Scott Brayden is scarcely out of college, but he has already amassed an impressive collection of 18th and 19th century historic artifacts from Essex, NY and environs. Frequent visits with his grandparents at Buena Vista Park ever since childhood have fostered his passion for Willsboro and Essex history, especially the sort of history that he can dig out of the earth. Scott uses a metal detector and plenty of field experience to unearth history’s secrets – from late 1700s King George coppers to War of 1812 officer buttons – lurking just beneath our feet.
Scott recently graduated from Colgate, where he earned a degree in environmental geography, and he plans to pursue a Master’s degree in geography at SUNY Binghamton. But his interest in buried artifacts predates his academics interests.
About 10 years ago Scott’s mother bought a metal detector as a Christmas gift for his father. Although his father wasn’t particularly interested in the gadget, Scott began to experiment. Initially he experienced little luck. But a few years ago he purchased a more sophisticated metal detector, and ever since he’s been discovering artifacts, transforming a casual hobby into a passion.
“It’s a unique way to interact with history,” Scott explained. “When I dig something up I wonder who was holding it last.” Scott described finding a 1773 Irish coin which made him wonder, no matter how unlikely it may seem, “If maybe it fell out of William Gilliland‘s pocket.”
How Scott Brayden Retrieves Artifacts
The metal detector Scott uses is so “smart” that it can distinguish between types of metal. The machine allows him to skip items that are unlikely to interest him. For example, he rarely digs iron artifacts because they’re simply too abundant. But silver and copper and brass almost always prompt him to pull out his trowel.
“Silver comes out of the ground looking like the day you dropped it…” Scott said. But others, like copper, corrode.
I asked Scott about the digging and recovery of artifacts, in part because we are considering letting him dig in our lawn. It turns out the process is minimally disruptive, and it is rarely possible to discern the area where he has dug once it is complete. When the metal detector indicates a likely target, he uses a small trowel to create a U-shaped flap in the sod which he can place back on the exposed dirt. Before proceeding, he uses the metal detector to rescan the area ensuring that he should proceed. The soil he removes is placed on a towel next to the hole, and once he locates the artifact, he returns the soil to the hole and folds the sod flap back over, effectively concealing his work.
Sharing, Not Selling Historic Artifacts
“Friends are usually skeptical; they think it’s weird. Most people think you’re just trying to find things to sell on the Internet.” ~ Scott Brayden
Scott still has almost everything that he’s ever discovered with the exception of a few items that homeowners chose to keep. He is motivated by the historical value, not the market value, which means that following the discovery of new artifacts he begins to research how the found items tie-in to the history of the house itself and the broader tapestry of history for the surrounding areas.
Sometimes the landowner is interested in an artifact that he finds, so Scott gives it to them, especially if he already has a duplicate in his collection. Or he will split the items with the owner or even give all the artifacts to the homeowner if they have a particular interest in preserving the history.
“I really want to share with the community… Some people think these things should stay in the ground, as if I’m stealing history…”
Although not everyone understands or appreciates his hobby, Scott is passionate about the stories these artifacts can tell, and he loves to discover and preserve historic relics that would otherwise remain lost and disintegrating. Despite occupational hazards such as the poison ivy he managed to contact during his dig the previous day (and the eye rolling of friends when he describes his hobby) Scott’s curiosity propels him onward. On the day prior to visiting with me Scott returned to an Essex home where he has dug frequently over the years. He discovered a coin almost instantly.
Artifacts Found in Essex
Over the last few years Scott Brayden has uncovered a museum’s worth of Essex artifacts. He has searched Hickory Hill, Blockhouse Farm, Dower House, Wilder House, Crystal Spring Farm, and several other local properties, and he has discovered interesting historical objects at every site. Enjoy the gallery below to get a glimpse at some of what he has found. Click images for larger views and captions.
Read the captions for each photo below or mouse over (and click on) any photo in the gallery to read the caption.
- 1813 Candadian HalfPenny Token. Reads: “Trade & Navigation” on front, “Pure Copper Preferable to Paper” on back
- Berwickshire LM (Local Militia) Button – From Scotland
- 1859 Canadian One Cent
- Broken Skeleton Key
- 1800s Civilian Button (enameled)
- 1800s Crotal Bell (probably brass)
- 1837 Canadian Halfpenny Bank Token
- Unknown button with anchor. Perhaps from a naval soldier or simply from a ship’s captain or sailor? Maybe you can identify it?
- 1798 US large cent (One of the nicest condition coins for its age I’ve ever found.)
- 1891 US Seated Liberty Dime
- Late 1700s/1800s buckle (brass or bronze)
- 1822 US Large Cent
- Buffalo nickels
- A collection of items he found at one property in Essex. Buttons, coins, a buckle, and can you identify the other large object?
- This is the oldest coin he is ever found. A silver reale dated 1753.
- 1895, 1901 US Indian Head Pennies
- Silver thimble
- 1773 George II Irish Halfpenny
- 1800s Civilian Flat Buttons (dime for size)
- A very lucky find was a set of 21st Regiment officers buttons from the War of 1812, string of 16, perhaps silverplated. He found one and went inside to rinse it off. And then he decided to check just one more time before filling the hole. That’s when he found 15 matching buttons on a flight on a rotted away string.
- 1875 CC Seated Dime
- Close up of one of the War of 1812 buttons (front & back). Inscribed on the rear of the buttons is the makers information: Giles Richards, Boston.
- Photo of 21st Regiment officer’s buttons from the War of 1812, 16 on string, right after they were taken out of the ground.
- 1830s “Un Sou” Token (Canada)
- 1895, 1899, 1903 US Indian Head Pennies (front & back). Found in the same hole.
Scott Brayden has found many more historic artifacts than I’ve included in this gallery, and he’s discovering more all the time. If you’re interested in having Scott visit your property you can use the contact form and we’ll pass along your inquiry. Or you can contact him directly by telephone at 518-257-6394.
- Essex-on-Champlain, by George O. Webster (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Vintage Postcard: View from Steamer of Essex, NY (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Get the Most out of Your Essex Library Card (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)