Class Distinctions at fort Nisqually

One of the most fiscally rewarding products of colonialism is the trading post.  This corporate enterprise flourished across North America, fueled by abundant natural resources and successful trade relations with the dynamically complex native populations that already inhabited the continent.  Fort Nisqually is an excellent example of an early to mid-century west coast trading post; the artifacts that we have from this location can help to illustrate class differences and gender experiences within the corporate structure of trading posts.

Fort Nisqually –

Fort Nisqually was founded by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1832 along the beach of Nisqually Reach in South Puget Sound.  It was the first corporate enterprise in the sound, as well as the first non-native settlement.  It was centrally located between Fort Vancouver and Fort Langley, and was jointly occupied by American and British workers of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

These artifacts were recovered from Fort Nisqually – courtesy of

Trading posts adhered to Victorian social principles, and wives of Fort Nisqually workers were subject to a heavily stratified social order; the experiences of these women was widely varied and affected by a multitude of factors.  All of the officers at Fort Nisqually had Native American wives, who by association of position were a higher class.  These Native wives were ambassadors of culture; they embraced the Victorian principles of their husband’s households while simultaneously engaging in their own culture.   This dual role fulfilled the traditional patrilochal marriage patterns reflected within Native culture.  There is evidence that the experiences of European women, however, were occasionally dysfunctional.  The only white women who were specifically recorded entering the Fort between 1833-1860 were laborer’s wives.  Historical records confirm that all three ran away shortly after arriving at Fort Nisqually, one of whom ran away before they even got there.

Spode ChinaSpode Label Jewelry

This may have been due to class distinctions within the fort.  Excavations of workers homes in 1989 indicate that Jean Baptiste Chaulifaux, a carpenter and mechanic who made twice as much as other workers, had a higher class of household and personal goods (see above, courtesy of Archaeology in Washington, 2007).  His wife, who incidentally may have been white, possessed a higher class of jewelry and china goods than her neighbors.  There is no record of a Mrs. Chaulifaux defecting from the fort, so we know at least that she did not suffer the same fate as the other three European frontierswomen.  The experiences of the other three women may have been due to the strictly imposed social order and materialistic focus of the Victorian era; they would have had little opportunity to change their station in life.

The Importance of a Narrative

Sources of inspiration come at odd moments.  This quarter has been really neat because a lot of my classes have really been informative towards one another – they worked in conjunction, sort of mirroring each other in subject matter, while varying in content.  One of the things that we discussed was whether or not archaeologists should tell a narrative, a story about an artifact and the people that helped to create, use, deposit, and recover it.

I’ve really come to think that it is a fundamental necessity of what we do.  Captain James Cook (1728-1779) was a surveyor for the Royal Navy, and the written records and drawings from his voyages contain important ethnographic accounts and fantastic pieces of art.  John Webber was the ships artist, and he recorded scenes in great detail.


These works of art at first glance could be used to tell a great deal about how material culture was used, and how space within the home was organized.  A journal entry from one of the men on Captain Cook’s voyage, however, described their interaction with the Arctic Indians upon arrival.  He recounts how the men instantly accost the women of the home, forcing themselves on her.  He even comments on how accommodating they are “refusing no request, even though her father or husband may be standing by.”  He refers to this process as “properly addressing the women”.  It is very clear that this is the standard custom.  It instantly changes the image. It’s sickening.  To know that such an extremely violent and exploitative act took place changes the way that we interpret the picture.  Those people aren’t reflecting their typical spatial patterns.  There are people hiding along the sides of their home while the children are seeking comfort. It’s hard to believe that these men didn’t understand the difference between terrified resignation and willing accommodation.

This is why a narrative, a story is so important.  It can serve to correct the record.  It is not just pictures and data we need, but a means by which to combine these things to get a better understanding of what really occurred in these places.  Drawing and photographs, due to their static nature, have the tendency to be thought of in terms of absolute truth.  It is important to know that we can use words, stories, and recollections to correct and inform our data.  This is the power of a narrative, to reflexively correct and inform archaeological direction.

Dive Deep – Sources of Inspiration

In 2008 I lost an amazing job as an administrative assistant.  It was the greatest thing that could have ever happened to me.  I took my fantastic severance package, and paid off all of my bills for a year.  I used that time to really think about what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go with my life.  I decided that I didn’t want a job, I wanted a career – something that I am regardless of what I am doing at that specific moment.  I also didn’t just want a career, I wanted to do something that I would pay to do.  If it wasn’t the kind of job that made me excited to be alive, then I didn’t want to do it at all.

So I wanted to share with you one of the things that made me decide to become an archaeologist. At this point I had taken a few classes in my spare time while I was working, and I’d even thrown the idea around about doing something archaeology related, but I’d never really put into context.  It just wasn’t in the realm of something real or achievable.  Half of my friends and family still think that I’m freaking insane for doing this, and my in-laws really do think I’m downright nuts. But I was watching PBS one day and this came on.  I saw these people doing something so fantastic and out of this world that I couldn’t help but be mesmerized.  It really made an impression on me.  It also redefined my view of just how many amazing things are still out there; you really can still wander out into the wild and find something incredible.  So here you go, this is one of my personal sources of inspiration; one of the coolest jobs in the world.


Nova; Extreme Cave Diving

Treasure and Treacherous Tales; Lost In The Amazon

My family tree is an interesting place to be.  I come from long lines of dreamers, adventurers, explorers, and downright fascinating people.  Intrepid explorers and brazen settlers, and I’m not alone.  Go back five generations ( so your great-great-great Grandma, somewhere in the early to mid 1800s) and you have 32 separate lines to contend with.  Most Americans with European ancestry can find at least one, if not many, family lines that lived through some of the defining moments of our Nation’s history.  From Westward Expansion to the Civil War to The Revolutionary War, many of us can find amazing people  throughout our family trees, with fantastic stories to tell if we choose to delve that deeply.

New Yorker Image of Fawcett & Crew

I was actually able to find some amazing links to archaeology within my own family tree.  My maternal Great Grandmother, Valerie DeMontet was Swiss.  Her paternal grandmother was Anna Sophia Burckhardt, from a well-known Swiss Family who were respected in both academic and religious circles.  Among the doctors of philosophy and priests that seem abundant in the Burckhardt family tree, I found Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.  This is the very same Johann Burckhardt who rediscovered Petra in 1812 while disguised as a Muslim!  And that wasn’t the only connection to archaeology that I found.  My Great Grandmother Valerie also has some fascinating connections on her mother’s side as well, as her Grandfather was Percy Fawcett.

The-lost-city-z book cover pic

Col. Percy H. Fawcett was an adventurer and explorer just after the turn of the 20th century.   This was during a point in history that is fairly shameful for archaeologists – the mad dash for antiquities, funded in no small part by Universities and Museums, propelled many unorthodox adventurers into the limelight.  Col. Percy H Fawcett was no exception.  A member of the Royal Geographic Society, just as his father before him, Colonel Fawcett mapped large portions of the Amazon Jungle as he searched for a lost city of gold.  His fantastic progress, along with his matter of fact demeanor and tenacious determination was sensational stuff; media attention led to fame, but not fortune.  His last communication from the jungle was in May of 1925, after which he disappeared into the Amazon, along with his son Jack, and his son’s friend Raleigh.  They were never seen again.  Well over a hundred people have died over the years, trying to find out exactly what happened to Percy Fawcett.  If you’d like more information his story is well documented, most recently in the book Lost City Of Z by David Grann, and also in a PBS Documentary title Lost in the Amazon.

Percy Fawcett PBS Documentary

                                                                           You can link to the movie here – it’s a pretty neat story!

Whiskey Bottle – Jim Beam

The coolest old bottle I have is a Jim Beam Whiskey Bottle.  I bought it at a yard sale.  Now I’m not much of a drinker, and I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it was gorgeous.  I had no idea that that Jim Beam had such an amazing history regarding its decanters; although they have been in business since 1795, in 1952 they started crafting a wide variety of specialty bottle for their whiskey.  There are literally thousands of variations, with a wide range of styles. There are fine gold-gilded crystal decanters, automobiles, animals, sports equipment, it seems that the company went out of its way to provide bottle in every shape and form known to mankind.  The result is a truly astounding body of corporate expression.

 Jim Beam White Bottle

my bottle looks just like this, only red

Despite the extreme variety, temporal succession can actually be observed in the record by looking at the progression of similarly styled bottles.  Due to the high level of variation, an analysis of collectors edition, or annual releases,  like in these examples of crystal glass bottles ranging from 1964 to 1973 is the most effective means of observing any sort of meaningful change. (photos courtesy of the Jim Beam Club)

    66crystalGlass     68crystalGlass       1973ambercrystal

Some other really great examples of Jim Beam bottlery can also be found in the pictorial index from the Jim Beam Club, they have some great examples of other series as well!

Washington Court Building

As archaeologists we are expected to know many things.  We are expected to know about the history of people and places, to know about the political influences and social pressures that define a region and its people.  As archaeologists there is an expectation that we place material remains in context; that we provide a narrative.  That we connect.  Historic buildings are an excellent platform for this process, as our structures are reflective of our cultural preferences and practices.  They can serve as a medium by which to examine a multitude of factors.  The Washington court building is no exception to this rule.  Completed in 1890, this building housed one of the most notable brothels in Seattle.  Most Seattleites are familiar with the history of Pioneer Square – how it was destroyed by The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 and then rebuilt from the ashes amidst a massive regarding project.  What many don’t know was that madam Lou Graham was one of the very first to rebuild in Pioneer Square.  Graham was already an accomplished madam by the time the fire destroyed her first brothel, and she used the fire as an opportunity to expand her investments; the Washington Court Building was the realization of a bold move.  The building itself is a beautiful example of a Queen Anne – Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture, with simple arches set into the broad linear form of the building.  The brick and cast iron structure reflects the new city codes that forbade wooden structures in the wake of the fire. It also reflected Lou Graham’s status as a major player in early Seattle politics.

  Washington Court Building

Graham used her fiscal status to fund politicians who were friendly to her motives; her new building was a brothel to serve the members of Seattle’s elite, it catered to government officials and wealthy residents.  This wasn’t just a brothel; it was a place of business.  A 1905 Baist Map refers to the block where the building is located as the Graham Block, and there are numerous reports of Lou Graham investing in local businesses and public infrastructure like sidewalks after the fire.  One testament to her influence in politics was when she was charged with licentious behavior in 1892; she was acquitted after being defended by two prominent Seattle figures, Superior Court Judge J. T. Ronald, and assistant district attorney, and later Senator, Samuel Piles.  In, perhaps, an ironic turn of events, the politically corrupt infrastructure that she contributed to would come to rob her descendants of her considerable wealth.



After her death in 1903 she attempted to leave her estate to relatives in Germany.  A court ruling actually determined that the German born Graham had never completed the last steps of her application for citizenship and that as her heirs were not citizens of the United States, they had no legal claim to her wealth.  The ensuing scramble for her cash left the Seattle School system considerably richer. A plaque on the side of the building, hilariously, pays tribute to this windfall but makes no mention of the fact that it was never her intention.

Lou Graham Memorial Plaque


Here are some great resources to check out!  The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods is an awesome resource for building info, and so is the public library’s digitized 1905 Baist Map – There are also some great resources on Lou Graham in here as well, what a fascinating character!

1. – Department of Neighborhoods

2. National Park Service – National Register of Historic Places (PDF – pages 256-257)    

3. Lou Graham Gravesite Info –  

4. Lou Graham & Girls sitting inside the Building

Images of America, Seattle’s Pioneer Square – Book, p.40-41

By Joy Keniston-Longrie, Arcadia Publishing, Chicago, IL 2009

5. Lawyers Reports Annotated 1907 – Lou Graham Estate p. 188              id=JcUKAAAAYAAJ&dq=Lou+Graham+Building+in+Seattle&source=gbs_navlinks_s                   

6. Map of Pioneer Square – Courtesy of Seattle Dept of Neighborhoods (saved)

6. Seattle Public Library – Baist’s 1905 Seattle Map; Pioneer Square

7. Travel Through History – W. Ruth Kozak Blog  Lou Graham and Girls       



Gender Specific Referencing at Calvary Cemetery

Nestled deep in the Calvary Cemetery in North Seattle is the gravestone of Helena Kelly.  Smile, we are told, to her memory and to the memory of the infant son who lies by her side.  Dedicated in 1889 the Calvary Cemetery reflects over a century’s worth of Seattle’s inhabitants.  But what do these graves tell about the people who lived here?  Can the inscriptions preserved within the boundaries reveal anything about gender roles?  The answer, as in the case of Helena Kelly, is clearly yes.  A clear pattern of acknowledging professional roles among men and domestic roles among women is evident in many of the graves we looked at. In fact, approximately a third of the graves display gender specific referencing; about 31% of the male graves indicated profession, and about 36% of the female graves indicated domestic status.

Specifically, of the 16 men listed in our survey, 5 referenced profession, and only one mentioned domestic status.  These graves acknowledged activities outside of the home that contributed to that individual’s experience.  They also reflect the mindset of those who are memorializing their loved one, and it speaks to how gender concepts inform decisions like epitaphs.  Clearly, professional status is considered an important enough factor to feature prominently on male gravestones.

Female graves, on the other hand, often describe their owner’s as “wife” or “mother”.  These domestic labels reflect a focus on familial roles, and say very little as to the other activities that these women inevitably engaged in.  Of the 11 women listed in our survey, there were no references to profession, and a total of 4 references to domestic status.  This starkly contrasts to what we saw reflected on male gravestones.  The way that these women are memorialized indicates something about their value in life; they were honored and revered as wives or mothers before they were acknowledged as anything outside of that narrative.

Garbology Project – Trash Talk at UW

The next time you throw something away, you may want to consider the journey that piece of trash is going to take.  Especially if you are on the UW campus, your piece of trash has the potential to tell a story about who we are as a community, and how we dispose of our objects.  The UW garbology project strives to reduce waste on campus by educating the faculty and student body on how we dispose of our garbage.  In an effort to better understand the garbology project, and the archaeology of garbage in general, I worked on a team that examined two different locations of garbage at Denny Hall on the UW campus.  The first, a small can outside of a class room, contained typical fare for the hallway of a school; paper products, a coffee cup, a plastic bottle. These items would be expected, although it was disappointing to find them in a trash can right next to recycled items.  We also found chewing tobacco in this can, a socially questionable activity that we did not expect to find on campus.  The larger garbage receptacle just outside of Denny Hall contained mostly food wastes.  This means that it came from a location with a close proximity to food – and it’s a college campus, so there are quite a few of those!  The results of our study was an interesting glimpse into the activities and depositional habits on the UW campus.  You can learn more about the ongoing efforts of the University’s garbology project by visiting, and remember to be thoughtful about the story that your garbage tells about you!

Out of Ice and Time – Amber’s blog review

Authored by Anne Jensen, of Barrow, Alaska, this blog follows the Nuvuk archaeology project outside of Barrow.  While the blog clearly caters to archaeologists, it has a simple style and word choice that allows it appeal to a much wider audience.  Its informal tone lends an air of familiarity to the scientific process taking place, which makes the work feel very accessible. This blog has a straight forward presentation of what it’s like to be a working archaeologist, following the day to day research, and has excellent photographs to help chronicle the experience.  The utilitarian aesthetic of the website contributes to this overall impression.  They are, incidentally, hiring students for the upcoming summer session. . .

Viking Archaeology Blog – Amber’s blog review

Constructed as a source for the University of Oxford Online Course in Viking Archaeology, and authored by the well-respected and established archaeologist David Beard, this blog is fascinating.  Intended for a scholarly audience, it is mainly composed of articles relating to Viking archaeology. This genre is exceptional in its ability to capture the imaginations of scholars, archaeologists, and adventurous souls, and this blog certainly doesn’t fail to deliver.  This is highly interesting subject manner that encourages academic discourse., and even offers opportunities for related fieldwork. This blog, however, is intended for use in a classroom setting, and so it lacks the personal content that some of the other blogs benefit from.