Atlantic World Research

The Dickinson Store Site

Dickinson Store
The Dickinson Store ruin, near Franks Bay in Southampton Bermuda, sits right beside the waters of the Great Sound, making it an ideal place to load and unload goods. Largely intact despite the loss of its roof, this two story building functioned as both a dwelling (upper story) and storehouse.

Initial excavations at the Dickinson Store Ruin in Southampton Parish, Bermuda were conducted during July of 2007 with the kind permission of the Hess family, to whom we are deeply indebted for allowing this research to be conducted on their property. The goals of this phase of the project were to assess the viability of the site for large scale block excavation, determine the degree to which archaeological deposits were present and intact, and evaluate whether this property was a suitable candidate for studying the role of trade and smuggling during the mid to late 18th century.

Initial testing was concentrated around the walls of a ruin on the property.The surviving architectural features of the building, including some of the earliest and most unique "eyebrows" over the windows yet discovered in Bermuda, suggest a construction date between 1720 and 1740. Additionally, the building appears on historic maps and is mentioned in its owners deeds during the 18th century. Two 5x5 ft. excavation units were opened on the south side of the house outside of its inland facing windows, while two others were placed on the waterfront side of the building near doors, also in the hopes of finding evidence of trade and activity associated with the house. The two units on the uphill side of the building were particularly intriguing, as the deposits were sealed beneath a thick layer of broken roofing tiles, presumably deposited when the original roof was either salvaged or blown off in a hurricane, sometime during the early 19th century. These units yielded a large volume of historic ceramics, including a sizeable quantity of French faience (a tin-glazed ceramic) which was a diagnostic artifact that we had identified as being a potential indicator of smuggling, as its opportunity for legal entry into the British colony of Bermuda was limited. The test units close to the ocean front side of the ruin proved to be quite shallow, but also contained significant artifacts. Sealed, intact deposits dating from at least the mid-18th century through the early 19th-century were thus discovered on both sides of the building, confirming the hypothesized age of the building and suggesting a strong potential for further research into trade and smuggling, as well as 18th-century Bermudian domestic life and seafaring.

Testing on the south side of the property of the Dickinson store ruin focused on the search for another, potentially older home that appeared as a ruin on several historic maps dating to about 1900 and earlier. The ruin is depicted as a cruciform on these historic maps, a common design for elite Bermudian houses (such as Infield or Tankfield) in the late 17th and early 18th century. Several units were opened in the upper lawn to see if this earlier dwelling could be discovered. Although scattered ceramics and pipestems dating to the 17th century were located, no conclusive evidence of a foundation or building trace was discovered. It appears that modern grading in the area, particularly associated with construction of the current driveway, may well have disturbed evidence for this early settlement on the property. The possibility remains, however, that further evidence for this building, in this or adjacent areas, may still be discovered.

Dickinson Store
A sample of the some ceramics located at the Dickinson Store Site. Includes Delft, Faience, Molded Pearlwares, Shell-Edged Pearlwares, Speckled Field Pearlware, Chinese Porcelain, Philadelphia Slipware, and Hand Blown Bottle Glass.

This property was chosen for testing was because it was closely associated with John Dickinson and Edward Stiles. Historical research demonstrated these two Bermudians had significant connections and business relationships with Philadelphia merchants during the 18th century, merchants who were in turn associated with the Elizabeth Furnace site we had been previously studying in Pennsylvania. John Dickinson was connected to Elizabeth Furnace through Philadelphian and smuggler John Stamper, who was a business associate of Dickinson, who carried cargoes for Stamper from his Philadelphia wharf. Stamper, in turn, was a business partner with the owners of Elizabeth Furnace. Edward Stiles was also directly connected to the furnace through his business partner Isaac Cox, who co-owned half the Pennsylvania town of Manheim with the Stedman brothers and with Stiegel. Cox also partnered with Stiegel in his Manheim glassworks factory. According to property histories we have compiled, the Dickinson Store site was originally part of Norwood Share 24 which was owned in the 1660's by Capt. Robert Dickinson. Upon his death in 1675 his property was divided into two shares (25 acres per portion), the western share given to his eldest son Francis Dickinson, and the Eastern most share (upon which the ruin sits) given to his son John Dickinson. This eastern share passed to John Dickinson II, the son of John Dickinson. During our research we located a Surveyor General's map of this eastern share from 1760 which directly names John Dickinson (II) as the landowner. By the 1770's John Dickinson had sold off a great deal of his property, keeping only 6 acres on the northern part of the share. Edward Stiles lived to the West of the remaining 6 acres. Thus these two merchants and smugglers, who are interrelated by marriage and have similar business concerns, were in fact living next door to each other during the 18th century. The historical and archaeological significance of the ruin site and its surrounding area is thus considerable, particularly in terms of testing the hypothesis that these individuals were involved in smuggling with Pennsylvanians as documents indicate.