Spencer-Goodwin House & Tavern Site

Old Fields, South Berwick, Maine

Highlights of Archaeological Excavations, 2010-2014

Sponsored by the Old Berwick Historical Society

General Ichabod Goodwin house & site of Spencer-Goodwin house/tavern

General Ichabod Goodwin house & site of Spencer-Goodwin house/tavern

The site of the South Berwick, Maine dig is located in Old Fields, an area that by the 1660s was the heart of the English settlement of Berwick or “Newichawannock” situated on the upper reaches of the Salmon Falls River. This “neighborhood” consisted of several homes, a tavern, meetinghouse, burial ground, public landing, and expansive hay fields. The Old Fields dig site is reputed to be the former home and tavern of the families of Humphrey and Mary Spencer (c. 1696-1742), Captain Ichabod Goodwin (1740-1777), and his son General Ichabod Goodwin (1777-1829).

Historical documents also locate one of Berwick’s fortified garrisons here during the conflict ridden 1690s and early 1700s. In 1690 and 1691, Wabanaki war parties in separate incidents attacked the Spencer garrison and two men working in a nearby field. Today, the property is dominated by the two and a half story second home of General Goodwin. The General had this home built in c. 1795 to replace his earlier residence that had burnt down the previous year. Here, he remained with his family until his death in 1829.

Since 2004, Harvey and Paula Bennett have called the late 18th century dwelling home. For the last five years the Bennetts have hosted an archaeological dig and field school on their property. 

Suspected southern cellar of Spencer-Goodwin house/tavernSuspected southern cellar of Spencer-Goodwin house/tavern

Dr. Neill De Paoli has directed the search for the Spencer home, tavern, and garrison. The archaeological excavations have uncovered the ruins of the Spencer-Goodwin home and tavern that stood from c. 1696 until 1794. Most prominent were stone foundations that supported the wooden superstructure of the Spencer-Goodwin house and tavern. Additional finds have included fragments of the 17th century glass and lead casement and 18th century sash windows that lit the interior of the building. Dramatic evidence of the fire that destroyed the Spencer-Goodwin home in 1794 covered much of the foundation walls and interior of the structure. Archaeologists uncovered charred and melted remains of household and architectural debris such as milled wood, mortar, plaster, handwrought nails, window glass, ceramic cups, plates, smoking pipes along with burnt soil and fire-cracked fieldstones.

The archaeological evidence suggested that General Goodwin relocated his new home a short distance east of the western foundation wall of the earlier Spencer-Goodwin dwelling. Excavators also uncovered a 13 by 13 foot stone-walled cellar twenty-five feet south of the core of the late 17th and 18th century home and tavern. De Paoli believes the cellar was the southerly part of the house or a separate outbuilding, possibly a dairy. 

Sherds of German stoneware tankards, early 1700s
Sherds of German stoneware tankards, early 1700s
 German stoneware bottle, probably late 1600sGerman stoneware bottle, probably late 1600s

The archaeologists have also found a treasure trove of late 17th and 18th century artifacts left behind by the Spencer’s, Goodwin’s, tavern goers, and the black and Indian slaves (5 or more) owned by Captain Goodwin. Finds included an array of broken English, German, American, and Chinese earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain plates, drinking mugs and tankards, and bowls, and glass wine and case bottles and stemmed drinking glasses that once held meat, fish, and vegetable stews, and pottages and alcoholic beverages such as cider, ale, wine, gin, and rum enjoyed by family members, tavern clients, and workers.

Irish half penny, 1723Irish half penny, 1723  

Spanish reale, 1689
Spanish reale, 1689

A large collection of fragmented English clay tobacco pipes attested to the popularity of tobacco smoking among the site’s late 17th and 18th century occupants and visitors. Five Irish, Spanish, and German coins dating from 1689 to 1727 typified the international currency used by New Englanders during the late 17th and 18th centuries. The discovery of two tiny brass tinkling cones in 2012 presented a somewhat different scenario. Native Americans commonly used these artifacts throughout 17th and 18th century North America to decorate clothing such as blouses, leggings, and pouches. The Spencer-Goodwin house examples could have been lost by Wabanaki Indian visitors, were part of a small stock of trade goods owned by Humphrey Spencer or Captain Ichabod Goodwin, or adorned the clothing of Captain Goodwin’s Indian slave Sara John.

De Paoli has also identified what he believes to be a large collection of blacksmithing debris from the blacksmith shop owned by Captain Ichabod Goodwin. Most of the collection consisted of several hundred pieces of slag, a byproduct of the production and repair of iron utensils, tools, etc. Several items indicated that the blacksmith did more than make and repair building hardware and farm tools and equipment. He also did some gunsmithing as evidenced by the discovery of several broken and discarded parts from 18th century French and/or English muskets. The Old Fields blacksmith probably removed these gun parts while upgrading older muskets or replacing broken items with newer replacements. What the archaeologists have yet to discover is the blacksmith shop where the smith worked.

This summer field school participants will search for more of the Spencer-Goodwin house/tavern and the elusive Spencer garrison. The dig will focus on three areas. The first is a lightly wooded area just north of the General Goodwin house. The second area is west of the west yard and adjacent to the Old Fields Road. The third area is a small hill that rises above (south) the Bennett's back/south yard. These three locations may hold evidence of outbuildings known to be part of the homesteads of Humphrey Spencer and Captain Ichabod Goodwin such as a dairy and the blacksmith shop. The Old Fields dig is also continuing the search for the Spencer garrison, a possible 18th century burial ground, and earlier remnants of Old Fields Road. Ultimately, the Old Fields project is helping unravel life in the Piscataqua region of southern Maine as it transitioned from the turmoil of the Anglo-Indian wars of the late 1600s and early 1700s to the economic rebirth of the decades leading up to the American Revolution.

Neill De Paoli, Director Old Fields Dig Neill De Paoli, Director, Old Fields Dig

The Old Fields archaeological field school is both affordable and has a wide appeal. Students can sign up for as little as one week ($175) or the full three-week program ($475). This field school is a great hands-on opportunity for upper level high school and college students seeking experience in historical archaeology, teachers in need of recertification credits, or history buffs interested in exploring an area with a rich colonial history. Field school "alumni" have included local high school students and teachers, an art history student from the University of New Hampshire, an ex-archaeologist from Washington State, and a nursing student from Massachusetts.

Field school participants will learn basic excavation and recording techniques, laboratory procedures, and the identification of early Anglo-American material culture. The program will be highlighted by field trips to nearby historic landmarks and weekly films and discussions. Students will not only learn about the story of the! Old Fields "neighborhood" but other historic sites in North America as diverse! as a 16th century Basque whaling station in Labrador and an 18th !century "Negro Burying Ground" in New York City. Participants will come out of this experience with a solid understanding of the basics of archaeological field and lab work, 17th and 18th Anglo-American material culture, and early North American history. 


To read more about some early residents of Old Fields, click on Humphrey Spencer (1674-1712) and William Spencer (c. 1631-1696).  
Click here for Dr. DePaoli's "Berwick Begins" article on the origin of the settlement, 1631-1713.
To read more about archaeology and the Old Berwick Historical Society click here for the Chadbourne project


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