Historical Research and Archaeology
at Old St. Stephens

Historical maps and records, such as land deeds and descriptions, combined with archaeological studies at Old St. Stephens can provide a view of the town in its heyday.

Historical Research on Old St. Stephens

Only one map of the town of St. Stephens is known. Mary Welsh, who lived in St. Stephens in the 1840s some two decades after the town's most active period, drew a map in 1899 from memory. While somewhat useful, the map is not a scaled drawing and it probably includes some errors since it was produced five decades after Ms. Welsh lived there. Additional research in the National Archives, the Alabama State Archives, county records, and other sources might lead to the discovery of valuable maps and records highlighting the important role St. Stephens played in early Alabama statehood and its prominence during the first American occupation of the region.

From its incorporation in 1988, the St. Stephens Historical Commission has sponsored historical research on the old town. Historian Jacqueline Matte, author of A History of Washington County: First County in Alabama, undertook the massive task of searching the voluminous historical records of Old St. Stephens. Funded by a grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, Ms. Matte, assisted by local genealogists Doris Brown and Barbara Waddell, compiled land deeds, tax records, descriptions of St. Stephens and many of its buildings, estate papers, political matters, and excerpts from The Halycyon and Tombecbe Public Advertiser. It is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning about the old town.

Jack D. Elliot, Jr., Historical Archaeologist with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, has pursued research using land records for a reconstruction of the town layout. St. Stephens was located on lands claimed prior to American occupation in 1799 and is therefore described by metes-and-bounds rather than according to the General Land Office section system. Because two other early towns, Franklin and Rodney, were platted in the same general area as St. Stephens, Elliot used historical records to produce an overview map showing all three towns in relation to one another, including street layouts and the location of individual lots. Elliot's map research may prove very useful for archaeological studies at St. Stephens.


Archaeology at Old St. Stephens

In 1995 and 1996 University of South Alabama students and volunteers from the local community excavated a portion of a limestone block building eroding out of the bank of the Tombigbee River. These excavations were directed by Read and Rebecca Stowe. Many artifacts were recovered including pearlware ceramics, bone-handled knife fragments, glass beads, bottle fragments, and gunflints. Exactly when this structure was built and its function are still uncertain, but it probably dates to the late Spanish colonial period of the early 1800s.

An archaeological survey of 190 acres along the Tombigbee River was completed in 1996 by Algonquin Archaeological Consultants, Inc., at the request of Medusa, Inc., the quarry company that owned the land. Portions of Old St. Stephens were included in this survey and several historic-era features associated with the townsite were recorded. Three prehistoric archaeological sites were also discovered.

In 1999 the St. Stephens Historical Commission received a grant from the Alabama Historical Commission to continue archaeological studies of Old St. Stephens. One of the goals of this current project is to complete a map of the entire townsite showing remnants of streets, building foundations, cellar depressions, wells, cisterns, and other notable features. This ongoing study is conducted by the Center for Archaeological Studies at the University of South Alabama under the direction of Greg Waselkov, George Shorter, and Bonnie Gums. Future plans will include excavations of some of the building sites in town and further work at the limestone block structure on the riverbank.

University of South Alabama archaeologist Debi Lawrence plotting brick and limestone building rubble at Structure 9 at Old St. Stephens.

Map of Structure 9 showing foundation rubble and artifacts

Sources:

Old St. Stephens: Historical Records Survey. Report prepared Jacqueline A. Mattie, Doris Brown, and Barbara Waddell for the St. Stephens Historical Commission, 1997, revised 1999.

The Streets of Old St. Stephens, an Examination of the Plats of Three Towns. Franklin, Rodney, St. Stephens. Report prepared by Jack D. Elliot, Jr., for the St. Stephens Historical Commission, 1998.

Summary of Archaeological Investigations at the Site of Old St. Stephens (1995-1996). Report prepared by Noel R. Stowe and Rebecca N. Stowe for the St. Stephens Historical Commission, 1996.

Phase I Survey of 190 Acres of the Citadel Limestone Quarry Property, Washington County, Alabama. Report prepared by James C. Litfin and Rebecca A. Hawkins, Algonquin Archaeological Consultants, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio, for Medusa, Inc., Citadel Cement Division, Demopolis, Alabama, 1996.


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The Old St. Stephens website was created and is maintained by Sarah Mattics
Copyright © 2007 by the St. Stephens Historical Commission.
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Last updated Tuesday, April 03, 2007