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Claggett Retreat Site (18FR25)

(Located at The Bishop Claggett Center, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, Adamstown, MD)

Location. The Claggett Retreat Site (18FR25) is located north of the Monocacy River (right descending bank of the river) within a large eastward budging bend of that river, midway between the City of Frederick and the Potomac River. The site is on the property of the Bishop Claggett Center, a retreat camp and conference facility owned by the Episcopal Dioceses of Maryland. North of the river, on a slight rise above normal river flow, the site is thought to be about 50 meters by 100 meters in size, and to represent a prehistoric American Indian village site of the Mason Island Phase. (ca. AD 1300, Slattery and Woodward 1992: 144; Dent 2002).

Investigation History. The prehistoric site in the bottoms along the Monocacy River east of the Bishop Claggett Center first came to the attention of the archeological community in Maryland when Buckeystown resident and avocational archeologist Calvin Swomley excavated “28 pits” at the site in 1964. Mr. Swomley did map the locations of his excavations, and this map was examined by archeologists working with the State Archeologist’s office in the 1970s. The pits referred to were those excavated by prehistoric inhabitants of the site and subsequently filled with their village debris. They formed half of an oval pattern measuring 75 meters in length and 45 meters in width. Mr. Swomley’s artifact collection from the site was examined by archeologists from the State Archeologist’s office in 1978, and consisted of nearly 150 fragments of prehistoric pottery, three small triangular stone projectile points (“arrow heads”), and a few pieces of animal bone. The Smithsonian Institution reportedly also has a handful of prehistoric pottery fragments and one infant human skull from the Claggett Retreat Site, presumably donated by Mr. Swomley.

Another local avocational archeologist, Mr. Spencer Geasey, reported the site to the State Archeologist’s office in 1970 as a “small Late Woodland Village” At this time, the site was given the number 18FR25 (the twenty-fifth site to be reported in Frederick County).

The site was visited by professional archeologists twice during the Monocacy River regional survey conducted by the State Archeologist’s office between 1978 and 1982. While the site was relocated during these walk-over investigations, no excavations were conducted, and no artifacts were recovered (Kavanagh 1982, 2001).

Archeological Significance. The result of these previous investigations is a tantalizing picture of a unique site type about which we know very little. As a “Late Woodland” site, we know it to be of the prehistoric cultural period identified by archeologists as existing just before European contact (AD 1300 – AD 1500). As a Mason Island Phase, we know it to be a representative of one of three Late Woodland cultural subdivisions known in the Monocacy River area; Mason Island Phase sites (also referred to as Page Phase) are better known in western Maryland, where they are more numerous. No purely Mason Island Phase sites have been investigated east of Allegany County. Investigations of the other two Late Woodland phases, Keyser Phase and Montgomery Phase, have occurred in Frederick County.

What we don't know about the Page Phase is quite more remarkable than what we do know. For example:

  • How does the Mason Island Phase relate to the other two Late Woodland phases?
  • Do Mason Island villages look different than those of the other two Late Woodland phases?
  • Did the houses in Mason Island villages look different from the other two phases?
  • Are there other differences we can identify? What about similarities?
  • Did the three phases represent change within a single cultural tradition, or do these they represent different peoples?
  • If they are different peoples, did they co-exist in the area, or did they replace one another?
  • If the Mason Island phase represents an intrusive culture in the area, where did it come from?

The Claggett Retreat site is the only known purely Mason Island phase site in the Monocacy River area, and as such represents a unique and exciting opportunity to investigate these and other questions about the human past in Frederick County.

References Cited

Dent, Richard J., jr.
1995 Chesapeake Prehistory: Old Traditions, New Directions. Plenum Press, New York.

2002 Field School Report – The Winslow Site. ASM Ink 28(7): 1-2.

Kavanagh, Maureen
1982 Archaeological Resources of the Monocacy River Region, Frederick and Carroll Counties, Maryland. Submitted to the Maryland Historical Trust, Frederick County Planning Commission, Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission. On file, Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville.

2001 Late Woodland Settlement in the Monocacy River Region. Maryland Archeology 37(1):1 - 12.

Slattery, Richard G. and Douglas R. Woodward
1992 The Montgomery Focus: A Late Woodland Potomac River Culture. Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc., Bulletin Number 2.