Mystery Ends 1st Week of Dig at William & Anne’s c. 1664 Homestead

Did a fire once break out at William and Anne (Busby) Nickerson’s c. 1664 homestead? 

And if so, did the entire house burn down or just part of it?

On Aug. 3 archaeologist Craig Chartier and his crew discovered pieces of melted window glass. This find and what it may suggest– a house fire– “is another one of those things that never showed up in the historical record,” Chartier said. “He [William] dealt with it.”

Chartier heads the Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project. He and his crew began the two-month excavation of the site on July 30. The dig will run through Sept. 28. Last September, during a one-week dig, Chartier’s crew discovered 17th century gunflint, a Native American spear point, English, German and Native American pottery fragments, window lead and an English pipe stem. The most significant find was the remains of the Nickersons’ hearth, proof that the homestead of Chatham’s founders was once located behind the NFA’s campus.

Historical records led current-day Nickersons to believe the remains of the homestead was hidden under the ground in an overgrown area behind the manicured campus. In July the area was cleared of invasive vines and brush to allow the dig. The dig is being conducted by the Nickerson Family Association, Inc. (NFA), in cooperation with the Chatham Conservation Foundation, Inc., which owns the land. The dig is financed by donations from NFA members and through $48,000 in Community Preservation funds awarded by Chatham voters in May.

William and Anne Nickerson were the first English settlers in what would be incorporated as the Town of Chatham in 1712. Last September the dig generated enormous interest with multiple stories appearing in the Cape Cod media as well as in the Boston Globe. During the final two-month excavation Chartier hopes to answer remaining questions: What was the outline of the house? Did the house have a cellar? Where were the outbuildings for the animals? And did William Nickerson run a blacksmith forge on the property?

Weather permitting, the dig will run on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Sept. 28. The NFA is located at 1107 Orleans Road, North Chatham. Signs on the campus direct visitors to the dig site from the parking area. The c. 1829 Caleb Nickerson Homestead is also open on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information call the NFA at 508-945-6086.