In November 2000, we dug our first shovel tests at Fairfield, beginning 20 years of public archaeology on the Middle Peninsula. To dig at Fairfield had been a dream held by Co-Directors David Brown and Thane Harpole for several years- we never thought it would come to fruition so quickly. The two decades that followed have been quite an adventure as the young Fairfield Foundation has begun to make its stamp on the region.
The early years of excavation at Fairfield Plantation
The initial excitement that came with the opportunity to do collaborative public archaeology at a site like Fairfield was soon followed by the reality of what it takes to get a non-profit organization off the ground, and make it sustainable into the future. We were quickly thrown into the world of fundraising, grant writing, membership categories, and newsletters, all while building a community of volunteers and friends who wanted to participate in archaeology and learn about the stories that could be shared with the wider public. One of our greatest thrills was bringing 4th graders to the site, talking to them about history and archaeology, and then giving them the opportunity to get their hands dirty while uncovering small fragments left behind by people centuries before- each fragment with its own story to tell.
Those opportunities are what have kept us going for 20 years. Beyond the administrative work of running a non-profit organization, and creatively finding ways to support our staff, we strive to explore the diverse stories of archaeological sites across the Middle Peninsula and beyond, share our experiences with school children and civic groups, and work with many wonderful people from near and far who want to get their hands on history. As we reflect back on 20 years, we are most proud of how many volunteers we have been able to work with, how many school children we have been able to teach, both in the classroom and outdoors, and how many collaborative relationships we have been able to build with organizations across the region. Archaeology and preservation are not quick or simple activities, and it takes a great team to sustain this kind of work for the long term.
Volunteers, school groups, and collaborations over the years
Even though the celebration of our 20th anniversary has been dampened by the current pandemic, we wanted to make sure that we thanked the many people and organizations that have worked with us over the years. Our organization would not have started without the vision and interest of Harry Wason, who gave us the keys and told us to drive! Stacy B. Lloyd III, who descended from the Burwell family and owned Fairfield until his passing in 2018 when he willed it to our foundation, was confident that we could use history as a way to bring people together in the common pursuit of discovering who we are. Wray Page, who first showed us the site in 1996, was instrumental in getting our organization off the ground, giving us direction, and inspiring us to continue our efforts. Margaret Perritt helped us begin our archaeological journey in Gloucester and guide us through the early years of creating an organization. We give thanks to all of our early board members, including James Whittenburg, E. Randolph Turner, III, and Anna Agbe-Davies, who helped take Fairfield from an idea to a thriving institution. We are also indebted to the Gloucester Historical Society for serving as an incubator to get us off the ground and continuing to support us over the years. Similarly, the Rosewell Foundation has been a close partner for the last twenty years, graciously allowing us to use their archaeology lab for many years and working with us on building interest in archaeology in the region. This list could go on and on, but suffice it to say that we are extremely grateful to everybody who has helped move Fairfield forward over the past two decades, and everyone who has supported and participated in our many programs. You are what has made the Fairfield Foundation a success.
Over the years, some friends and visitors have asked us, “So when are you going to be done with Fairfield?” After 20 twenty years, 86,000 volunteer hours, thousands of school kids, and hundreds of interns, volunteers and workshop participants later, we say, “This is just the beginning!”