Artifact Corner: Battle of Plattsburgh Edition – Episode 4

Today, as part of our Battle of Plattsburgh series, we will be looking at a clay pipe from the early 19th Century with a Turks Head motif.

Hi everyone, and welcome back to our Battle of Plattsburgh series of Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at a clay pipe from the early 19th Century with a Turks Head motif. The name of the pipe refers to the turban that the figure is wearing. Clay pipes came in many shapes and designs and this Turks Head motif is very common for the early 19th Century. Tobacco smoking was ubiquitous in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Soldiers, sailors and civilians smoked tobacco regularly, and pipes are a very common artifact at most archaeological sites. There was a huge industry around the growth and sale of tobacco, which has continued today.

So, how does one grow tobacco? Tobacco has a very technical growing process. Seeds are harvested from the previous crop, and then planted as soon after Christmas as possible. The bed for planting the seeds needs to be covered with manure and then topped with either straw or small sticks. The covering with straw or sticks is thought to be a deterrent for animals, and also a way to add warmth to the bed. As soon as the plants begin to sprout, then it is time to transplant them. This typically happens around the end of March or the beginning of April.

The plants need to be well spaced, about 3 to 4 feet between each plant. It’s best to plant them on a wet day. From this point on it’s all about tending the plants – pruning any damaged leaves, making sure none of the leaves touch the ground, and keeping the beds weed free are very important.

Given how tricky it is to grow, the average yield for a crop of tobacco is about 10 to 1. So if you want 70 plants worth of tobacco, you’ll need to grow 700 plants. Of those 70 plants, you will likely only get 8 to 10 leaves per plant. This is a finicky crop at best.

Once the crop is fully grown it is harvested and dried, this typically happens in September. The plants are hung in a dry barn for about five to six weeks, and provided the environment stays dry, the leaves will then be completely cured. The tobacco needs to dry out, but not be so dry that the leaves become brittle. This entire process was rigorous and labor intensive, and almost entirely born on the backs of enslaved peoples.

The sailor who smoked tobacco from this pipe probably didn’t consider how hard the plant was to grow. He was likely just enjoying having a seat, and taking a break from the rigors of life on a boat. This particular pipe is in fantastic condition, and the detail on the face is superb. A very special thanks to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum for all of their generosity and help in making this special series. This pipe and the rest of the artifacts you will learn about this week are a part of their collections. You can learn more on their website, Thanks so much for stopping by!

Special thanks to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum for access to the LCAA collection and their collaboration in making this video possible. Visit them at Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot