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Unearthing Denton’s History: The Archaeological Dig at Barwick's Ordinary and Beyond

Over the past several years, Washington College’s archeology students have spent their summers in Denton, studying the site of the long-forgotten Barwick’s Ordinary, which operated between 1763 to 1783. In late-18th-century terms, an "Ordinary" refers to a public

The 2023 field school at the Barwick's Ordinary site.

business that provided consistent meals at fixed times and prices, as well as public lodging. These were typically simple, communal dining places where travelers, locals, and often those with limited means could eat together. In popular slang, the title “ordinary” was used to differentiate the rugged, lower-class establishments from the more uppity “Inn and Taverns” meant for higher-class individuals. 

The students are back again this year, albeit at another site, searching for Native American artifacts to help us explain some gaping holes left in our history. Due to the comparatively late settlement of Caroline County by those with the means to document such history, little can be proven about local Native tribes before the mid-1700s. As the fieldwork begins anew, let's delve into what has been discovered so far and the broader implications for our understanding of Caroline County’s beginnings. 

Barwick's Ordinary was located on Pig Point, which was the unofficial name for Denton in its early years. Denton, originally Edenton, was named after the last royally-appointed Governor of Maryland Robert Eden, but he fled due to increasingly violent inpopularity in June of 1776. Not wanting to be associated with this loyal underling of the King of England, the nickname Pig Point was stuck in the popular mind of Marylanders until after the Revolutionary War. But I digress.

The Ordinary served as a crucial hub of activity in the late 18th century. Operated by James Barwick, who was also the local jailor and ferry operator, this site was more than just an inn. It was a center for court operations, a ferry point across the Choptank River, and a social gathering spot. The owner, James Barwick’s role in the community extended beyond hospitality; he was instrumental in facilitating the daily operations and social fabric of early Caroline County. When Caroline was first founded and was in need of a central location to host court, house visitors on official business, and quarter delinquents, Mr. Barwick happily offered his space and services for the county’s use, charging the price of 1,000 pounds of tobacco for doing so. 

A group of men, women, and children in colonial dress gathered around a table sharing in conversation and drink.
"The Village Tavern" by John Lewis Krimmel, depicts what an average Tavern or Ordinary looked like.

The archaeological dig at Barwick's Ordinary has revealed significant artifacts that paint a picture of life on the Choptank River during the 18th century. Among the most striking findings are dice made from animal bones, 18th-century currency, porcelain tea sets, oyster shells, animal fragments, and other consumer goods that reflect the international tastes and trade connections of the period. The Professor leading the dig, Dr. Julie Markin, says that these artifacts indicate that residents of Caroline County were not isolated; they were active participants in the global rhythms of consumerism and political discourse of 1760s-1780s America. In the years leading up to the American Revolution, public spaces such as Barwick’s were the meeting houses of the Patriot cause. Over drinks at similar establishments across the colonies, regular people discussed their opinions on British policies and news of developments in the rift between Britain and America, such as the Stamp Act or the Boston Tea Party. It is safe to assume that as the war became more imminent, it took over the atmosphere of the Ordinary. 

Dr. Markin says that the goal of expanding their operation to other sites “is to add to our knowledge of Native American activity and settlement on the Choptank, primarily between Denton and Greensboro.” As far as this new Chapel Branch West site, she says that their findings illude to our little corner of the world being far more connected to international trade than once assumed. While pondering this subject she notes, “the ceramics we recovered for the 2500-year period indicate the movement of goods, ideas, or people from the north (possibly NY area) via the Susquehanna, the east (Delaware), and the west (across the Bay), possibly into the Piedmont. Why? Was it a trade hub? What it a special place in terms of cultural meaning? We don't have those answers yet.” 

As the students and Dr. Markin resume our fieldwork this summer, the focus will be on surveying properties along both sides of the Choptank River to further understand Native American activity and settlement patterns. This work is crucial in piecing together the broader narrative of how these communities interacted with their environment and each other.

A hand holding up a small, fragmented piece of clay pottery.
A piece of pottery unearthed at the dig site.

The archaeological dig at Barwick's Ordinary and beyond is more than just an exploration of a historical site; it is a journey into the past that enriches our understanding of the present. As they continue their work, they hope to uncover more stories and artifacts that will help piece together the intricate tapestry of life along the Choptank.If you are still interested to learn more, the team at Barwick’s had their findings published in the Archeological Society of Maryland’s bi-annual publication: MARYLAND ARCHEOLOGY, Volume 56 (1&2) :1-18, March - September 2023. This journal requires a paid subscription, but it is worth the read if you are interested in topics such as the consumer patterns of Barwick’s Ordinary, the situation of buildings and outhouses, or the process of performing the archeological dig. 

This group of dedicated Washington College students and seasoned professors is seeking input from the community for potential sites to explore. If you have knowledge of properties that might hold archaeological interest along the Choptank, you can email Dr. Markin at


MARYLAND ARCHEOLOGY, Volume 56(1&2):1-18, March-September 2023. 

MSA SC 5598-5-3 Judge James F. Schneider Collection relating to the History of the Courts and the Legal Profession in Maryland. James F. Schneider. 1774-1989

MSA SC 5598-5-3 Judge James F. Schneider Collection relating to the History of the Courts and the Legal Profession in Maryland. James F. Schneider. 1774-1989: Weeks, Christopher. “Inventory of Historic Sites in Caroline County.” The Maryland Historical Trust, Nov. 16, 1980. 

Photos courtesy of Washington College's Anthropology and Archaeology Instagram.



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