"Like Nuggets from a Gold Mine" Searching for Bricks and their Makers in 'the Oregon Country'

Purpose of the Study: The history of the Pacific Northwest has favored large, extractive and national industries such as the fur trade, mining, lumbering, fishing and farming over smaller pioneer enterprises. This multi-disciplinary study attempts to address that oversight by focusing on the early brickmakers in “the Oregon Country.” Using a combination of archaeometry and historical research, this study attempts to make use of a humble and underappreciated artifact – brick – to flesh out the forgotten details of the emergence of the brick industry, its role in the shifting local economy, as well as its producers and their economic strategies. Procedure: Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis was performed on 89 red, common bricks archaeologically recovered from Fort Vancouver and 113 comparative samples in an attempt to “source” the brick. Documentary research was conducted, both to guide the comparative clay sampling, and to create a regional history of brickmaking. It was hoped that these methods would result in the identification of early centers of brick production and individual brickmakers, whose behaviors could be tested against Margaret Purser’s economic boomsurfing model. Findings: INAA results showed that Fort Vancouver brick separated into four distinct geochemical groups; a doublet, or pair of similar bricks; and six outliers, indicating they came from at least eleven separate geographic locations. Group A was likely from Wilsonville, Oregon; and Group D from Astoria, Oregon. Group D had a northern Willamette Valley provenance, and Group B appeared to be a foreign import, probably from England. Historical research documented the existence of numerous brick producers contemporaneous with Fort Vancouver. Fort Vancouver's procurement of brick was more complex than previously understood. They apparently obtained brick from Astoria, Oregon; Wilsonville, Oregon; a less well-defined location in the northern Willamette Valley; as well as possibly importing red, common brick from England. Although the individuals who made the brick recovered at Fort Vancouver were not identified. It Was possible to test the industry as a whole against the boomsurfer model. It appeared that brickmakers in the Oregon Country utilized boomsurfer strategies in pursuit of their livelihood.