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Eighth-Grade Archaeology Camper Finds Revolutionary War Button at Yorktown

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Eighth-grader Finney Lynch holds the Revolutionary War-era button she found in Yorktown.

Eighth-grader Finney Lynch holds the Revolutionary War-era button she found in Yorktown. (Photo courtesy the Watermen’s Museum)

The rain on June 24 did more than just water the plants. It likely loosed a Revolutionary War-era button from a bank of land after more than 230 years, planting it in full view of an eighth-grade archaeology camper.

As Finney Lynch, an eighth-grade student at The Covenant School in Charlottesville, walked the path from the Archer Cottage next to Cornwallis’ Cave at Yorktown to the Watermen’s Museum on June 25, she spotted a button in the muddy ground.

“I picked it up and didn’t think it was anything at all,” Lynch said.

She gave the button to the Watermen’s Museum Archaeology Camp leader Jason Lunze, and he knew what she had found: an 18th-century button made of copper alloy, like bronze, from the Revolutionary War.

The button has been researched and is believed to be a collar or sleeve button from the 85th Saintonge Regiment Infantrie, a French unit based in the West Indies that traveled to Newport, R.I., and marched to Yorktown to aid George Washington’s troops during the 1781 Siege of Yorktown.

“I was actually really surprised, kind of shocked, because I don’t usually find stuff like that,” Lynch said. “I’m good at finding stuff on the ground like necklaces and coins but I’ve never found something from the Revolutionary War so that was really exciting.”

Due to the rarity of the button – the last button of the same time period was found 20 years ago — and its good condition, conservation efforts began immediately.

“I have buttons in my own dresser that do not look as good as this button does in person,” said the Watermen’s Museum Executive Director Dr. David Niebuhr.

A close up of the Revolutionary War button, believed to have popped of an 85th Saintonge Regiment Infantrie soldier's coat. (Photo courtesy The Watermen's Museum)

A closeup of the Revolutionary War button, believed to have popped off an 85th Saintonge Regiment Infantrie soldier’s coat. (Photo courtesy the Watermen’s Museum)

Because the button was found in close proximity to the water, the first step in conservation was to purge the button of any potential salt contamination. Niebuhr explained when an artifact is exposed to salt water and is taken out of that environment it can deteriorate into nothing over time, sometimes within weeks.

After purging the salt water from the button, it will be stabilized using a strong solvent to prevent it from deterioration.

A dental wax mold will be made of the button so a resin cast can be manufactured for Lynch to have as a keepsake. Lynch said she isn’t sure when her button cast will arrive, but she’s excited to receive it.

“I think I’m going to put it somewhere really safe and special so I can have it for, like, ever,” she said.

The button will eventually be turned over to the National Park Service. The park service’s initial inclination was to put the button on display at the Yorktown Visitor Center, Niebuhr said.

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Posted by on August 1, 2013. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

10 Responses to Eighth-Grade Archaeology Camper Finds Revolutionary War Button at Yorktown

  1. Steven Taskovics Reply

    August 7, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Congradulations on finding an original button! I am one of the members of the recreated Regiment Saintonge – the button is definitely an original. The Saintonge button has a unique outer ring relief that surrounds the “wreath and dot” of typical French buttons of the period. This button matches with ones found in CT, NY, and VA.

    This is treasure – having relics like this in plain view helps improve the impression of the reenacting hobby as a whole.

  2. Rev. Fr. Joel Osborne+ Reply

    August 6, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Eyeball detecting can be fun. Walking around the “trail” at one South Carolina site after a week of rains, and lo and behold there was a 18th century bronze shoe-buckle lying right there! Best find ever!

    Pax Christi
    Rev. Joel+

  3. Jim Reply

    August 4, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I see nothing wrong with the parks or state utilizing Metal dectorist to unearth relics for display in a museum etc. Would you rather let them rot and never see the light of day????? Not me, I think we can learn a lot from them, things that no one alive knows. There are Revolutionary War buttons of regiments that we have no clue what they looked like…. Who knows what else could be underground waiting to be discovered and put on display to enrich the are and it’s history.

  4. Taylor Stoermer Reply

    August 3, 2013 at 11:58 am

    And kudos to the great folks at The Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown (http://www.watermens.org) for handling it so well.

  5. Taylor Stoermer Reply

    August 3, 2013 at 11:41 am

    It seems that it was dealt with in a responsible way, with all the appropriate bodies consulted. It’s win-win, for history, preservation, the battlefield, and, especially, for young Ms. Lynch’s direct contact with them. Compare that with the perspective proffered in http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/03/opinion/open-season-on-history.html?smid=fb-share.

  6. James Stone Reply

    August 2, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    They should put it on display, but let her keep it. State parks let metal detectorists come in a pilfer just about every piece of Rev War ordinance under the guise of “research”. But a cool story.

  7. David Niebuhr Reply

    August 2, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    We teach our campers that historical artifacts belong to history and are best turned over to the people who will treat them as such. In this case, the button was found in the proximity of National Park Service property and we contacted them immediately to notify them of the incidental find and to ask them how they would like to proceed in receiving the artifact. We also asked if our trained archaeological team could conduct the initial stabilization and conservation of the artifact until they could receive it for their collection.

  8. Chris Reply

    August 2, 2013 at 10:56 am

    It’s not exactly “finders keepers.” In the United States, ownership of artifacts belongs to the landowner, no matter who finds them. (This of course, is different in other countries, where a government entity often has the final say.) If the artifact was found on private land, the button belongs to the landowner who can then decide to either keep it, sell it, give it to the girl, or donate it to a museum. If it was found on public land, it is illegal to collect it without permission and the button will likely go to a museum, historic site, or archaeological repository. This girl is learning to value our shared archaeological heritage, which is not “finders keepers” but should instead belong to everyone.

  9. Bob R. Reply

    August 1, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    So much for finders keepers!

  10. Liz Reply

    August 1, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    But…she found the button.

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