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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 13

Table Glass Excavated at Beaubassin, Nova Scotia

by Jane E. Harris

AbstDiscussion and Conclusionsract

Excavation Unit 1

Excavation of unit 1 unearthed an unmortared fieldstone structure which, judging from the artifacts found in and around it, would relate to the British settlement of the Beaubassin area after 1750, possibly extending into the early 1800s. This excavation was well represented by fragments of English wine bottles, case bottles, snuff bottles, medicine bottles, firing glasses and several fragments of other plain-stemmed tablewares found both inside and outside the walls of the structure. French glass was limited to only seven bottle fragments, all of which were found in levels below the surface layer. The presence of such a small amount of French glass could be an indication that an English structure was built on the site of an abandoned Acadian farm.

While the tableware generally indicates a date of manufacture before the mid-1700s, its deposit date would most likely be after the 1750s due to the overwhelming amount of English bottle glass from a post-1750 date of manufacture found in the same strata. Table glass, as it still is, was treated much more carefully than bottle glass and consequently would have a much longer life. This idea, coupled with the fact that there was no lead-glass tableware found in units 7 and 8 which were otherwise heavily represented by French glassware types, strongly suggests the English table glass was used by the English after the 1750s and not by the French before this time.

Excavation Units 2 and 3

There is little to distinguish between these two excavations as far as glass is concerned. Both have large representations of post-1750 English glass (fragments from snuff, wine and case bottles; fragments of lead glass tableware) and small amounts of French glass, the latter conceivably representing the Acadian occupancy of the area. Unit 2 does, however, have more French glass, and unit 3 has part of a small bottle of possibly early 19th-century manufacture and two or three lead glass objects. On the basis of this information we may suggest that unit 3 be considered more recent than unit 2. Each shows British occupation after 1750.

Excavation Unit 4

The return of glass was extremely small from this excavation and for this reason it has not been included in this discussion.

Excavation Units 7 and 8

Again, there is little differentiating these two units. The glassware from each consisted of fragments of globular bottles, flowerpot bottles, blue-green bottles and one fragment of non-lead glass all of which strongly reflect the Acadian occupation prior to 1750. There were a few fragments of glassware relating to a post-1750 occupation found in unit 8, but most of these mended with fragments from units 1, 2 and 3, suggesting that cultivation took place after the British settled in the area. Such cultivation could also explain the presence of a small amount of pearlware (Moussette 1970: 209) found in unit 8.

Thus, on the basis of dating of glassware types and their occurrences in the excavations, the excavation units fall into the following order from most recent to earliest occupation: 1, 3, 2, 7 or 8.

Analyses of Glassware and Ceramics Compared

The excavation units largely composed of English glass artifacts could be distinguished from those containing French material; however, the situation was different for ceramics. Unit 2 contained several wine bottles dating to 1750-1770 as well as a small amount of French glass and English lead glass. Its ceramics content was quite different, consisting mainly of French ceramics (Moussette 1970: 224), placing it chronologically closer to units 7 and 8. The chronological order of the units also differed for ceramics and glass: 3, 1, 2, 7, 8 as opposed to 1, 3, 2, 7 or 8. Moussette (1970: 215) has placed unit 3 later than unit 1 because no French ceramics were found in unit 3; however, a small amount of French glass was found and this is why it has been placed earlier than unit 1 in the glass chronology.

The nature of the ceramics from the site compares favourably with that of the glass. Ceramics from the French occupation are described as hard, utilitarian wares (Moussette 1970: 226) while those from the British occupation include finer ceramics such as pearlware and creamware (Moussette 1970: 208). This parallels glass from the French occupation which consisted almost entirely of common green and blue-green bottles, and glass from the British occupation which, in addition to wine bottles, had more expensive lead glass and non-utilitarian wares.

Social Implications of the Beaubassin Glassware

Coleman, in her historical reports (1968a:40; 1968b:7-10), described the life of the Acadians as quite spartan. Their diet was mainly limited to what they could grow and store themselves. Wine was bought in the usual hogsheads and commonly taken with a dipper or mug, as may be evidenced in the relative lack of wine bottles and particularly drinking glasses from the Acadian period of occupation. When the area was first settled in the 1670s, glass was not as common as it was to be 100 years later, and it seems that the Acadians must not have considered it to be a necessary commodity in later years. In the trade with the New Englanders and the French it is possible that items such as machinery parts or tools had priority over fancy glassware. Also noticeably absent were wide-mouthed, blue-green bottles so common on other French colonial sites. A possible conclusion is the Acadians had little use for the items, such as capers and olives, that were packed in these vessels. On the other hand, the British traditionally had closer connections with their homeland, and bottles and their varied contents were more probably readily available from Halifax and Boston. Glass was also extremely popular in the late 18th century for containers for all sorts of goods as shown by the variety of glassware found in the small collection from Beaubassin.

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