the augustin rochon plantation

The Augustin Rochon plantation lies on one of the highest bluffs on Mobile Bay. Established by the 1760s British colonial period, the plantation was plundered in 1780 during the Spanish siege of Mobile, and never reoccupied.

Soon after our excavations at the Dog River site (a plantation established by Charles Rochon in the 1720s), the archaeological remains of another plantation were discovered in the community of Spanish Fort, Alabama. Local historian Shawn Holland first found this site, and the artifacts she collected date primarily to the British colonial period from 1763 to 1780.

Detail of an anonymous ca. 1775 British map showing the Augustin Rochon plantation (Courtesy of PRO, CO 700, North American Colonies, Florida 51).
A look at British maps from the 1770s quickly revealed that this plantation was the home of Augustin Rochon, who grew up with his brothers and sisters at the Dog River plantation established by their father Charles. What a unique opportunity to study plantations owned by two generations of the same family!
Excavations that followed proved that the archaeological remains of nearly the entire Augustin Rochon plantation remained undisturbed on a high wooded bluff overlooking Mobile Bay. But unfortunately in 1998, the expanding residential neighborhood of Spanish Fort included private development on the Rochon Plantation site. With a grant from the Alabama Historical Commission matched by funds from the City of Spanish Fort, and with landowners’ permission, we excavated portions of the site before their loss to construction.

Sarah Mattics and Matthew Cooper excavating the plantation home. The dark stain in front of them is one of its walls.
Our research has unearthed a fascinating story about one day in the autumn of 1780 when the Rochon plantation was tragically destroyed. It happened soon after the fall of British Mobile to a besieging Spanish army. On October 1, a raiding party of Choctaw Indians, allies of the British, attacked and burned the plantation. The Choctaws killed four members of the household, then carried off the Widow Rochon (Augustin had died earlier that spring) and her children, along with her daughter Marie Louise and her husband Charles Orbanne Demouy (who lived at the Dog River plantation), and two slaves. The captives were taken to Pensacola, where the British ransomed them, and they soon returned to Mobile. The Widow Rochon and her family never again lived at their plundered Mobile Bay plantation.
Our first job was to complete a shovel test survey of the entire site and surrounding area. This survey revealed seven artifact concentrations (Areas 1-7 on this map) representing different buildings at the plantation (Area 8 is the remains of a late 19th-century house site). Based on the amount and types of artifacts in each concentration, we identified Area 1 as the main house and the other areas as support structures, such as storage buildings, sheds, and slave cabins.
Our first large excavation was completed in Area 1, the presumed plantation. Beneath a few inches of soil, we found burned structural remains, including charred wooden posts, bousillage (fired clay and Spanish moss), and crushed shell mortar or tabby, used in wall construction. Many artifacts were scorched and melted, confirming historic accounts of Choctaw Indians burning the Rochon plantation in 1780.

Portion of the burned wall with blackened and charred wood, bousillage fired orange, and white shell tabby.
The types of artifacts, particularly personal and household items, from the structure in Area 1 confirm that this was the Rochon family home. Many broken plates, bowls and cups were found, including French faience, Spanish majolica, and delft, creamware, and stoneware from England. We also recovered a brass candlewick snuffer, a necessary item in every colonial home.

Fragment of a French faience plate.

Several personal belongings provide hints about the lives of the Rochon family. Delicate items such as painted porcelain buttons, copper buttons and cufflinks with glass inlays, and a gold earring were found in the burned structure.

Glass inlaid cufflink and earring.
Beneath about 10 inches of burned building rubble, appeared the outline of the house consisting of wall trenches that once held upright wooden posts. The stumps of some charred wall timbers were perfectly preserved in place. It was a small house, measuring about 18 by 36 feet.

Profile of the wall trench.
About one half of the plantation home was excavated. On one side a series of postholes traces the outline of a gallery or porch. A linear stain paralleling the posts is thought to be a dripline where rain fell from the gallery roof. Galleries, often completely surrounding a building, were a feature found on colonial Creole Cottages, an architectural style still popular along the Gulf coast.

Gallery posts and dripline.
Galleries are sometimes mentioned in colonial-period descriptions of plantation homes. This unique archaeological discovery of a galleried house at the Augustin Rochon Plantation site is the first of its kind in the Mobile Bay area.

The LaPointe-Krebs House in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
We also excavated most of Area 2, the location of another plantation building, which has since been covered over by new house construction. About half of a wall trench structure was excavated in Area 2, and there was some evidence that this building was partially burned during the 1780 Choctaw raid. We also found a fence trench that may have connected with a fence in Area 1 creating an enclosure around the two buildings.

Portions of a wall trench structure and fence trench.
The kinds of artifacts found around the Area 2 structure suggest a different function, probably for storage. Most of the sherds come from storage vessels, such as jugs and jars, rather than tablewares. Many are fragments of salt-glazed Bellarmine jars made in English potteries, and very large lead-glazed storage jars (shown here) fired in kilns in the Biot region of southeastern France.

The most common artifact from Area 2 is broken olive green wine bottles, which also suggests the storage of commodities at this structure. Much of the broken glass was discolored and melted by the 1780 fire. Very few personal or other household items were recovered around this building, which leads us to believe that it was never used as a residence.

Ray Keene excavating a fence trench containing a broken olive green bottle seen in the foreground.
Another new home will be built on the Area 4 artifact concentration, and with the permission of these landowners, we had Saturday excavations with volunteers from April to November of 1999. We uncovered the outline of a small building. Analysis of the Rochon Plantation site will be completed soon, so please visit us again to learn more about this unique archaeological site.

Copyright © 2013 by The University of South Alabama
Last Updated:
Thursday, July 23, 2015 7:39 AM