Thomas Brawner Gaines Farmstead - Southview Phase III

Prince William County, Virginia
Owner: Lerner Enterprises

The Phase III data recovery that WSSI's Thunderbird Archeology division conducted at the Thomas Brawner Gaines Farmstead in Prince William County (Site 44PW1662) resulted in the recovery of a large assemblage of artifacts representing the mid 19th century domestic, farmstead, military, and military/medical components of the site.   The historic occupants of site 44PW1662 included Thomas B. Gaines, (for whom the Town of Gainesville is named) and his household from circa 1847 until his death in 1856.  Subsequently, the household of his widow, Mary C. Gaines, occupied the site from 1856 through no later than 1875 when thewidow’s household appears to have removed to a new dwelling on the same property. Somerville Gaines, the daughter of Mary C. and Thomas B. Gaines may have reoccupied site 44PW1662 in the early 20th century, possibly residing there until her death in 1915.

Documentary records indicate that the Gaines family remained at the site throughout the Civil War and that the site served as headquarters for Union general officers and staff including General Rufus King in the spring of 1862, General Franz Sigel in the autumn of 1862, and Colonel S.S. Carroll in early 1863.  The dwelling and core area of the site was also used as a Union military hospital for five weeks in the fall of 1863 during the Bristoe campaign. The military and military/medical components of 44PW1662 are represented in the archeology by a small assemblage of Civil War era military artifacts recovered from the site, mostly from intact historic contexts.  These finds provided evidence for the documentary record of multiple occupations by Union troops during the Civil War. 

The Phase III data recovery at site 44PW1662 involved limited metal detector surveys and close interval shovel testing; the hand excavation of 14 test units; and the mechanized excavation of a deep stone-lined well and the house cellar.  WSSI stripped the surface soils from over an acre of land within the site to look for subsurface features related to the historic occupation of the site.  Subsequently, WSSI identified 48 cultural features, many of which were likely associated with the mid-19th century occupations of the site.  Key historic features included the foundation of the mid-19th century Gaines house, a stove pit possibly associated with the farmstead’s meat house, and a refuse pit associated with both the mid-19th century domestic and Civil War era military use of the site.  (Although the stone-lined well at site 44PW1662 was excavated to a depth of almost 17 feet below ground surface; it was found to contain only rubble stone and modern refuse.) 

The archeological remains of the historic Gaines family dwelling was fully exposed, and WSSI identified a kitchen wing on the east and evidence of a porch on the north side of the building.  The entire structure was a fairly large house for the time, measuring almost 40 feet by 20 feet.  The house cellar had apparently been open for many years after the destruction of the Gaines house, and WSSI found it to be filled with 20th century refuse, including almost the entire chassis of a farm tractor, 1960s era household appliances, and even a yellow plastic toy dog.  Within the footprint of the dwelling, intact historic deposits were found only in one of the building’s two stone hearths and in association with the stone staircase that led into the cellar. 

Modern disturbance at site 44PW1662 was greater than expected, and difficulties in separating the domestic/farmstead component and the components associated with the Civil War era military occupation of the site were problematic, limiting the research value of the data in association with either component.  The data recovery efforts at site 44PW1662, however, have contributed to our knowledge of the locally-significant Gaines family and to the local history of the Town of Gainesville, its establishment in the mid-19th century, and its role in the Civil War.