In 1663 Samuel Morse and his family built a house on land he inherited from his grandfather, who settled in Dedham, Massachusetts, in 1635. It's hard to believe that the thriving town of Medfield in Boston's "metrowest" area was once a thickly wooded wilderness, let alone that the site of Samuel's house would remain undisturbed for over 300 years! Samuel's house and many others were burned during King Philip's Indian War (1675-1676), and the land he had worked so hard to clear was abandoned and gradually became woodland again. The property was left undisturbed until Samuel's descendants visited it this week, along with a professional archaeologist.
Morse Society members visited the site last year when they discovered that local historians recognized this as the cellar hole of Samuel's house. The Society then spent the next year raising funds to have the site excavated. This week, Morse Society members Jane Morse of Lexington, Massachusetts; Pamela Cerutti of Northborough, Massachusetts; and Burr Morse of Montpelier, Vermont, visited the site, this time accompanied by archeologist Kathy Wheeler, owner of Independent Archeological Consulting, LLC, in Portsmouth, N.H. and two of her assistants. "This is an exciting day for us," said Cerutti.
According to Cerutti, Samuel's house was burned during King Philip's Indian War (1675-1676) after Samuel spotted Native Americans hiding in his hay barn. Samuel and his family quickly fled to the local garrison, turning to watch his house burned to the ground. It is believed that his early morning discovery and assumed prompt sounding of the alarm warned the rest of the town of King Philip's presence before the marauders' plans for attack were complete, and thus many other homesteads in Medfield were saved.
The goal of this week's excavation was to find evidence of a burned structure and artifacts that would confirm the time the site was occupied. By the end of the day, the team found several artifacts that proved a house used to be located there. The findings of archeologist Kathy Wheeler included pieces of thin glass, oddly shaped nails, chips for tools, brick fragments, and evidence of a burned timber in one of the excavated holes. The artifacts were placed in plastic bags and will be washed and identified at a laboratory in Portsmouth. Then Wheeler will present her initial findings to the Morse Society, and the members will decide whether or not to pursue the excavation.
"I'm very excited and I'm looking forward to seeing this report," said Jane Morse. Because hundreds of years ago people used to throw their trash right outside their homes, Wheeler excavated 10 holes close to the cellar to find evidence of Samuel's trash. "The greatest hints from their everyday life come from the small things," said Cerutti.
Like her "cousin" Jane, Pam Cerutti is a 12th Morse generation, and on Monday she met another descendant, Burr Morse of Montpellier, Vermont, 7th generation to own the Morse Farm in Montpellier, a popular stopping point for tourists. "My ancestor is here. It's such a magnet to be here," said Burr, who plans to go to England to trace back his family's roots. The connection between the three Morse descendants was immediate and strong. "We're walking in our ancestor's home. There is a bonding here," Cerutti added.
NOTE: Pamela Cerutti edits the Morse Society newsletter, winning the National Genealogical Society's "newsletter of the year" award for 2004. She also edits Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and contributed to this article.