For local archaeologists, the piece de resistance would be to find items that once belonged to Comte de Rochambeau, the French army commander during the American Revolution.
He and 5,000 troops are said to have encamped at Belvoir-Scott's Plantation in Crownsville along Generals Highway, an area now being excavated by archaeologists as a partnership among the State Highway Administration, Anne Arundel County and Rockbridge Academy, the property owner.
SHA officials said the highway between Interstate 97 and Annapolis has roots in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Generals Highway was originally built in the early 18th century as a second post road between Williamsburg, Va., and Philadelphia.
Rochambeau's troops stopped overnight in the area en route to the Battle of Yorktown.
SHA officials say Francis Scott Key is also said to have spent the summer of 1789 at Belvoir with his grandmother, Ann Arnold Ross Key. There are less shining aspects to the property's history —there are said to have been slave quarters on the property.
SHA chief archaeologist Julie Schablitsky and Anne Arundel County archaeologist Jane Cox are among those digging in the area, where Rockbridge Academy has given state and county archaeologists access.
Rockbridge students have also taken part in the excavations.
"We've found a lot of good artifacts," said Rockbridge sixth-grader Benjamin Ault, 11. "We found lots of glass, coals and we cleaned a few really cool things such as nails and pottery."
"When we went digging, it almost felt kind of tense when you thought, 'I might find something,' " said Rockbridge sixth-grader Vivian Grev, 12.
SHA officials said artifacts will be processed and analyzed, then turned over to Anne Arundel County. SHA officials said the project is funded in part with $300,000 in federal Transportation Alternatives Program funds and participatory funding by SHA and Anne Arundel.
Schablitsky said one of the more significant findings has been a U.S diplomat button dating back to the late 1700s. Excavators have also unearthed a Jefferson Davis hat pin and a Union army staff officer's button.
But thus far, no traces of the Frenchman.
"We know he camped here from the 17th to the 18th of December of 1781, but where in the landscape could he be?" Schablitsky asked. "He had almost 5,000 men with him, which at the time they camped would have been one of the biggest towns in Maryland."
Schablitsky said the group has used metal detectors and test pits but have come up with nothing that traces to Rochambeau or a late 18th-century French encampment.
She said, however, that the plantation back then stretched past its current 120 acres to an area that now extends to a nearby subdivision with $500,000 homes.
"If Rochambeau would be anywhere," Schablitsky said, "he would probably be over there."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun