Jewel found in ruins of Colonial-era North Carolina tavern reveals coded message
A rare jewel has been found in a ruined 18th Century tavern in North Carolina — revealing a secret code to rebel against British rule.
Archaeologists say that the pea-sized bead, first thought to be a clump of dirt, would’ve been used by American rebels to signal opposition to King George III.
It marked a turning point in the rebellion against Britain, with rebels directly attacking the King rather than his colonial appointees.
In 1776, British troops destroyed the important port town of Brunswick in North Carolina.
And for the past few decades, archaeologists have been excavating the site for clues about colonial life.
Using radar scanning systems, East Carolina University researchers found the remains of a small tavern.
It’s believed that the tavern burned down around a decade before the redcoats came to Brunswick, the Smithsonian reveals.
Excavations at the 400-square-foot site have produced a pressed jewel “the size of the pea.”
It’s said that this confirms Brunswick as being a “hotbed of sedition.”
The small pressed-glass jewel is believed to have fallen out of cuff-links and had a secret message emblazoned on it.
Etched into the glass was the phrase “Wilkes and Liberty 45,” which was a secret message used by rebels in the 1760s to signal opposition to Britain’s king.
“That was a rallying cry for those in opposition of King George III,” said Charles Ewen, of East Carolina University.
He said the Wilkes part of the message was a reference to John Wilkes, a member of Parliament who supported American rebels.
Wilkes famously started an early tabloid paper called The North Briton, condemning the Earl of Bute, Britain’s prime minister at the time.
But in 1763, issue 45 of the publication famously criticized King George III directly.
Wilkes, along with 49 others, were charged with sedition and treason and arrested.
However, he escaped charges by claiming immunity as a member of Parliament.
Soon after, rebellious American colonists adopted “Wilkes and Liberty!” as a coded message for dissent against British rule.
The number 45 was also taken up as a symbol of rebellion, in honor of the North Briton issue attacking the King.
According to Ewen, similar cuff-links have been found in England, but this is the first such finding in North Carolina.
“I think of it in the same way as secretive Christians wearing the fish symbol to identify each other,” he explained. “Maybe it was something under the radar.”
“They weren’t outright denouncing the government, but maybe wearing these cuff-links let you know who was on your side.”
The tavern where the jewel was found is believed to date back to the mid-1730s or early 1740s.
It fronts the Cape Fear River and may have also served as a brothel.
Other findings at the side include nails, pipes, china, drinking vessels and parts of a pocket watch.
Archaeologists now hope to continue digging at the site, as only 25 percent of the town has been excavated.
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