- Roy Butler
This article first appeared in the Fredericksburg Times magazine. It was later rebound with a collection of other articles on archaelogy by Mr. Butler and others as the book, Fredericksburg Underground. It is reprinted here with Mrs. Elizabeth Butler's permission.
The wild pig, genus sus, savored for the succulent meals it provides for our table, contributed greatly to the sustenance of our colonial predecessors.
Little did our forefathers dream that the discarded skeletal remains of this common herbivore would some two hundred years later convey a historical concept of an essential daily human function -- namely, eating via the wild pig hunt.
It appears that the pig was a late seventeenth to early eighteenth century Spanish or English innovation upon the landscape. This adaptable creature, so vital as a food source to the colonist, soon became a much hunted game animal.
Dr. Oscar Darter's book, Colonial Fredericksburg and Neighborhood in Perspective, cites an excerpt from the journal of an officer who visited Fredericksburg in 1764:
"Their pastures afford them excellent beef and mutton, and their woods are stocked with venison, game, and hogs."
The male of the species, the wild boar, developed fearsome tusks that grew to lengths of six inches, more or less. The lower jaws and tusks and sometimes the entire skulls are excavated at sites in the Caroline Street area. Obviously, the entire pig was being utilized at each individual residence; the discarded skeletal remains clearly indicate this.
The early to mid-eighteenth century rural atmosphere of Fredericksburg encouraged the individual hunting and butchering of wild pigs insomuch as the local butcher shop had not been established. Wild boar tusks do not show up in the nineteenth century strata, while they crowd a mid-to-early eighteenth century context.
This same early level of discards is generally enriched with poultry bones, oyster shells, fish scales, peanut shells, fruit seeds, and black walnuts, amidst other domestic and game animal bones. Oysters were obviously shucked at the individual domicile and consumed in vast quantities.
Historical Archaelogy here plays its role in comparing and documenting the early to mid-eighteenth century acquisition and processing of foods with later eighteenth and nineteenth century methods. The second half of the eighteenth century saw the growth of butcher shops and oyster shucking concerns. Tanners and milliners, along with numerous other tradesmen, relieved Fredericksburg's pioneers of many of the burdensome chores with which they had contended earlier in the town's history.
The story of this transition from individual to commercial processing is clearly written in the earth's strata. The wild boar tusks have proved to be artifacts that stimulate the imagination and provoke many questions from visitors to the Tobacco Warehouse where they are displayed.
Yes! Even the lowly porker played an important role in Fredericksburg's early history.