They ‘Pound the Ground’ in search of history

They ‘Pound the Ground’ in search of history

Local event highlights increasing popularity of metal detecting

CUMBERLAND – For Nathan Matthews, a fervor for finding things started with digging in old privies and dumps for historic bottles.

But the effort of that hobby, for someone who suffers from multiple sclerosis, proved to be too much.

“My good friend Jeff Muthersbaugh introduced me to metal detecting because of my obsession with finding history,” said Matthews of the less strenuous hobby. “I was immediately in love with it.”

Matthews, a Lincoln resident who previously lived in Cumberland, said it’s hard to explain what it feels like to be the first person to touch something that was dropped and lost 300 years ago.

“You have to envision how that changed someone’s life,” he said. “I mean ... imagine losing a day’s pay ... or a week’s pay … buttons, buckles, cuff links, shoe buckles, knee buckles, suspender clasps, crotal bells, wedding rings …”

All of those things had significant value to early colonists.

“It gives you this feeling of direct connection to the past,” Matthews said.

On Saturday, April 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Matthews and his Rhode Island Relics metal detecting group, founded in 2016, will host its first Pound the Ground event, a “seeded hunt” at Franklin Farm, 142 Abbott Run Valley Road, in Cumberland.

“This is the hobby’s equivalent to fishing in a stocked pond, as items will be planted for the hunters to find,” said Brian Maloney, a teacher in the Cumberland High School Social Studies Department and adviser to the CHS Metal Detecting Club.

Maloney and members of his club will be among the 150 attendees at the treasure hunt, an event Matthews said he was surprised to see sell out.

“It was unexpected to have such a significant turnout,” he said. “We sold out in less than a month and have received more than $10,000 in metal detecting donations.”

Detectorists will have the chance to search for quite a selection of coins buried in the ground at Franklin Farm, including Spanish reales, Morgan dollars, peace dollars, colonial copper and plenty of silver. The group is still receiving donations and all the donations will be raffled off. There will be rewards for winners of various events. Also to be given away is a $2,500 CTX3030 detector, other detectors, restoration kits, tools for digging, New Age Goonies gear, and other gear.

Spectators are welcome at the April 14 event, but Matthews said there will be limited food available due to the overwhelming response to the event.

For those disappointed at missing this year’s event, Matthews plans to make Pound the Ground an annual metal detecting extravaganza.

“After the success of this event and when the town’s residents see that our goal is to preserve history, preserve the land, remove the trash and raise money for great causes, they will be happy to know that we have discussed this with Franklin Farm and plan on making this an annual event,” he said. “Our direct contribution to Franklin Farm was $1,000 this year. We hope to increase that amount over time.”

Matthews and other organizers use a “special tool” to make the ground appear undisturbed after they bury an item.

With the popularity of TV shows such as “The Curse of Oak Island,” metal detecting is becoming increasingly popular with young people, said Matthews. He said it’s great to see some of the teenagers showing such a love of history.

R.I. Relics, on its Facebook page, goes by the slogan, “Obsessed with uncovering history. ... We dig and detect as often as life allows.” The page features regular updates on the finds from Matthews and his partners in the group, as well as information on how people can get started in detecting.

For his day job, Matthews operates a site for traumatic brain injury survivors and runs a child abuse prevention nonprofit called Make Hearts Out of Paper.

Matthews said he received permission to metal detect on the Franklin Farm property well before he ever considered having an event such as Pound the Ground or running his own metal detecting group. He said he was able to find quite a bit of history for the farm.

“I always loved the property there, so who better to ask?” he said.

Matthews says he never sells his finds unless he uncovers a coin he already has. Asked about his best finds, he said it’s a tough choice. He discovered a medal from the Grand Army of the Republic, or a Civil War soldier’s medal, and the detecting group was able to tie it to the town of Glocester. The medal now has a place with the historical society in that town.

“It is always a pleasure to find something with a date on it. A lot of people believe that the coins we find are all worth so much money. A lot of people think that metal detectorists are out there to find only monetary treasure,” he said. “The reality is, most of these coins are not worth much money at all but they carry a lot of historical significance.

“Don’t get me wrong, we want to find silver and we want to find gold,” he added. “Who hasn’t imagined uncovering those treasures? The reality though: we are beyond excited to find a three-ringer bullet, a tombac button, Civil War memorabilia.”

Metal detecting is a strange industry, said Matthews, as detectorists seek a competitive edge and are often left wondering how someone else found an item. Many will try to figure out based on a Facebook picture where someone might be, but when they ask they rarely get an answer.

Rhode Island Relics is open to metal detectorists of all levels. The group meets one to two times per month to compare finds, discuss new and potential search sites, talk history, and research the best grounds to uncover coins and relics. Joining costs $40 for the year and includes a T-shirt or hat. The group offers metal detector rentals for group outings, which are open to members and non-members. For those requiring further assistance beyond a run-down of their machine, they can join metal detecting classes for a minimal fee per hour. Group members take lessons for free.

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Nathan Matthews
Pictured are some of the “treasures” found by the Rhode Island Relics metal detecting group.