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Looking Back: Into a Clouded History

West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 11, 2017


In 2013, while co-teaching an anthropology class on Apple Island for Western Michigan University, I became interested in the vacation habits of the Campbell family, who occupied the island from 1856 until the first quarter of the 20th century. I decided to use the Campbell family and their experience on Apple Island as a focus for my dissertation work. Amongst the many artifacts we found that helped us cobble together the history of the Campbells were kaolin pipes, commonly referred to as clay pipes.

Nineteen unique pipes within a collection of 46 pipe fragments likely associated with the Campbell occupation were found. Many of these pipes were unadorned, yet others were decorated with designs such as stitching, fleur-de-lis and stars.

Historically, pipes and their decorations represented many themes in American life beyond the calming yet stimulating, compulsive yet satisfying sensations attributed to smoking.

Archaeologists, as well as other scholars, have suggested that smoking was connected to class camaraderie, national and ethnic identity, diplomacy, and power relations, among other social dynamics, according to Georgia Fox in “The Archaeology of Smoking and Tobacco.”

Considering that the Campbell family was Scottish and devout Presbyterians, the sheer number of pipes discovered is thought-provoking. Their dedication to religion is juxtaposed with the negative view that many Christians held toward smoking in the 19th century; however, there was no canonical tobacco ban.  A Presbyterian-style tobacco blend was manufactured in the early 20th century that, according to historical lore, was blended for a minister of the Church of Scotland.

— Mark Hoock, M.A., Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department of American University in Washington, D.C.