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Historic, 18th and 19th centuries

(Andrews et al 2004)


The John Arnold Farmstead (15Lo168) contains the remains of a late eighteenth to early nineteenth century farm. The property was owned by the John Arnold family from the 1790s to 1840s, and the site contains the remains their log house, and a detached brick kitchen or slave quarter. It was once assumed that frontier settlers, such as the Arnolds, were removed from the larger economy of the eastern seaboard and as a result had limited  access to luxary items and a restricted diet. However, artifacts recovered from the site indicate that the occupants of this farmstead were not isolated from national markets and had a rich and varied diet.

Excavations at Arnold Farmstead (Andrews et al 2004)
Historical Context

The Arnold family was one of many who moved to western Kentucky in the 1790s. Documentary evidence from deed, tax, and census records indicate that in 1798 John E. Arnold purchased a 400 acre tract of land and brought his family, slaves, and other possessions to Logan County from their home in Virginia. The Arnolds settled about four miles north of the newly established town of Russellville at the mouth of Laurel Creek. In 1810 the Arnold household consisted of nine individuals: five European-Americans, and four enslaved African-Americans. By 1820 the household had grown to 19 individuals and consisted of nine European-Americans and 10 enslaved African-Americans. The Arnold family sold the farmstead in 1838.

1796 Map of Kentucky (Andrews et al 2004)

Findings & conclusions

Architecture and Landscape

Archaeological investigation of the Arnold Farmstead revealed the remains of two structures and related features. One house was a log structure with a dog-trot layout. It consisted of two rooms connected by a central passage way. Chimneys made of dried mud and sticks were placed at each end of the house. Artifacts from nearby refuse pits consisted of debris from everyday activities associated with the house.

The recovery of trade beads, straight pins, copper cones, and mouth harps suggests slaves occupied the original house after the Arnold Family moved into their new house. These types of items have been associated with slave dwellings throughout the American South.

 Archaeologists believe the Arnolds built their new house about a decade after the original, and they lived there until they sold the property. This new house had several features that distinguished it from the original. It was slightly smaller, but it was built with brick chimneys suggesting a more permanent dwelling. Stone and brick building material were expensive and the Arnold’s ability to purchase these items suggest they were relatively wealthy.

Example of mud and brick chimney on the side of a log cabin (Andrews et al 2004)

Excavated base of stone chimney (Andrews et al 2004)

The Arnold’s modified their farmstead in other ways that reflect their participation in broader national trends. Many successful families during the 18th and 19th centuries accomplished this by investing in permanent architecture, organizing the houselot into well-defined activity areas, and landscaping areas that are visible to the public eye. The front yard area was kept clean and soil stains located on either side of the front of the house indicate that decorative bushes may have been planted there. The house was  oriented parallel to the Greenville Turnpike, perhaps so passers-by could see both the expensive brick architecture and the landscaped yard.

Personal items including coin, mouth harp, marbles, a thimble, and a red enameled, green glass bead (Andrews et al 2004)

In contrast to the front yard, the back yard was a more functional area not intended for public viewing. It contained the original farm house, a well, a cistern, additional storage cellars, refuse pits.  After the new house was built, the original house became part of the backyard area, and was used as a detached kitchen and perhaps also for slave housing.

Domestic Artifacts and Food Remains

Analyses of the other artifacts indicate that the Arnolds had access to the same types of goods as people living in more populous settlements to the east. By purchasing expensive tea wares and other dishes, the Arnolds signaled their participation in the genteel dining patterns of the early 1800s. These include shell edge decorated plates, creamware and whiteware plates. The remains of high quality furnishings and clothing also support this interpretation. Some of these items include metal furniture hardware, oil lamp glass, clock parts, and metal clothing buttons and fasteners.

Hand painted whiteware plate (Andrews et al 2004)

Comparisons of earlier and later food remains from the Arnold Farmstead indicate that the household was increasingly successful over time. The recovery of a large amount of wild plant and animal remains from early features, indicate that the Arnold’s depended on these food sources as they cleared land for crops and established a reliable stock of domesticated animals. While corn remained the primary staple crop throughout the time the Arnolds lived at the site, dependence on European crops such as oats increased in importance later. Likewise, earlier features contained a mixture of wild animal remains such as turtle and squirrel, and domesticated species such as chicken. Later features contained nearly all domesticated species, indicating the importance of beef and pork to the Arnold family’s diet.

Overhead view of excavations at Arnold Farmstead. Darker areas of soil are architectural and storage features. (Andrews et al 2004)

Historical and archaeological evidence indicates that inhabitants of the western Kentucky frontier, such as the Arnold family, were not as isolated from regional and national markets as researchers once believed. The quality and diversity of consumer goods the Arnolds were able to obtain indicates that in the late 1790s those on the western Kentucky frontier were well connected to larger cities like Nashville and Lexington. This connection provided a means for all sorts of commodities to enter the Logan County region. In addition, their rich and varied diet indicates that they quickly adapted to the conditions of frontier subsistence production. The successful production of domesticated foods by the Arnolds, and regular access to consumer goods indicates that they lived much like aspiring farming families back east.




Related Content


For more information, the Arnold Farmstead site report is available through the Office of State Archaeology in the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology.

Andrews, Susan C., James P. Fenton, Tracey A. Sandefur, W. Stephen McBride
2004 "The Necessary, Durable, Useful, and Ornamental...": Archaeology of a Transitional Frontier Farmstead, Site 15Lo168, The John Arnold Farmstead, Logan County, Kentucky


For educational purposes, check out the video "Historic Archaeology: Beneath Kentucky's Fields and Streets."  Available through the Kentucky Heritage Council.



Last Updated 1/14/2015