Outhouse linked to Paul Revere is excavated for artifacts
The artifacts could reveal clues about colonial diets and lifestyles
Archaeologists are excavating what they believe was the site of an outhouse next door to Paul Revere's home — and the "privy," as the colonists politely called their potties, could be flush with artifacts.
Revere was famed for his midnight ride April 18, 1775 — during the American Revolution — warning that the British were coming.
Historians say people typically dumped trash and household goods in their outhouses. On Thursday, the second full day of the dig, volunteers with the City of Boston Archaeological Program were already pulling fragments of pottery, bottles and a tobacco pipe from the bricked yard of the Pierce-Hichborn House in the heart of Boston's North End.
So far there's been no sign of mummified human excrement. That would be the telltale evidence of an outhouse at the home once owned by a cousin of Revere, according to Joe Bagley, a Boston city archaeologist.
"Paul Revere might well have come over here for dinner and used the bathroom," Bagley said. "He had 12 kids in his own little house next door. It's easy to imagine they didn't stay cramped up in there all the time."
The house — one of the earliest remaining brick structures in Boston — was built around 1711 next to the Paul Revere House, one of the city's most prominent historic sites and a huge tourist draw. Archeologists timed their dig to coincide with drainage improvements being made to the property.
Colonial-era outhouses tend to yield surprises, said Nina Zannieri, executive director of the Paul Revere Memorial Association that owns and operates the homes.
"They've excavated other privies and they were full of stuff," she said. "It's always a treasure trove. For us, it's an opportunity to get at a source of information that's literally buried underground."
Any fossilized unmentionables will be analyzed for seeds or the remains of parasites — clues that could tell scholars more about the colonists' diet.
And bones left over from a 1700s supper could speak to the occupants' financial health, Bagley said. "We'll learn what they were eating, how much money they had, whether they bought good or cheap cuts of meat," he said.
Moses Pierce, a glass worker, was the original owner of the house. It was later bought by Nathaniel Hichborn, a boatbuilder and a cousin of Revere.
Revere's backup plan — preparations to light either one or two lanterns as signals from the steeple of Boston's Old North Church — is immortalized in a line in Paul Revere's Ride, a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem: "One if by land, and two if by sea ..."
Did one of America's most celebrated patriots use the outhouse? The experts concede they may never know for certain.
"If it happened," Zannieri said, "we hope he left a marker for us."