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.