Faculty at the University of South Alabama Center for Archaeological Studies and Llewellyn “Lew” Toulmin, a native of Mobile and a member of the prestigious Explorers Club, arranged a daylong field survey and exploration to search for a Washington County, Ala., courthouse and the gravesite of Toulmin’s most renowned ancestor, a judge believed to be buried in the now extinct town. Toulmin and Dr. Gregory Waselkov, director of USA’s Center for Archaeological Studies, along with Bonnie Gums and Deborah Lawrence, archaeologists at the University, managed the project. Numerous local volunteers also joined the USA archaeological team.
As a member of the historic, New York-based Explorers Club, Toulmin submitted a request and secured one of the organization’s official flags to be carried to the Washington County site. This particular flag has a long and distinguished history dating back to 1929, when it was carried to central Africa by the famous explorer and taxidermist Harry Raven. Other flag expeditions have included missions to the moon, outer space, the deepest parts of the ocean and to Mount Everest. Today there are 202 numbered flags, each with its own history.
The old town in Washington County does not exist on any current maps, but the archaeological team is confident that it has located it. The USA archaeologists credit their success, in part, to the cooperation of Washington County landowners. The USA team plans to continue its support of Toulmin and his quest to locate the gravesite of one of his most famous ancestors, Judge Harry Toulmin.
“Carrying the Explorers Club Flag to the sites of the Washington County Courthouse and Judge Toulmin’s grave reminds us of the sense of adventure and discovery, a romantic spirit, that still motivates and inspires scientific archaeologists of our modern era,” Waselkov said. “Archaeological quests always depend upon the goodwill and historical interest of landowners, to whom we are most grateful.”
Toulmin, also author of “The Most Traveled Man on Earth,” contacted Waselkov, asking for help to locate the 1823 gravesite of his renowned descendent. He said the judge was reportedly buried between two criminals he had sentenced to death.
“I found a treasure map in the files of my deceased father, Harry Theophilus Toulmin,” said Lew Toulmin. “It’s a possible sketch of the location of the county courthouse in the mystery town located in north Washington County, which is the deathplace of my great-great-great-great-grandfather.”
James Irby, electrical engineering assistant, and Harold Kirkland, director of utilities engineering at USA, will operate the ground penetrating radar as the archaeological team conducts a shovel test survey of the suspected location of the Toulmin residence near the old courthouse site, and the gravesite of Judge Toulmin.
Gums supervised the archaeological work as the team continued to establish the site by looking for artifacts with historical value. Their main goal on any expedition is to preserve the history of Alabama, and they have the technological advancement to help them with this quest.
“We looked for depressions in the ground as we searched for the gravesite,” Gums said. “We tested the ground penetrating radar equipment at a nearby cemetery to make sure it was ready for use.”
The Explorers Club is an international multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore. Since its inception in 1904, the club has served as a meeting point and unifying force for explorers and scientists worldwide.
USA’s Center for Archaeological Studies is located in the Alfred and Lucile Delchamps Archaeology Building and two laboratories with a teaching and research center. The Museum will open in 2008 with exhibits of artifacts from prehistoric and historic sites in southwest Alabama. The Center is dedicated to archaeological research, preservation, and public education concerning our rich cultural heritage.