Archaeology at 1783 Guysborough

Queens County, Nova Scotia

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Between 2001 and 2003, the Mersey Heritage Society conducted a survey of visible archaeological features in the old Guysborough town plot at Port Mouton, Nova Scotia.The town plot was established in the fall of 1783 to accommodate Loyalist refugees from the American colonies following the end of the Revolutionary War. Local tradition has it that 300 structures stood on the town plot before it was destroyed by fire in 1784. See our Guysborough page for more history.

WHAT IS BEING DONE: The town plot is approximately 16 hectares (40 acres) in area. Volunteers conducted a visual survey of this area (excluding developed residential properties along the main road through the area). A total of six field days were required for this work totalling about 300 peson-hours. Archaeologist Mike Sanders directed the work, and three other archaeologists also volunteered their time on different days.Through this work, the group has identified the suspected remains of nine dwellings, as well as hundreds of metres of stone walls and several rock piles. The walls and rock piles were likely formed when the land was cleared for cultivation or dwelling construction by the Loyalists in 1783/4. The location of each feature was manually recorded, producing a map showing the features identified by the volunteers.

WHY BOTHER DOING THIS? Over the years, many have researched and written about the Loyalists at Port Mouton ( including author Thomas Raddall ), but not much attention has been paid to the physical remains of their settlement. Details about the size of the town and when it came to end are sketchy. Making a plan of the archaeological features will be a great addition to our knowledge of this settlement and the people who inhabited it.

At right: The stone foundation of a 1783/4 dwelling can be seen at the centre of the photograph.


Approach to the Field Work and Research The Guysborough archaeological survey project had two phases:
1. To identify, map and photograph features suspected to be associated with the 1783 settlement; and,2. To investigate a selected site in detail, clearing forest litter from its surface features and, if necessary, excavating a 1.0 by 1.0 metre test square to determine its age, historic function and present condition.Preparations for Phase 1 began as society volunteers conducted archival research and consultation with area residents. Scant information provided by historic maps, photographs and written documents at the Provincial Archives of Nova Scotia and the Queens County Museum was expanded by local knowledge of surviving features such as old roadways and public right-of-ways.Phase 1 - Visual SurveyThe society conducted the first stages of field work in April and June 2001 with the permission of landowners and a Heritage Research Permit for Archaeology (Category B) issued by the Nova Scotia Museum. The survey consisted of a systematic visual inspection of the northern end of the former town plot as identified on an 1828 map made by surveyor Whitman Freeman. Under the direction of archaeologist Mike Sanders, volunteers (generally six at a time) walked parallel paths across the wooded hillside, using CNR's abandoned railway as a baseline.

At right: A stone wall, 2 metres in width, runs over 200 metres through the woods. This wall was likely constructed in 1783 or 1784.

Although the naturally rocky and uneven landscape made feature identification difficult, many archaeological resources were recorded. The team covered about 20% of the original town plot on two days in April 2001, identifying probable dwelling remains in four locations and recording hundreds of metres of linear stone piles - remnants of historic field clearing and fencing. In addition, the survey identified an abandoned roadway bordered on both sides by stone walls. Known locally as the old "Haystack Road", this feature shares the same orientation as roads shown on Freeman's 1828 map. In June 2001, another day of fieldwork increased the town plot coverage to approximately 30%, identifying a fifth probable residence site and many more remote stone features including formal walls, linear piles and odd-shaped heaps. Careful observation along the beds of intermittent streams behind Highway 103 residences also revealed concentrations of ceramic and glass fragments dating to the early-to-mid 1800s. These old refuse deposits, left undisturbed, chronicle domestic life after the demise of Guysborough, during the formative years of the Port Mouton community that exists today.The remaining two-thirds of the study area were surveyed in May 2003 and May 2004. Additional stone walls, some two metres (six feet) in height were found throughout the remaining area, as well as more stone piles. In addition, five more suspected dwelling sites were encountered including two with well-defined cellars.Other interesting features included a granite quarry that consisted of hand-split granite boulders. Investigation of culverts that run beneath the railway bed revealed that the granite had likely been cut in 1904 in order to build a large culvert under the railway that was constructed that year.With the mapping complete, the Mersey Heritage Society plans to create a digital map of all of the archaeological features using GPS technology. This will allow the features, that have so far only been recorded manually on paper, to be plotted acurately in relation to one another. This may reveal more information about the layout and development of the settlement.

At right: A view from above of the test pit at Paradise Island 1 following removal of the first unit, or soil layer. The spade in the centre of the photo was intentionally placed there to indicate which direction is north.


Phase 2 - Testing Phase 2 of the Guysborough project was conduced on October 27, 2001, when volunteers returned to the north end of the townsite and revisited "Paradise Island 1" - the most obvious and, apparently, best preserved of the identified dwelling sites. Named after the Swiss company that was thought to own the encompassing wood lot (later found to be untrue), the site lies on the on the west side of the railway line, well inland from the shoreline and the old road that is now Highway 103. At its heart are the obscured remains of a rectangular building that had a low foundation, cellar walls and an internal chimney, all made of fieldstone.A single 1.0 by 1.0 metre test square excavated just outside the presumed front entrance yielded small fragments of charcoal and 94 artifacts, most of which bear evidence of burning. The assemblage included fragments of ceramic dishware, pieces of dark green bottle glass (below, middle) and colourless table glass (below, left), hand-wrought rose head nails (iron and copper) and several unidentifiable fragments of calcined food bone (mammal and bird). Cleaning and analysis of the ceramics revealed the presence of porcelain (bottom left - probably Chinese), salt glazed stoneware - Rhenish, British "dipped" and British "scratch blue" (bottom right), coarse earthenware (bottom, centre) and refined earthenware.

Creamware constituted the bulk of the latter, but examples of tin glaze earthenware (minus the glaze) and blue painted pearlware have been identified. Artifact analysis leaves little doubt that Paradise Island 1 is one of the original Guysborough dwelling sites. All of the recovered items clearly represent domestic objects. Their dating indicates that the site's occupation occurred only briefly and during the late 1700s, very likely in the early-to-mid 1780s. Speed and simplicity in building construction is suggested by a conspicuous absence of window glass, brick and mortar. Devastation by fire is substantiated by the presence of charcoal, melted glass, spalled and discoloured ceramic and calcined bone.


Back to Archaeology

Back to Main Page