Long Wharf Finds Tell History of Sag Harbor

Pictured Above: Sherds from Thomas Commeraw pottery found in the Long Wharf dredging. Commeraw was a free black man working in Manhattan from 1796 to 1816. Today his work has sold into the $20,000s.

by Jo-Ann McLean

Havens Beach Shardrock Chicken” by Dana Erickson, arranged from Mochaware sherds, produced in Europe in the late 1700s through the late 1800s. Mocha was sold as hotelware, and remains have been found in old Sag Harbor homes.

In November 2017, the long-awaited dredging along the west side of Long Wharf in Sag Harbor inadvertently turned Havens Beach into an archaeological site. Dredged soils piped there revealed the remains of hundreds of years of accumulated history in the form of broken bits and pieces of material culture. 

Glass, ceramics, metal, stone and the residue of past centuries, deposited by human action around the wharf, was drawn from the bay floor into the present by mechanical means, depositing the opportunity of a lifetime onto Havens Beach.

Long Wharf has always been at the center of Sag Harbor life, and the deposition of materials came from a broad source of activities stemming from residential, commercial, recreational, and industrial use of the lands and water surrounding the wharf. 

War, fire, shipwrecks, construction and demolition, as well as the everyday activities of local merchants and residents, contributed to the accumulation of the deposits revealed on the beach. It is an archaeological collection whose context is the broad and storied historical occupations of Sag Harbor.

Intrepid resident and Sag Harbor Historical Society Auxiliary Board Member Jean Held assumed the all-consuming responsibility for gathering the historic objects. 

Along with David Cosgrove, Julia Cachere and a host of others, her daily beach forays, in rain, snow and sun, to find and conserve the historic period objects, resulted in the even more challenging responsibility of identification and cataloging. Finally, Jean sought and encouraged the help of knowledgeable East End residents to help interpret the past through this salvaged collection.

Glass bottle neck & lip c 1760-1820: This rum or wine bottle  is known popularly as black sea glass. After the bottle is blown, the top of the neck is broken off and a premade lip is applied. The shape of the lip helps with dating the piece.     

Jean has now curated portions of the collection of thousands of artifacts into a cohesive exhibit titled Beachcombing for Artifacts of Sag Harbor History, now on view at the Sag Harbor Historic Society. Although exact provenance cannot be attributed to each artifact, the context of location attests to their use and discard by locals or visiting seaman. This extensive deposit establishes a paradigm from which to view the reality of everyday consumer choice and the availability of goods and taste during 18th and 19th Century Sag Harbor life, which is unavailable from any other source.  

The exhibit presents a fascinating look into fashion, market access, past preferences, and trade in old Sag Harbor during the whaling p.m., before and beyond. It is open weekends through mid-October, from 1 to 4 PM at the Sag Harbor Historical Society, Annie Cooper Boyd House, 174 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY. 

East End Beacon

The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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