Defining Attributes: Townsend Ware is a Late Woodland/Early Contactperiod ware of the Coastal Plain physiographic province. The ware is characterized by temper of crushed shell (ribbed mussel and oyster are commonly used) in a usually silty paste and exterior surfaces which are fabric impressed (the weft-twined fabric leaves impressions of parallel, stacked rows of narrower linear impressions oriented perpendicular to the rows). Exterior decoration executed by incising into the clay body in the area below the rim is common.
Chronology: The Virginia Radiocarbon Date Database indicates Townsend ceramics were produced throughout the Late Woodland period in Virginia and into the early Contact period. Fourteen reliable dates have been obtained and range from 945+/-65 CE (Pasbehegh Tenement site, 44JC0042) to 1590+/-120 CE (DeShazo site, 44KG0003). Griffith’s research in Delaware has indicated that Rappahannock Fabric Impressed appeared early during the Late Woodland and continued to be manufactured throughout the period. Rappahannock Incised occurred prior to 1300 CE, while Townsend Corded Horizontal appeared only after 1350 CE.
Distribution: Townsend is common throughout the Coastal Plain in Virginia, Maryland, and southern Delaware and would appear to be associated with the Algonquian speakers encountered by the earliest Virginia settlers. However, Townsend is also the dominant ceramic at the Hand site (44SN0022), located on the Nottoway River near Franklin, Virginia, in an area of the Coastal Plain understood more generally to be associated with Iroquoian-speaking peoples. The distribution of Townsend pushes inland further than Mockley and can occur commonly at the fall line and in a few instances, in the Piedmont along the James and Rappahannock Rivers.
Description: Paste/Temper: The ware is tempered with 10 to 20 percent crushed shell (ribbed mussel and oyster are commonly used) in a clayey paste. Surface Treatment: Blaker identified five types within Townsend Ware, each largely differentiated by the presence/absence or type of decoration applied: Rappahannock Fabric Impressed (undecorated); Rappahannock Incised (incised decoration); Townsend Incised (less of the decorative embellishment found in Rappahannock Incised); Townsend Corded Horizontal (decoration similar to Townsend Incised, but executed with a cord-wrapped dowl or direct cord technique); Townsend Herringbone (similar to Townsend Corded Horizontal but with the corded decoration surmounting incised herringbone patterns). Rappahannock Fabric Impressed had been named and described earlier by Karl Schmitt as a minority ceramic from the Potomac Creek site collections in Stafford County, Virginia, but Blaker subdivided Schmitt’s single group into two, creating the Rappahannock Incised type. Daniel Griffith has since revised Blaker’s Townsend typology, reducing her five types to four: Rappahannock Fabric Impressed (no decoration); Townsend Corded Horizontal (direct or pseudo-cord impressions); Townsend “Herringbone” (pseudo-cord impressed, horizontal bands surmounting incised herringbone or zig-zag patterns); and Rappahannock Incised (a variety of incised decorative motifs). Within the different decorated types, Griffin has defined several numbered general categories of motifs. Griffith’s classification system facilitates comparison between assemblages and has allowed researches to investigate differences in the types and frequency of decorative motifs across space and through time.
Decoration: Incised motifs are commonly found in Virginia while Townsend Corded Horizontal and Townsend ‘Herringbone’ decoration are rare. Sites that appear late or can be attributed to the protoEuropean Contact period tend not to have decorated Townsend ceramics. Thus the period of greatest decoration probably occurs in the middle of the Late Woodland Period.
Morpholopgy: Vessel Form: The most common vessel shapes are jars with open, direct mouths (neither constricted nor flaring necks). Vessel Diameter: Vessels are both large and small with the largest measuring 24 to perhaps 45 cm in diameter. Vessel Height: Unknown Rim Form: Flat top lip with rounded edges. Base Form: Bases are rounded or conical. Vessel Wall Thickness: Moderately thick vessel walls ranging from 4 to 10 mm; majority from 5 to 6 mm.
Discussion: Older archaeological reports may identify Townsend ceramics in Virginia by the type name Chickahominy Fabric Impressed, defined by Evans in 1955 (Evans 1955:44-49). In her early work, Blaker recognized, as we do today, that Rappahannock Fabric Impressed of the Townsend Series and Evans’ Chickahominy Fabric Impressed of the Chickahominy Series are “very nearly identical” and Evans’ “Chickahominy Fabric Impressed type could … be equally well classified as Rappahannock Incised.” Within the James and Chickahominy River basins of the Inner Coastal Plain, a localized variant co-occurs with typical Townsend. These vessels are identical, including decorations, to Townsend, but are either tempered with small quantities of very fine crushed shell, fine sand, or no temper. Most vessels are small and have thin walls. Accordingly, it is most appropriate to treat this pottery as a highly local variant of Townsend and not as a separate ware. Evidence suggests that this variation is very late. A related, but differently different, pottery which is found in the Outer Piedmont along the James River on or near Sabot Island is called James River Ware. It is identical in firing, form and design to Townsend, including the incised types. The only difference is temper. James River Ware is tempered with very scant amounts of crushed quartz. James River “trade” sherds occur on the Chickahominy River with Townsend Pottery at the Upham Brook and Posnick sites, while highly decorated Townsend ‘trade” sherds have been recovered from James River sites in Goochland County (McLearen & Mouer 1989). Fabric-impressed ceramics similar to those of the Townsend Ware are included in David Phelps’ (1983) Colington Ware, which is distributed in the North Carolina Coastal Plain as far south as the Neuse River estuary.
Defined in the Literature: Townsend Ware was first comprehensively described by Margaret C. Blaker from ceramics excavated during the late 1940s from the Townsend Site, located on a tidewater creek a short distance inland from Lewes, Delaware.