18th Century Coded Cuff-link Unearthed at NC Tavern Ruins

BRUNSWICK TOWN – A team led by Archaeologist Charles Ewen were excavating the site of a 1760s tavern and unearthed a coded cuff-link that carried a rebellious message. The tavern in ‘Brunswick Town’ was destroyed in a fire in the 1760s, Ewen determined, but the collapsing structure actually preserved some treasurers for these archaeologists to find more than 250 years later. One of those treasurers adds some historical context to North Carolina’s ‘First in Freedom’ reputation.

From Charlotte Observer:

“[…] “No bigger than a pea,” the clump was washed to reveal a pressed glass jewel, etched with a Colonial-era code: “Wilkes and Liberty 45.”

Archaeologist Charles Ewen told McClatchy those words were infamously seditious in the 1760s, and indicate the excavated tavern in Brunswick Town was likely a den of rebellious Americans.

“That was a rallying cry for those in opposition of King George III,” says Ewen, director of Phelps Archaeology Laboratory at East Carolina University. […]”

According to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, John Wilkes was a “[m]ember of Parliament, political agitator, friend of freedom, demagogue, wit, libertine, pornographer, and shameless self-promoter, England’s John Wilkes was to colonial Americans an idol. Boston’s Sons of Liberty, which counted among its number John Hancock and Samuel Adams, identified Wilkes with their cause; our forefathers named towns and babies for him; and his fights against government oppression helped inspire the Bill of Rights. Wilkes was at the center of many an important eighteenth-century political change, but to some—Benjamin Franklin, for instance—he seemed an unlikely hero.”

So Wilkes was a bit of a hero to the nascent liberty movement in the American colonies, and it appears he had some fans in Brunswick Town. The archaeologists found other pieces near the coded pebble that indicate it was set in a cuff-link, probably worn as a marker for like-minded rebels to identify each other. But what of the number 45?

That refers to a Wilkes pamphlet, the North Briton No. 45, in which Wilkes challenged the untouchable nature of King George III. At a time when the monarchy was above reproach, lest you be interested in hanging for treason, Wilkes wrote:

“A despotic minister will always endeavour to dazzle the prince with high flown ideas of the prerogative and honour of the crown. I wish as much any man in the kingdom to see the honour of the crown maintained in a manner truly becoming Royalty. I lament to see it sunk even to prostitution. […]”

That’s a mic drop moment for the 1760s, and many of our founding fathers and other Americans interested in liberty utilized the daring of Wilkes as a symbol of the budding independence movement. Much like the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ sticker on your truck, some around Brunswick Town wore ‘Wilkes and Liberty 45’ cuff-links to let people know where they stood when it came to King George III, and unknowingly helped birth the First in Freedom state.

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