Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Curators' Favorites

Frontier Clay Pipe Fragment

Clay pipe bowl found at Sheard Road site,
Racine County, Wisconsin.

(Museum object #1998.236.249)

Archaeologists from the Wisconsin Historical Society's Museum Archaeology Program (MAP) excavated this pipe fragment during preliminary test excavations at the Sheard Road site (47-Ra-262) in Racine County in 1998. The bowl of the pipe is decorated with a raised, molded animal motif on the lower front over the mold seam, which MAP archaeologists believe is a stylized bat. The image is an oval “face” which tapers to a point. There are two circular eyes, above which are two rounded ears. From the lower part of the face extends a curving, scroll-like design filled in with a series of small half-circles which appear similar to fish scales.

Probably modeled on American Indian pipes, the first clay pipes were produced by England in the mid-16th century after the introduction of tobacco to that country from the Americas. Men, women, and even children took up smoking, or “tobacco drinking” as the English then called it. Since that time the pipe-making process has changed very little. Makers washed pipe clay in tubs to remove dirt and debris, dried the clean clay, and formed the clay into balls which were shaped into cylinders called “rolls”. Each roll was then pierced with a thin rod and placed into a two-piece mold. A gin press compressed the mold to form the pipe’s bowl, after which the pipe was dried, trimmed, and fired. Finally, the pipe maker coated the mouthpiece with wax to keep the smoker’s lips from sticking to the clay.

On this pipe found at the Sheard Road site, the letter “W” over a “II” is impressed on the pipe’s spur. This maker’s mark was a registered trademark of the P. Goedewaagen firm, a pipe-making company in Gouda, Holland. Since the mid-17th century, Gouda served as a center for the manufacture of clay pipes for export. Manufacturers’ marks were well documented in Holland and records preserved, so many Dutch pipes can be identified by their marks. The c. 1900 Goedewaagen Export Catalog illustrates a pipe with a motif similar to the Sheard Road example, although the description does not refer to the image as a bat. Most clay pipe manufactures ceased production by the early 1900s, but the Goedewaagen firm did not close until the late twentieth century.

Through comparisons with other known pipes, MAP archaeologists studying the Sheard Road pipe believe it was manufactured sometime after 1840. Since the occupants of the Sheard Road site, Captain John T. Trowbridge and his family, relocated from their home in Rochester, New York to Wisconsin in 1836, the pipe’s date of manufacture indicates that it must have been purchased after the family arrived in Wisconsin. Other artifacts recovered from the site suggest that the Trowbridges purchased a variety of other goods (sarsaparilla, patent medicines, dishware, etc.) from sources back east as well. This pattern of trade is characteristic of Yankee and northeastern settlers to the Upper Midwest during the mid-19th century.

The Sheard Road site was the location of the Trowbridge farmstead, a tavern, and other outbuildings and provides a rare opportunity to learn about daily life in the Wisconsin Territory. Well-preserved archaeological sites representing the transition from Territory to Statehood are uncommon and this site has yielded many artifacts that a pre-Civil War Yankee family living in Wisconsin would have used on a daily basis.

Locals knew the tavern as “Captain Trowbridge's Place.” Captain Trowbridge and his family were the first Yankee/Euroamerican settlers in Dover Township in Racine County. Their home was a two-story log structure. Additional archaeological excavations at the Sheard Road site in 2003 uncovered the house cellar, cistern, above ground root cellars, and trash middens. Additional information about Captain Trowbridges’s life and the Sheard Road site excavations can be found at

Research on the Sheard Road site conducted by MAP on behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

[Sources: Ayto, Eric G. Clay Tobacco Pipes, 3rd ed.(Buckinghamshire, U.K.: Shire Publications, Ltd., 1994); Reckner, Paul, and Diane Dallal. Tale of Five Points: Working Class Life in Nineteenth Century New York, Vol. VI, The Long and Short, Being a Compendium of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Clay Tobacco Pipes from the Five Points Site, Block 160, New York City (Westchester, PA: John Milner and Associates, Inc., 2000)]


Posted on July 13, 2006

This article appears in the following categories:

select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text