We don’t often think about the historical significance of the everyday items we use and then discard. But two centuries from now, archeologists and historians might find the items that we consider trash to be invaluable.
UF History Graduate student Diana Reigelsperger (8LS) found this out firsthand this year when she participated in an archaeological dig led by Flagler College archaeologist Dr. William Locascio. This project was part of a Flagler College field school designed to introduce undergraduate students to the basic methods of archaeology. The site of the dig was a lot at the corner of Spanish Street and Cuna Street in downtown St. Augustine, Florida. Based on historical research and an earlier dig in 2009, the house that occupied this lot at the beginning of the nineteenth century was likely a tavern frequented by local soldiers.
The site was once the home of a Minorcan storekeeper named Pablo Sabate who came to St. Augustine as a boy in 1777. The Minorcans were a group of indentured servants brought to Florida by Dr. Andrew Turnbull to work at his indigo plantation in New Smyrna. When conditions deteriorated and the families were not released from their contracts on time, the Minorcans migrated to St. Augustine seeking shelter. Governor Patrick Tonyn freed them from their contracts and permitted them to settle in the city. Sabate’s house in the city served as a tavern and possibly as a store as well. Sabate had acquired this property from the Spanish government by 1803, and later acquired adjacent buildings as well as a farm about five miles to the north. Shipping records show that he eventually began to import goods for his establishment. He owned shares in ships and employed at least one son in the import business. Sabate grew to be a wealthy citizen in St. Augustine, even lending money to the cash-poor city treasury.
For this year’s investigation, Reigelsperger contributed her knowledge based on research from her Master’s project, in which she reconstructed gendered expectations of orderly and disorderly behavior in taverns in Spanish St. Augustine. The dig took place in May 2012 and expanded on the previous work of city archaeologist Carl Halbert. The field school uncovered a hearth, a trash pit, and a variety of household goods including bottles, ceramics such as teacups and olive jars, a pin, and a perfume bottle. The findings raised more questions than answers. Did this tavern also offer overnight accommodations? Documents suggest that Sabate resided at his home in the countryside where he raised his family. If so, who actually ran the tavern? Were women present as servers or patrons? A city full of soldiers and sailors, St. Augustine was replete with drinking establishments. What made Sabate’s business thrive? Locascio and Reigelsperger are collaborating on further research into the material culture found at the site and what it might reveal about the people who passed through Sabate’s house.
For more information about this project, you can read more about it at: