Material Culture of the 8th
Please note, this has been written by our member, Robert Stewart and shared here, on his behalf. Here are some interesting findings from reviewing material culture reports from archaeological excavations at Carleton Island, Fort Niagara, and For Michilimackinac. We have also cross-referenced them to reports of the contents of barrack stores at Carleton Island from 1783-4.
These sites produced prodigious quantities of ceramics and other domestic materials. Of the ceramics, creamware seems to have been the most common material recovered, closely followed by pearlware. Creamware is a plain, ivory-coloured ceramic that became popular in the 1760s in the British North Atlantic trade area. It was generally produced in England. Pearlware is a generic term which may best be described as “decorated creamware”. Designs could be applied in a process invented by Wedgewood, but more common were hand-painted designs applied before the final firing of the article. Pearlware has become so generic a term that Chinese export porcelain easily fall within its ambit.
Less commonly found were primitive redware, salt-glazed ceramics, and earthenware. These were present in the excavations, but not to the extent that creamware or pearlware was located.
Interestingly, lots of green glass bottles were found in the waters off Carleton Island, suggesting it was common to dispose of empty bottles by throwing them into Lake Ontario. Among utensils, horn handles for knives and forks were found, as well as pewter spoons.
Cross-referenced to the barracks stores, we see no mention of tin plates, tin cups, or – for that matter – much made out of tin with the possible exception of tin (reflector?) ovens and tin kettles. Pots are listed – but made out of copper, not tin. There also appear to have been a surfeit of iron pots, iron frying pans, and iron hooks for suspending vessels over the fire.
These findings run counter to the common “reenachronism” that soldiers only carried the lightest, most inexpensive cooking and eating materials. At least in garrisons in the Upper Posts of Canada, there was a remarkable variety of fine porcelain ceramics as well as heavy iron cooking implements which were clearly intended to last. Perhaps we should not be surprised when we read that the officers of the four companies of the 8th (King’s) Regiment stationed at Detroit during the Revolution ordered crates of comestibles from Montreal merchants, including bottles of catsup, vinegar, olive oil, and even curry sauce! These were all comestibles freely traded in the North Atlantic economy, and we may state conclusively that – so far as the British Army is concerned - the North Atlantic economy extended west into the Great Lakes.
What lessons should we learn from this while interpreting the Light Company of the 8th (King’s) Regiment? Firstly, tin should be avoided. Far better to search antique shops for surviving nineteenth century creamware, or even support those modern artisans who are reproducing redware, salt-glazes, and earthenware. Secondly, so long as we are interpreting a unit in garrison, iron cookware is entirely appropriate. Thirdly, when you are finished drinking, throw your reproduction bottles in the nearest lake.
*Don't actually throw your bottles into a lake.
By Bugler Robert Stewart / Petty Sutler to the Light Company