The 2011 season completed the work at Bush Hill. Several key structures were measured and the final excavation units were dug and assessed. In addition, the area suspected as having been an African village was systematically shovel tested with significant results. While the picture of life and industrial production is far from complete at Bush Hill, we can nonetheless, use artifact types and their distribution across the site in concert with architectural history and the extant documentary sources, to begin to define its character. The land may have passed from Stapelton to Clarke in the late 1600s, most probably around 1680, and operated with an animal mill and modest scale boiling facility until around 1750. During this time a single story Estate House was constructed slightly uphill and upwind of the factory buildings and the spur road that linked the mill to the principal thoroughfare between Montpelier and the lower reaches of St John parish was widened and extended to serve the house in addition to the factory. The house was enlarged with addition of a new wing complete with stone-paved patio. Across the ghut that fronts the factory, housing for enslaved laborers was established. The entire complex likely fell into disuse following the French invasion in 1782. The property transferred again and in 1785 the windmill was constructed along with a new boiling house and curing facility. Forbes acquired the estate through marriage and again enlarged the Great House while also adding to the enslaved labor pool. This intensification of investment takes place at a time when other planters are quitting the business and the market abroad is being disrupted by conflict. Records show Forbes also consolidated land holdings in St John Parish by taking over failed or failing operations, becoming one of the elite landowners. By 1800 the estate diversified again, adding a large scale distillery, and remodeling the curing house by closing off the second story and adding an additional cistern. As new “apprentices” were added to the Bush Hill labor gangs a new village for laborers was constructed less than a quarter mile north between Montpelier and Bush Hill. This village would be continually occupied long past emancipation until at least 1940, or perhaps a few years later. The assemblage of household artifacts suggests that the Forbes enjoyed a wide range of imported consumer goods, although finer ceramics did not generally find their way into the archaeological deposits. Either these materials were carefully curated or were present in limited quantity. This contrasts sharply with the assemblage at the Ridge House, where a great percentage of the assemblage reflected a concern for status ceramics. Perhaps the scale of the Bush Hill Great House and other trappings of Estate--such as carriage house and stable—were sufficient banners of wealth and social station for the residents.
Major economic changes in the mid-1800s would see Bush Hill gain more land and strategic installation of a steam engine around 1875. The engine was housed between the windmill and the boiling house. There is every reason to believe that cane from other plantations was being crushed here (at a price) in addition to the Bush Hill harvest. The laws which were enacted on Nevis restricting the formerly enslaved from pursuits outside the agricultural industry undoubtedly played a role in maintaining the small villages, however, the aspirations of the Afro-Nevisians went beyond agriculture. Although plantation work and sharecropping remained the principal occupations for most Nevisians well into the twentieth century, shop keepers and independent businesses arose within the widely scattered communities as education became more available and improved. The houses in the villages were mostly one-room structures propped up on stone to provide an air space beneath the floors. Household water was available from a communal cistern standing beside the road. There is no substantive evidence anyone was living in the Great House after 1900, however, Bush Hill continued as a working plantation until 1950, about the same time the associated villages were abandoned. Children often were pulled from school during harvest time to help families earn money. Although discouraged by Headmasters, the practice persisted until the 1950s according to Hanzel Manner, 2005, Bamboo Shay: A Collection of Short Stories of Nevis. Published by the author. Available from NHCS.
Behind the Great House and upslope stands a house from the middle of the nineteenth century. This has been locally referred as the “overseers house” and was in fact occupied by a local recluse until the 1980s, when the wooden interior floors collapsed. The Great House is substantial with a grand stone staircase of leading to the first level above a stone ground floor. The twelve steps had at one time been covered in imported slate slabs and masonry bases to support columns stand at the foot of the staircase. Footings for a support pillar and a second staircase leading from the first floor to a second are evident in an adjacent quarter of the house Systematic beam notches in the stone work walls of the lower level cellar provided useful information concerning the construction of the missing wooden upper floors which were most likely a timbered additional story and a half.
The Bush Hill site can be divided with some certainty into three sectors and with less certainty one more. Zone 1 is comprised of the new factory constructions and operations dating from about 1790 until the early twentieth century. This zone retains standing architecture of the windmill, boiling house, curing facility, appended distillery, a series of storage warehouses and a smithy. Two exceptionally well-constructed cisterns and secondary mill complete the factory assembly. The principal cistern is 17 feet (5.2m) deep, the secondary cistern attached to the curing house adjacent to the distillery. Shoehorned between the windmill and the boiling house is a raised engine platform for the steam engine that replaced the windmill around 1870. The housing for the engine is gone but the boiler and steam pipes remain in situ within the boiling house proper. In the old factory sector, Zone 2, arethe remains of an earlier boiling house and adjacent foundations for a curing house. This structure was repurposed after the new factory was constructed, as the boiling table was filled-in, fireboxes filled, and a paved stone floor added. A additional room with rectangular windows was appended to the east wing. While some stone from the structure was likely used in other construction, there would not have been enough for all the buildings added to the site, and the style of cut stone used in the new factory is markedly different in both size and finish, so reuse may have been limited to smaller, less significant buildings. Most of the old factory stone walls remain in a collapsed state, but adequate for a conjectural reconstruction drawing. Directly in front of the old factory is an expansive paved area and smaller buildings indicated by foundations only. Unlike the newer factory, the old works were only a story and a half. Associated with these structures is a small elevated cistern. Although damaged, it still retains a plastered interior and stone flooring. Mean manufacturing dates for pipe stems from several excavation units in this zone were 1725. This corresponded well with overall ceramic mean dates, and contrasts with mean dates in the newer factory zone averaging a hundred years later. In a third zone, designated as the residential sector, are the remains of the Great House, a separate kitchen /servants house, a cistern for household use, and walkways linking the kitchen house to stone storage units. In pursuing what we believed to be a privy, instead revealed the base of a masonry cooling and water purification house. These ingenious structures filter water through limestone blocks and uses evaporation as a means of cooling. Extant examples can be found at Golden Rock and The Hermitage. Adjacent to the Great House are remnants of a carriage house and the traces of a road that leads past entry gates marked by circular cut stone pillars. Here, iron fragments, bottles, and a musket ball were recovered from test units. Although we cannot at this time argue convincingly that the laborers housing we have detected dates to pre-emancipation, it is worth discussing from the standpoint that it may offer insights into either traditional practices or continuity in form.
The arrangement of stone located on the flattened rise to the west of Bush Hill is ideally situated for keeping labor close to the site of production and for facilitating mobility to the cane fields or the factory. From the second floor of the “overseers house” the fields in three directions and the village would have been in view. From a planter’s point of view of control and surveillance the location makes sense. The grounds are rocky and of marginal quality and therefore housing labor at the site would not waste agricultural land. Stone clusters in irregular, but just as often, clearly rectangular order suggest house platform for modest scale one room houses. The presence of domestic ceramics, stone-wares, colonoware, glass, and pipestems confirms a domestic residential character for the area. A photographic image from about 1900 or slightly later taken from the very location looking east toward the factory shows a wooded hut with a thatched roof in the foreground along with a woman of Africa descent standing in front of the dwelling. This is strong evidence of housing in this location a hundred years ago and suggestive of a continuance of earlier occupation. Although artifacts from surface collection and shovel testing are few in number, they tell an interesting story. We can identify eleven possible house platforms and one collapsed stone structure, each of which was associated with surface artifacts. All artifacts were of domestic materials. With the exception of colonoware, ceramics in the assemblage were dominated by simple whitewares or transfer printed styles of mostly plates. A few fragments of stoneware storage containers were likely also for household use. Unlike the house platforms documented on the north side of Bush Hill, there were no tools or iron objects of any kind. We can easily imagine families descended from formerly enslaved Africans living close together near the plantation that continued to employ them in agricultural labor. At the same time, these families were exercising free choice of imported goods and making purchases within their means that link them to the broader market and signal dietary behaviors not unlike those of European descent on Nevis.