By Steve Adams
Shortly after Historic London Town and Gardens first opened to the public, in 1971, an unnamed archaeologist suggested that the land had “nothing of any archaeological interest.”
Fast forward 50 years and said archaeologist has been proven as wrong as can be. Decades of discoveries by Anne Arundel County’s Cultural Resources Section, led by Dr. Al Luckenbach with the help of countless citizens, volunteers, academic students, and even school children, has helped reconstruct the “lost” colonial village and created the living history museum in Edgewater that we know today.
Now, London Town has set its sights on its next archaeological exploration: Gresham Estate.
Acquired by London Town in 2017 and located roughly 10 miles from the museum, Gresham is a “plantation site” that dates back to the late 17th century and, according to Rod Cofield, executive director, has an intriguing history.
“One interesting inhabitant in the early 1700s was William Cotter, a “retired” pirate who had done his piracy in the Arabian Sea,” Cofield says. “However, the site is best known for its association with Commodore Isaac Mayo, for whom the Mayo peninsula is named. He was instrumental in bringing the Naval Academy to Annapolis but, sadly, was found dead in the house at the start of the American Civil War, most likely from a self-inflicted gunshot due to not wanting to fight for the Union.”
With stories like this, Cofield is hopeful that the professors and students from St. Mary’s College who are conducting the first-ever investigation of the site will unearth some equally intriguing artifacts.
“We don’t know what we’ll find, or honestly if we’ll find anything, but we hope to find colonial and 19th century artifacts and outlines of buildings that will help us better understand how the site was used,” explains Cofield. “Previous archaeological work in the area indicates that there’s a higher concentration of stuff as you get closer to the house, so figuring out how it is associated with the house will be neat—as will be trying to find evidence for some of the many non-surviving structures of our first plantation site.”
Just as it has in the past, London Town is inviting the public to be a part of its real-time archeology this month by offering a limited number of tours of both the Gresham house and the site, including a chance to speak with those doing the digging.
While Cofield says there’s a chance that additional tours will be offered in July, spots are filling up fast, which all require pre-registration and have limited capacity. Spots are available for Thurs. June 17, Wed. June 23, Thurs. June 24, and Fri. June 25; all tours 2-3pm, directions will be sent after registration, RSVP: www.historiclondontown.org/events.