Thomas Ireland , stood on the sidewalk outside of his fine brick home built flush on the street. The exterior showed two doors, one for his residence and the other for his office, a common practice in the county. He swelled with pride to think of how in these years since he had come to this small town in 1820, he had built his business and his reputation. Thomas was a learned man, not distinguished, but he had a good mind and a discipline for hard work and thriftiness. While he wasn't the town's leading citizen, he was well-known and well liked and like most of the other businessmen, he spent considerable time in the local tavern socializing.
He remembered the journey he and his wife had taken to Cincinnati some thirty miles to the south. It was arduous trip by horseback taking a full day and they stayed overnight. He had closed up the business for three days.
He remembered reading the announcement in the paper. President James Monroe had been besieged by the Congress to invite the Marquis de Lafayette to visit the United States. Lafayette accepted and had arrived in New York in August of 1824 where he received a tumultuous reception during his four day stay. "The Marquis" had returned as a venerable symbol of a past heroic era.
Thomas remembered reading about Lafayette's offer to serve as a volunteer, to aid the American colonists, at his own expense to fight for our countrys freedom, and how after having been made a major general by the congress, he was introduced to George Washington and a lifetime friendship was started.
Thomas had always loved the stories of Lafayette's brilliance and resilience: of how he was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine; of how he, with Washington, spent the harsh winter at Valley Forge thus earning the nickname "the soldier's friend"; of how he defeated a force of Hessian soldiers with a contingent of only 300 men; of how when he was surprised by an overwhelming force of men commanded by British General Grant, he was able to withdraw his troops and artillery without loss; of how when returning to France for the purpose of gaining French help to fight the war, he put down a mutiny and scheme to have him given up to the British government; of how he had secured the French alliance, which ultimately helped win the war; of how after the war, despite his popularity in France, he was imprisoned and then exiled; and how the American Revolution had impoverished him after having spent more than $200,000 of his own money assisting the colonies.
To Thomas and most other Americans, Lafayette was a hero of epic proportions. Although Thomas had never been a soldier, this Max stirred within him strong patriotic feelings. Here was a man clearly dedicated to the highest of American ideals. Now that Lafayette was again coming to America, Thomas was intent upon seeing him.
Thomas followed the stories in the local paper which carried news of Lafayette's fourteen month tour of the 24 states and major cities. Wherever he visited, he was greeted by crowds of people, enthusiasm, reverence and affection unlike anything seen in America. As for Lafayette, he thrived on the attention and was described by Thomas Jefferson, whom he visited, as having "a canine appetite for popularity and fame." Everywhere, he was followed by military escorts and bands for miles along his route. At every stop he was feted and banqueted.
He traveled to Philadelphia, Baltimore, then Washington D.C. and Monticello, on to New Orleans and from there into the Middle West.
Thomas was not at all surprised at the news story about when Lafayette was coming northward he survived, apparently without effect despite his age of sixty-seven, the sinking of his steamboat just below Louisville on the Ohio River.
What a thrill it had been to see this man, this great American hero. In person, Lafayette was as tall and powerfully built as his reputation. Those days of celebrating and travel had offered a welcome change from the daily routine of life in this small town.
Thomas wholeheartedly agreed with the decision by Congress to make a gift to Lafayette of $200,000 and a grant of land in Louisiana. He wished he could have been in Boston to see Lafayette commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill or at the White House on September 6, 1825 when Lafayette celebrated his sixty-eighth birthday and to listen to the noble farewell speeches and see him off as he rode down the Potomac on that steamship to the frigate Brandywine waiting to take him on his return voyage to France.
Thomas locked the door to his business and walked the few short blocks up the street towards the tavern. Under his arm he carried a package he had purchased earlier in the day. He clutched it tightly as he opened the door to the tavern. In the dimly lit room he spotted a table and a group of his friends. Seating himself, he called to the tavern keeper for fresh glasses. "A toast to the General," announced Thomas. From out of the bundle, he produced a flask of whiskey, a flask bearing the portrait of a man and the wording "Gen Lafayette".
Cincinnati, Ohio 1993
When we get tired of digging in Cincinnati, the big city where the holes are often very deep, we go to a nearby small town to dig. The holes are usually about four feet square and mostly not over five feet deep. We often joke that we can go digging at ten and be home by two and have some good bottles to show for it. Well, the last property we dug was the exception that proves the rule of privy digging is: There is no rule.
We had tried several times to get permission on this property without success. We were looking in a neighboring yard when the owner came out and we approached her with the idea of digging. Fortunately, she was doing some remodeling and the yard was a mess. She remembered talking to US before and said we could go ahead.
The first privy we probed was #5 (see diagram). After about an hour it was obvious that this was not the privy we were after. We gave the two bottles we found to the landowner. She was intrigued. Meanwhile, we had probed another privy (#3) right next to this one. Would she let US dig it? It was located in the middle of a flower bed she had recently constructed. The bed was covered with pots, fertilizer, lawn chairs and as assortment of junk. She asked us how much longer we would be as she wanted to get the mess cleaned Up and wanted some time alone. We instantly volunteered our services to clean the mess Up. Forty-five minutes later we were digging in the flower bed.
This privy was older, yielding many inks, medicines, and a handleless redware jug. The best bottle found was a "Shaker Cough Syrup". We had about thirty-two keepers, including several pontiled pieces. The landowner received a share of the goodies and said "Come back anytime". We mentioned that we were certain there must be other privies on this property since it dated to 1817. We probed another promising spot and said we would be back.
Two days later we were back. We opened up what we hoped would be an even older privy. The signs were very confusing. There was 1850s redware, 1890s glass shards, and 1870s yellow-ware all mixed up. In a few minutes we realized, we had dug right between two privies. We determined that the earlier privy, a brick lined round hole at the back of the lot (#1), had no bottles at all. It contained redware and other domestic ware, some decorated and all obviously very early.
Time was wasting. We turned our attention to the other privy, but signs were not good, only newer 1890s bottles in what seemed to be a very deep hole. We couldn't believe it as we probed for the walls, nothing in either direction. Our five foot probes were too short. It was the biggest privy we had ever found in town. It turned out to measure a whopping 9 x 7 x 8+ feet deep. Luckily, we were digging down the back side, hopefully, where bottles would be located. We opened u p a small section to sink a test hole. Our efforts produced a few pumpkin seed flasks and some prescription bottles but... the next bottle
out was an "Essence of Peppermint By the Kings Patent", an early open Pontil bottle. What to do, What to do? We would have to tear up half of the yard to open this privy up and because of its depth it would be unsafe to do otherwise. The landowner, by now totally hooked, cheerfully said, "Go for it!" We dug and dug and dug. This was no 'start at ten home by two' type hole. We estimated it would take the two of us until after dark to complete this project. It was in fact, 12:30 AM by the time we finished digging and refilling the hole. We were exhausted after more than fifteen hours of digging. Our landowner came out just as we finished putting the sod back and said she was disappointed we weren't going to leave the hole open for her weekend visitors to see. She said she hoped there was another privy we could dig.
All of the Pontil age bottles were below the 7 foot level. There were some great groaners: two iron pontiled Townsend's Sarsaparillas, a pontiled Shaker Sarsaparilla, colored pontiled peppersauce bottles, a beautiful multi-sided olive green medicine or master ink, numerous scroll flasks, a double eagle flask, several iron pontiled ales, an emerald green Clarke and White mineral water, a Pontil black glass piece with a string lip, lots of inks and shards of many redware vessels. Judging-from the artifacts, this property must have been one in which a family of affluence had lived.
Ted was in the hole when it happened. He said there was a scroll flask he was trying to get out, or maybe it was a rock, he couldn't tell. Whatever it was it was lying right on the very bottom. Moments later, he was holding a flask, an incredible flask! From the shape, I could tell it was an early one. It was so dirt covered it was hard to read but I could make out the wording "Gem Lafayette".
You'll find the Lafayette flask and hundreds of others pictured, described and price in
Digger's Volume 3, Flasks. Don't let thousands of dollars slip through your fingers.
1. Thomas Ireland owned the property described in this article from 1820-1858. The house was built in 1817 by Henry C. Jones and apparently sold to Ireland in 1820. This information was found in local real estate records.
Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 10. New York:
Charles Scribners Sons, 1933.
Dictionary of American History, Vol. IV. Revised Edition. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976.
McKearin, Helen and Wilson, Kenneth. American Bottles & Flasks and Their Ancestry. New York: Crown Publishers, inc., 1978.
Wilson, James and Fiske, John. Appletons Cyclopaedia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888.
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