Van Sweringen’s

Van Sweringen’s


The Sot-weed Factor


Title page of The Sot-weed Factor



The verse below was taken from the Sot-weed Factor, a satirical poem written by Ebenezer Cooke in 1708. He has been called “the best American writer of satire before Benjamin Franklin.” He lived in St. Mary’s City in the 1690s. The poem is based on Cooke’s experiences in Maryland and conveys the rough and ready nature of the early colonial society. This poem was the inspiration for John Barth’s best selling novel of the same name.

To every Room and Nook I crept,
In hopes I might have somewhere slept;
But all the bedding was possest
By one or other drunken Guest:
But after looking long about,
I found an antient Corn-loft out.
Glad that I might in quiet sleep,
And there my bones unfractur’d keep
I lay’d me down secure from Fray,
And soundly snor’d till break of Day.

A Mystery Room


How was this space used? We do not know. One possibility is that it held a built-in bed box that could be closed up at night with curtains or doors to retain heat. Bed boxes were popular among the Dutch and used by settlers in the colony of New Netherland.

Another possibility is a “closet.” A closet in the 17th century could be an inner chamber, a side room for storing things, a private study, or a place to secure valuables in lockable trunks or chests. Perhaps Van Sweringen used this space as an office, where he kept his account books and correspondence. Based on the inventory, we think it was being used for storage after his death. How would you have used this space?

These are two examples of Dutch houses with bed boxes in New Netherland and the possible location of box bed in Van Sweringen’s closet.

A: Gysbert Jansz House 1662 B: Tennis Cornelisz Slingerlandt House 1658 C: Van Sweringen’s Closet

Meet Garrett Van Sweringen


One of the most intriguing residents of Maryland’s first capital was Garrett Van Sweringen. Originally a leader of the Dutch colony of New Amstel in Delaware, he lost most of his property when the English captured that settlement in 1664. Afterward, many Dutch and Swedish settlers moved from Delaware to Maryland. In 1667, Garrett Van Sweringen, his wife Barbara, and their children began running an inn at St. Mary’s City in a building called Smith’s Ordinary. Later he opened a “private lodging house” at the site you are now exploring. Van Sweringen had a major role in developing Maryland’s first capital. He died here in 1698 and is buried somewhere on the 1667 chapel site grounds.

Scholars have dug here many times. The first work was in the 1930s by architectural historian H. Chandlee Forman. Historic St. Mary’s City archaeologists started excavations here in 1974, with the work continuing until 1985. These excavations produced a wide range of valuable insights. To answer more questions, diggers returned in 2005. We now understand the Van Sweringen site in a general way. However, despite many years of exploration, this complex site still holds many mysteries that future archaeologists can try to solve.

This painting shows how the site may have appeared on the morning of May 10,1692. On that day, the new royal governor, Sir Lionel Copley, met with the legislature for the first time in the Council Chamber, and officially took control of Maryland from Lord Baltimore. The bird’s eye view depicts Garrett Van Sweringen’s busy enterprise along Aldermanbury Street, a main route in St. Mary’s City. Although streets were important, the river remained a vital highway for both trade and travel.

The Kitchen


The kitchen may have looked like this in May 1692. It is based on archaeological information, artifacts, and clues about the furnishings and the room’s inhabitants found in an inventory of Van Sweringen’s property made in 1700. The painting depicts late morning with Mary Van Sweringen, her daughter, and her staff busy cooking a special dinner that will be served mid-day to Governor Copley and his council. Mary is eager to make a good impression on the governor so mother and daughter are dressed for the event.
Run mouse over individual to identify

Most everything we know about the Van Sweringen site is the result of years of careful archaeological research.
run mouse over image to see archaeologists in period costume.
View of the archaeological remains of the kitchen looking from the east. In the 1970s, archaeologists uncovered the ruins of the Council Chamber and kitchen. Archaeology has a unique ability to give us glimpses into the past and to see long lost peoples.
The evidence for the foundation of the kitchen was the different soil color left where a post hole had been dug to hold a wooden post. The image on the left shows the post and hole remains before excavation while the picture on the right shows the hole and post half excavated.

The artifacts found in the excavations informs our understanding of the past.
Click on object to learn more
These 17th-century pottery fragments were found here by archaeologists. Can you find the objects they may have come from in the kitchen painting?
#1 –
English Staffordshire combed slipware cup
Staffordshire mug from St. Mary’s City.
Staffordshire slipware is decorated by trailing, and then combing, liquified clay, know as slip. While made in a number of English potting localities, it is primarily associated with the area around Staffordshire.
#2 –
Dutch tin-glazed earthenware fluted dish
Fluted or lobed dish from Van Sweringen. Fluted or lobed dish, Museum of London.
These fluted or lobed dishes were most likely made in the Netherlands though some have been attributed to Italy. They commonly appear in Dutch still life paintings.
#3 –
Tin-glazed earthenware decorated in a Chinese Wan Li style
Complete tin glazed earthenware bowl decorated in the Wan Li style
Large punch bowls decorated in imitation of Chinese porcelain where made in both the Netherlands and England. Our specimen appears more likely Dutch. The ceramic is a low fired earthenware decorated with a white glaze and blue painting.