In search of Governor Morris’s kitchen: new archaeology at the Trent House.
In April, 1742 New Jersey Governor Colonel Lewis Morris wrote a letter to Pennsylvania Governor George Thomas wherein he agreed to rent the Trent House, which Thomas owned at the time, for L60 per year upon agreement that a new wing with a kitchen addition be built that would provide servant’s quarters above it. He also required improvements to drainage, the installation of gutters, and solutions to dampness and standing water in the cellar-all problems that still challenge the Museum today! Also, as Governor Morris had heard that the on-site well went dry in the summer months, he asked that the well be made deeper, or a new one dug in another location. He requested that the kitchen addition not abut the house, but be accessed through the northeast corner door via a gangway. In order to accomplish this, an existing porch and bulkhead in that location would have to be removed. He concluded by requesting that the “wing should be finished by September”.
By all indications, the addition was completed that year, (1742) and it appears that Morris was fairly successful in obtaining a wing that matched his specifications. The first published image of the house and kitchen may be seen in the c.1750 map picture above. In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, 12 July 1759, owner Robert Lettis Hooper advertised the house, then known as Kingsbury House, (so named by Governor Morris) for purchase or lease. The ad describes the house, “with a Large Brick Kitchen, 30 Feet by 20, with a Handsome pav’d Gangway between the House and Kitchen, 14 Feet by 20 Long, the Kitchen two Storey High, with a Well in it, and Four handsome Appartments above all for Servants, with a Fire-place in one room, if any of the Servants should be ill”. Additionally, a “To Let” ad in the Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser of 6 March 1800 mentions a brick kitchen with “wafh houfe”.
From 1844 to 1905, several modifications and additions to this wing and the house transpire, until finally during the WPA Restoration Project of 1934 to 1936, all additions to the house are removed. It was possible that any vestiges of the c.1742 addition were lost at that time.
In both 2014 and 2015, the Trent House Association was the grateful recipient of generous grants from an anonymous donor, earmarked for the purpose of an archaeological site investigation and evaluation of the c.1742 kitchen and gangway of the Trent House. Trenton’s archaeology firm Hunter Research, who has excavated at the Trent House previously, was engaged to discover what tales the buried past can tell about the “lost” kitchen.
Additionally, perhaps more revealing might be the discovery of domestic and material artifacts that were lost or discarded by the range of residents spanning the Early Native American period to the Stokes family. It is, perhaps most important to consider the poignant circumstances of the early Trent House “servants” for whom the kitchen addition was constructed. It is almost certain that this workforce comprised enslaved African peoples. With luck, we might uncover material and cultural evidence that will illuminate their plight and lifestyles and tell the human story of the Trent House.
Excavations in the fall of 2014 and June 2015 almost certainly confirmed the discovery of the ca. 1742 kitchen structure. To date, remnants of the northern, southern and eastern walls have been uncovered, as well as the likely kitchen hearth foundation. Typical building, pottery, foodstuffs and domestic artifacts were discovered, although a detailed inventory awaits completed documentation by the Hunter Research team. Coming up next is the expansion of the dig so as to confirm all aspects of the kitchen and gangway connecting the kitchen to the House. We also plan to begin exploratory investigation of more of the northeast quadrant of the property via the use of GPR (ground penetrating radar.)
The public has been invited to participate in our “be an archaeologist for a day” digs, expertly led by teams of personnel from Hunter Research. Look for upcoming opportunities to participate on this website.
The Board of Trustees of the Trent House Association would like to thank our very generous anonymous donor for funding this important addition to the body of knowledge about the history of the Trent House.