turn, sold it in 1951 to the Kenney family. John Collinson had earlier acquired the other part of Larkington from his father-in-law Nathaniel “Newton” Brewer.


At Larkington Dr. Hill found not one site, but two: a house and some artifacts dating to the mid-1700s and two buildings and a well dating to the mid-1800s. Gibb Archaeological Consulting explored these buildings and the intervening spaces.

Site plan
Excavation units; architectural remains in bold
Cannibalised brick

The earliest of the three was a small house, possibly built entirely of brick, with a cellar and a stone-lined well. Artifacts recovered from within the cellar indicated that it was built sometime in the late 1700s and likely was occupied into the early 20th century. Local collectors had dug inside of the cellar looking for artifacts, but they were beat to the punch by some person or persons intent on salvaging brick from the structure. The salvers left behind them a ring of backdirt and brick scattered over much of the site’s surface.

Our excavations exposed portions of four walls, allowing the field crew to estimate the size of the cellar. It measured only 16 feet by 13 feet. The excavations also demonstrated that the east wall had failed and would have collapsed into the building had the structure not been dismantled sometime in the early 20th century. We also learned that the occupants had installed an oyster shell floor in the basement. This house likely was occupied by at least three generations of Brewers, including Joseph Robinson.

Brick foundation

Brick well
A portion of the exposed structural remains (left) and a possible well (right)

Just to the north of the brick dwelling we found a stone foundation that Dr. Hill had described as D-shaped and possibly part of a springhouse. Our more intensive excavations revealed a 6 ft diameter stone feature that likely represents a well associated with the house.

The other two buildings were situated to the east of the brick building. They consisted of fieldstone foundations, unmortared, on which presumably wood frame structures were erected. The largest foundation had been damaged, possibly when the building was demolished in the 20th century, so we couldn’t determine its full size or configuration. The drawing offers two interpretations: the first a 25 ft by 14 ft dwelling of two rooms with a fireplace at one end (the “hall”) and a parlor stove chimney at the other. The other, less likely model is twice as large and assumes that the fireplace was centered on the east wall. The dwelling may have housed African American families, two different families having resided on Robinson’s land in 1900 and 1910.

Well plan Well photo
Structure plan

A nearby well that was repaired in the early 20th century, but built sometime in the 19th century, served this house (illustrated plan-view upper-left and photo above).
A third building appears to have been unheated and, therefore, probably served as an outbuilding (plan to the left). It measured 16 ft by 12 ft. Recovered from within and around—aside from a large number of late historic ceramic and glass sherds—were an oarlock and a pitchfork (lower left and lower right respectively). We suspect the building became a dumping area, but was initially intended for equipment storage or as Robinson’s carpentry shop. It had been extensively disturbed by artifact collectors.

Oar lock Pitch fork

What have we learned?

Larkington is a fascinating site because it was occupied by Native Americans a thousand years ago and then again by European Americans from sometime in the late 1700s to the early 1900s. There was even some evidence in the form of early 1700s artifacts and bits of burned clay that suggested an earlier occupation extending to the northeast onto an adjoining parcel. Such an early to middle 1700s house would have been built on poles or logs set into the ground, the fireplace and chimney built of woven branches plastered with clay (the source of the daub).

Unfortunately, the site was badly damaged by artifact collectors whose pits damaged foundations and spoiled the layers of soil that allow archaeologists to distinguish deposits from different periods. We have no idea what these collectors removed from the site, but we do know that their activities seriously compromised the site’s ability to yield information about the Brewers, Joseph Robinson, and the two African American households whose family names in the US decennial census are illegible. Plowing and building by the Brewer family destroyed most of the Native American deposits.

The archaeological evidence clearly indicates that Native Americans occupied the Larkington site throughout the first millennium or more of the modern era, but most intensively between AD 500 and 900. The traces that we uncovered represent small parts of what probably were sophisticated systems of movement, with entire groups or small portions of those groups moving back and forth between locations known to yield certain kinds of resources at relatively fixed times of the year. This elaborately choreographed system of resource use may well have allowed these people to exist comfortably and in concert with other groups and populations of competing species.

Precisely when the first Europeans occupied Larkington remains uncertain. Artifacts and some architectural debris suggests early in the 1700s, but that occupation appears to have extended only slightly into the northwest corner of the lot. The house and other deposits may survive in the houselot to the north and the undeveloped woodland o the northeast.

Wine bottles
Free-blown wine bottles with applied string-rims

Occupation in the late 1700s and through the following century and more is indisputable. A Brewer, probably William, built the small brick house. He had a cellar beneath the house where he stored wine, possibly in barrels from which he decanted Spanish and Portuguese ports into empty hand-blown wine bottles.

 The substantial, if small, brick house, the wine cellar, and the entail on the estate all point to expressions of gentility and independence. William Brewer was an 18th-century man who died in the early 19th century, a time when the older values began to slip away and economic prowess became more important than gentility and learning.

William’s descendents lived in a very different world in which people thought of their holdings as farms, not as estates. They increasingly sought to improve crop yields and livestock. But not all forgot their Colonial roots. There are some indications that Joseph Robinson, like many of his contemporaries from the 1880s through the 1920s, Joseph, apparently a lifelong bachelor, may have participated in the Colonial Revival. This largely aesthetic movement espoused all things Colonial, particularly in architecture and furnishings. Proponents decried the new industrialism that dominated the country and yearned for allegedly simpler times and more enduring values that did not include vulgar acquisition.

Ceramics Teacup
Some early ceramics from Larkinton include (clockwise from upper left) shell-edged ware, blue transfer-printed wares, annular whiteware, and Nottinghamware. Also found is a Japanese porcelain teacup (right)

Joseph had an advantage if he chose to participate in this movement. He owned and occupied a house that, if not Colonial (pre-1776) could at least pass as such. His interior furnishings were plain, especially the simple white dishes devoid of obtrusive designs and, possibly, by the retention of some heirloom ceramics from the early 1800s. We recovered little from the site to suggest participation in the extravagant consumerism of the late Victorian era, although a Japanese porcelain sugar bowl (pictured above ) indicates that Joseph was not oblivious to new fashions.

There is an African American story to tell at Larkington as well, although the lack of relevant archival information makes it a difficult story to ferret out. We recovered several medicine bottles, at least one of which was for small children and manufactured after 1882.

The central bottle was panel molded and reads: “Dr. J.W. Bull’s Baby Syrup

Joseph Robinson had no children, but the African American families listed in the 1900 and 1910 censuses both had small children. Both families may have cared for the aging Robinson, while farming his land and oystering, and may have continued occupying the site for several years after Robinson’s death.

Since Joseph Robinson’s death, the site has reverted to forest. The only recent human activities on the site have been to poke around the ruins, either to remove artifacts illicitly and, unfortunately destructively, or to uncover material in a systematic, scientific manner in which artifact relationships to other artifacts, buildings, and soils are carefully documented. Both activities ultimately destroy sites, but one is an end in and of itself, with little or no public benefit; the other applies scientific methods to the study of the past in the hopes that something might be learned and shared with others. Archaeology can provide a light in the forest.


(Left to right) two ornamental copper buckles, and copper button and a bone-carved button