The Archeological Society of Virginia’s Oldest Batteau
Posted By Rebecca Guest
I am excited to be back at VAM and assisting with the 2015 Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program. One of my favorite tasks last year was contacting past participants and researching artifacts featured in the program. I am thrilled to share with the public more updates on past honorees.
In 2014, the Archeological Society of Virginia nominated Virginia’s Oldest Batteau to the Top 10 program. From 1983 to 1985, during a construction project in downtown Richmond, Virginia, a number of historic batteaux boat remains were recovered in the Great Turning Basin of the James River. Batteaux were large double-ended whitewater boats designed to float barrels of tobacco from upriver markets to Richmond, as well as other Fall Line cities. Virginia’s Oldest Batteau was built between 1765 and 1780 and is an example of a boat builder’s craft before industrial construction. The ASV helped break new ground, as its artifact along with two other artifacts nominated in 2014 were the first archaeological items featured in the history of VAM’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program.
As a member of the Archeological Society of Virginia, I observed how the organization promoted its Top 10 honor this past year. The ASV did an amazing job sharing the win with the general public. Updates about the Top 10 achievement were shared via the ASV’s Facebook page, the win was discussed at its annual conference, and the group RVA Archaeology currently shares the batteaux story in its presentations. After being featured in VAM’s Top 10 program, the ASV gained new members and supporters because of the batteau.
I recently met with ASV member and Canal Boat Committee Chair Lyle Browning at the Archeological Society of Virginia’s 75th anniversary celebration held at Kittiewan Plantation in Charles City County. Currently, Virginia’s Oldest Batteau and its resources are in the process of being donated to the Virginia Canals and Navigations Society. Browning shared, “The ASV Board recently voted to donate all of the artifacts and their interest in the canal boat materials to the Virginia Canals and Navigations Society. It was felt that VC&NS had a mission that was directly applicable to the materials.”
I learned during last year’s program that parts of Virginia’s Oldest Batteau were housed at the Pump House at Byrd Park in Richmond. Browning explained, “The batteaux were disassembled to move them from the basin and are stored basically as wood pieces in 3 of the bays of the Byrd Park Pump House…The pieces have been stored in fresh water since retrieval from the Great Basin.” While at Kittiewan, I was able to view artifacts in storage related to Virginia’s Oldest Batteau. Browning showed me the batteau’s ribs, boxes filled with photos and paperwork from the dig site, and a 19th century packet boat hull. Packet boats were used to haul packets and passengers across Virginia’s rivers and canals. The packet boat hull was an impressive piece of iron and originally measured 90 feet long. The artifacts I viewed at Kittiewan, along with the pieces at Byrd Park Pump House will move in time to the Batteau House near Lynchburg, Virginia, as part of the ASV’s donation to the VC&NS.
Thank you to Lyle Browning and the Archeological Society of Virginia for updating VAM on Virginia’s Oldest Batteau. For more information on the ASV and its projects across the state, visit its website at http://www.archeologyva.org. For Facebook updates, visit http://www.facebook.com/Virginia.ASV. To learn more about the Virginia Canals and Navigation Society, visit its website at http://www.vacanals.org/.
Virginia’s Oldest Batteau under excavation in the 1980s in Richmond, VA.
Batteau ribs in storage at Kittiewan Plantation.
Lyle Browning showing Rebecca Guest a 19th century packet boat hull in storage at Kittiewan.
Lyle E. Browning. E-mail message to Rebecca Guest. August 9, 2014.
Lyle E. Browning. E-mail message to Rebecca Guest. June 4, 2015.
Lyle E. Browning. Interview with Rebecca Guest. Personal interview. Charles City, June 13, 2015.
Lyle E. Browning, Stephanie Jacobe, and Elizabeth Moore. Virginia’s Oldest Batteau. Nomination form for Virginia’s 2014 Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program. 2014.