Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network
Number 11, Summer 1994Thomas R. Wheaton, Editor
Religion and Freedom: Artifacts Indictate that African Culture
Persisted Even in Slavery
by Eric Adams (Omni Magazine Vol. 16, No. 2, November
1993 p. 8) Reprinted by permission, copyright 1993, Omni Publications
More than two centuries ago, in Annapolis, Maryland, a Black
slave living in the home of a prominent Roman Catholic signer
of the Declaration of Independence buried in a dark corner of
a basement workshop a collection of quartz crystals, polished
stones, bone disks, and pierced coins.
No one knows for sure the identity of the slave or why he or
she buried these treasures beneath the home of Charles Carroll
of Carrollton. But for all the unanswered questions, this particular
find could be, as one Yale University art historian calls it,
a "Rosetta Stone" in the study of the birth of African-American
The cache, containing more than 20 items and covered in the
dirt by a bowl with an asterisk painted inside it, was discovered
two years ago during a decade-long project funded by the Charles
Carroll House, Inc. Archaeologists and students from the University
of Maryland's College Park campus, led by anthropology professor,
Mark P. Leone, are excavating sites around Annapolis searching
for clues about the daily life of both enslaved and free African
"This find is so exciting because of the specificity of
it," says Yale's Robert Farris Thompson, who examined the
artifacts last year. He recognized them as elements of African
culture, indicating that such culture survived during slavery.
Historians [although not historical archaeologists! ed.] had previously
assumed that White society thoroughly quashed the expression of
African culture and religion by slaves.
Africans in Kongo, a region in southwest Zaïre and northern
Angola, still use the sort of items in the cache, according to
Thompson. They wear the pierced coins, for example, on a string
or chain he says. Kongo parents often put them on small children
as charms. "If they're characterized by chubbiness -- ntandu -- it
will help them achieve thinness -- mikaso," he explains. The
bone disks, also pierced and worn around the body, represent ideas
at the core of Kongo classical religion, he continues. "They
have a very precise phrase to tell us why they would want to wear
them: lunda lukengolo lwa lunga, or `keep your circle complete.'
As long as the circle is not broken, you're safe."
"All major world religions have some way of miniaturizing
their religion. Right here, hidden in the soil of Annapolis, is
the Kongo equivalent to a miniature crucifix, a small irreducible
essence of the religion," says Thompson of the bone disks,
adding that the crystals and the asterisk -- a "cosmogram" -- are
also significant elements of Kongo religion.
Charles Carroll, whose family was among the wealthiest in Maryland,
was one of the largest slave importers in Annapolis, bringing
them from West Africa, including Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, Maryland
still had fewer slaves than most other colonies and states, making
it harder, historians had reasoned, to perpetuate many native
customs. Moreover, as the archaeological project is revealing,
Blacks in Annapolis gave the appearance of living much like Whites
did. Free Blacks, in particular, used Western goods purchased
from the same markets Whites used.
But the Carroll House dig, besides raising very serious questions
about how successful Whites were in rubbing out African culture,
has also changed the way archaeologists and historians view the
development of African-American culture, according to George Logan,
site supervisor for the dig. The artifacts and other material
turned up in the dig show that African and European cultures didn't
remain separate. "It's a creolization, a process of different
cultures coming together and forming a different product on its
own," he says.
Understanding how individual elements of African-American history
combined to create a separate, and ultimately free, culture is
crucial, says project leader Leone. In fact, it provided the motivation
for this part of the project.. "Our 'mandate' from the African-American
community, whom we were collaborating with very closely on the
formulation of our research, was to discover what conditions were
like in freedom," Leone explains. "They said they were
familiar with slavery, but they wanted to hear about freedom -- their
freedom and their ancestors' freedom."
Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia
Submitted by Niven Laird, SDAVIS@husky1.stmarys.ca
Birchtown in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, was founded by
Black Loyalists in 1783, reaching a peak population of c. 1,521
in 1786, declining quickly by 1791, when much of the population
emigrated to Sierra Leone. While the village is now predominantly
non-African-American, its heritage is being protected by the Shelburne
County Cultural Awareness Society, led by Elizabeth Cromwell,
a descendant of the original settlers.
The greatest threat so far to Birchtown's heritage is the proposal
to locate a regional landfill a few kilometers from the village.
This threat was the catalyst for a 1993 survey, which resulted
in the identification of 22 features in a 4 hectare area. The
most significant feature was a late 18th century cellar located
just northwest of the village. While I'm convinced the cellar
belonged to an original settler, there is no land grant documentation
to back this up. I'll be returning to the site on June 27 (our
funding was approved last week) as part of a fieldschool run by
Dr. S. A. Davis of Saint Mary's University in Halifax. We'll be
excavating the 18th century site, surveying the remaining area,
and participating in a public awareness program on the African-American
heritage of Shelburne County.
While I'm excited to be a part of the preservation of this
important aspect of Shelburne's history, I'm disturbed by rumours
that non-archaeologists are talking of "exploiting Blacks".
Hopefully we'll be able to overcome this kind of thinking.
If you'd like more information on Birchtown or the SCCAS please
don't hesitate to ask. I'll be in the field for the next month
but my wife will be checking my mail. I look forward to hearing
Currently in Annapolis
Submitted by George Logan, GLOGAN@bss1.umd.edu
I am writing to you about two separate research projects focusing
on African American history in Maryland. The first is a salvage/
mitigation excavation in Annapolis, which you have probably heard
about. Archaeology in Annapolis is conducting excavations (paid
for by Anne Arundel County), on "the Courthouse site,"
in the parking lot behind the Anne Arundel County Courthouse.
The courthouse is on Church Circle in Annapolis' Historic District.
We excavated there in 1990 and made two important discoveries.
First, extensive archaeological deposits from a later nineteenth
through mid twentieth century predominantly African American neighborhood
lie beneath the asphalt surface. Second, evidence of 17th-century
occupation is also present on the site. The excavations are being
completed prior to construction of a 280,000 sq. ft. Courthouse
expansion on the site. These two periods--not well represented
in most presentations of Annapolis' past, are our primary research
focuses. I worked on the 1990 public programs, and have been asked
to coordinate site tours for the current excavations.
I would appreciate any help you could give spreading the word
about our open site days and free public site tours. The site
is open to visitors on a walk-in basis: Every Friday through July
8 -- 10:00am-2:00pm. Also, the site will be open Sundays June
19 and June 26 -- 11:00am-4:00pm. We hope to attract more local
visitors on Sundays, but everyone is welcome any of those times.
For more information or to make group reservations (not necessary,
but helpful), please call the Historic Annapolis Foundation Archaeology
lab (410) 268-7770 Mon-Fri 8:00-4:30 My only regret is that this
is such a short-term project with little lead time given for planning
public outreach. With all the archaeological resources and the
local interest, we really have our hands full.
The second project is in its infancy stages, and I just want
to mention it here. I work as the archaeologist for the Carroll
Park Foundation in Baltimore. In the park is Mount Clare mansion,
a pre-revolutionary war period structure that Charles Carroll,
Barrister had built. (This Carroll, was a distant cousin of Charles
Carroll of Carrollton) The Foundation's goal is to develop the
site as a living history attraction. My primary interest in the
site is trying to learn about and help interpret the site from
the perspectives of African American slaves, European indentured
servants and convict laborers who lived and worked there and at
the adjacent Baltimore Company Ironworks. If accepted I will present
a paper at the SHA conference on this topic. My first step in
this work will be to study written records associated with the
two sites in an effort to build some site-specific contexts for
future analysis and interpretation. If you are interested I could
either mail or FAX you some additional materials: Calendar of
Events for the Annapolis project; a brochure about Carroll Park;
or a copy of my SHA proposal. My name is George Logan and my work
phone number is (410) 405-1418. My home address is 1430 A Ravine
Way, Arnold MD 21012, but you can also reach me through e-mail.
An Overview of the Phillips Memorial Cemetery
Submitted by Helen Danzeiser Dockall, Texas A&M University
In the Spring of 1991, during the widening of State Highway
3 in Texas City, Texas, highway workers exposed a number of grave
shafts of the existing Albert J. Phillips Memorial Cemetery. The
Texas Department of Transportation contracted with Texas A&M
University to remove the burials. The crew of archaeologists and
bioarchaeologists spent the summer of 1991 and part of 1992 excavating
and analyzing burials, some of which were located under the existing
highway. All analyses of the excavated material were done on the
same day the burials were excavated as all burials had to be reinterred
on the same day they were excavated.
A search of documents suggested that five graves within the
highway right-of-way had been located and moved during the original
construction of the road in 1927. However, the Texas A&M crew
located 53 burial features during the two field seasons. Historic
records and information from community members indicated that
the interments in the excavated portion of the cemetery occurred
between the late 1890s and 1927.
Of these 53 burial features, only 44 contained some skeletal
remains, and only four were complete or almost complete. The typical
individual was represented solely by bones of the hands and feet,
a few isolated vertebrae, and a few long bones, usually the tibia
and fibula. This patterning could be explained if the workers
in 1927 had exhumed and moved those bodies in the immediate right-of-way
of the road, and if skeletal remains were removed, and caskets
and associated hardware were left behind. Presumably, those bones
that were not enclosed in clothing (such as hands and feet) or
those small skeletal elements that could be easily missed were
accidentally left behind. The highway was then built over the
remains. Those bodies found by archaeologists that were relatively
complete may have been missed by the highway workers, possibly
because the graves lacked markers. Conversations with community
members visiting the site corroborate this reconstruction of events.
One informant stated that he remembered workers opening coffins,
removing bodies, and leaving the coffins in the ground.
All individuals were interred in coffins that were either rectangular,
rectangular canted, or hexagonal. One had a tapered-to-the-feet
design. All individuals were interred with their heads to the
west, and many of the coffins were placed in coffin boxes (or
liners). Mortuary hardware from the site included handles, plaques,
thumbscrews and escutcheons. Only twelve of the excavated graves
lacked handles of some kind. Few grave goods were recovered from
the site, due primarily to the relocation of burials in the 1920s
and to the stripping of soil from the site prior to the arrival
of the Texas A&M crew. However, portions of glass jars and
bowls, a milk bottle, and broken pots were associated with some
graves. Interestingly, in spite of the importance of shells in
African-American mortuary practices (Fenn 1985, Jordan 1982, Vlach
1977 and 1978) and in spite of the proximity of the cemetery to
the Texas Gulf Coast, no shells were found in the cemetery.
A report providing the results of almost two years of analysis
of the data will be ready for review in June of this year. Researchers
other than myself associated with this project include: Joseph
F. Powell; Leah Carson Powell; and D. Gentry Steele. In addition
to the primary report, papers related to this site have been presented
at the sixty-third annual meeting of the Texas Archeological Society
(Dockall et al. 1992) and the fifty-eighth meeting of the Society
for American Archaeology (Powell and Dockall 1993).
The site of the Albert J. Phillips Memorial Cemetery has provided
an excellent opportunity to study the life and death of a group
of African Americans living in a small Texas town during the late
1800s and early 1900s. For more information, the author can be
contacted at the Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University,
College Station, Texas 77843-4352.
Dockall, H.D., J.F. Powell and D.G. Steele
1992 Excavation and Analysis of 41GV125: An Historic African-American
Cemetery in Galveston County, Texas. Paper presented at the 63rd
Annual Meeting of the Texas Archeological Society, Corpus Christi,
1985 Honoring the Ancestors: Kongo-American Graves in the American
South. Southern Exposure 13:42-47.
1982 Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy. University
of Texas Press, Austin.
Powell, L.C. and H.D. Dockall
1993 Folk Narratives and Archaeology: A Case Study from an Historic
African-American Cemetery. Paper presented at the 58th Annual
Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.
1977 The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts.
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland. 1978 Graveyards and Afro-American
Art. In Long Journey Home: Folklife in the South. Special edition,
Southern Exposure, A. Tulles, ed., pp 161-165. Chapel
The First Africans in Virginia
Submitted by Tom Davidson, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
A recently discovered historical document indicates that the
African population of Virginia during the Virginia Company period
(1607-1624) was larger and more widely dispersed geographically
than previously had been thought. The first Africans known to
have arrived in Virginia came in August or September, 1619, and
numbered "20 and odd". They were purchased by George
Yeardley and Abraham Piersey, who both lived in Jamestown, then
Virginia's capital. However, a new group of Virginia Company records
discovered by Dr. David Ransome contains an official muster or
census of the Virginia colony for March, 1619/1620. This document
reads in part:
Others not Christians in the service of the English
Indians in the service of several planters 4
Negroes in the service of several planters 32
negro men 15
negro women 17
taken from a microfilm copy of the Ferrar papers compiled by David Ransome (Item 159, Ferrar Papers, Magdalene College, Cambridge, Microfilm Academic Publishers)
The muster shows that in March, 1620, only seven months after
the "first" Africans arrived, Africans constituted 3.3
percent of all non-Indians in Virginia and that they were living
at multiple locations in the colony. Since the total number of
late Company period sites in Virginia is not very large, the odds
of encountering traces of these early Africans during archaeological
field work are high enough to merit some serious attention. Archaeologists
should keep the possibility of an African presence in mind whenever
they encounter an early seventeenth-century site in Virginia.
Ms. Ricki Foster, a second year graduate student in archaeology
at Western Michigan University, is searching for a thesis topic
in African-American archaeology. She has been a student of Warren
Perry, who has now left Western Michigan University. Ms. Foster
states, "I am interested in power relations and resistance,
particularly from the perspective of gender differences, and how
this is manifested in art and craft, as well as in the use of
botanicals. But I am open to other areas of investigation as well,
as far as graduate research possiblilities, and am very interested
in what is being done throughout the field, and how I can make
a contribution to it." Those with some original research
to be conducted should contact Ms. Foster at 2845-B South Burdick
St., Kalamazoo, Michigan 49001, (616) 384-1059. Mount Vernon has
a large water screened artifact collection from the kitchen midden
which contains a large amount of slave-made and slave-used ceramics
and other artifacts. This material needs to be cataloged and ultimately
compared with the material from the slave quarters. This is a
large and possibly long-term project that has the potential for
more than one thesis. Interested students should contact Dennis
Poque or Esther White at Mount Vernon Ladies Association, Mount
Vernon, Virginia 22121, (708) 780-2000. Please remember to submit
your requests for research topics or for research assistance to
the Thesis Corner. The research you save may be your own.
Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America,
1650-1800. Leland Ferguson, Smithsonian Institution Press,
Washington D.C., 1992.
Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture
in Eighteenth-Century New England. William D. Piersen, University
of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1988.
Submitted by Rhett S. Jones, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in American, Brown University
The silliest argument ever advanced by (some white) historians,
put forth with the utmost seriousness before the 1960s, was that
black Americans had no history. This common sense and anthropological
absurdity -- How could a people have no history -- rested on the
narrow practice of history which assumed that without a large
body of documents for historians to interpret, a people had not
history. African Americans, historians argued, had left no written
records, and therefore they had no history, or at least none which
profession scholars could explore. But when the historical profession
went looking for documents in the late 1960s they found far more
than they could handle. Most of these were, however, from the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The number of eighteenth century documents by Afro-Americans
remains small, but as the works of Ferguson and Piersen make clear
it is possible to examine eighteenth-century black American history
by using the techniques of the archaeologist and the folklorist.
Piersen (p x) turned to folklore to uncover this past because,
"For too long the black men and women of history have been
encased in the passive voice of what was done to them, while their
own vision of their lives remained hidden." Ferguson (p xxxiv)
believes that archaeology can help to understand early Afro-Americans,
but only if it breaks "away from the power of commonly held
and subtly racist views of history to find important truths about
the past." Piersen and Ferguson are each clear about their
goals. Piersen sets out to provide a window on the evolution of
black life and culture in New England and to compare it to that
of the larger corpus of scholarship on blacks in the South. Ferguson
examines the beginning of African-American culture and how archaeology
provides insight into it. Both succeed.
They are successful first because each understands the methodological
limits of his discipline. According to Piersen (p x), "No
matter what [folklore] sources we use, our knowledge of black
life in the eighteenth century too often derives from white observers
unfamiliar with, and indeed uninterested in , the African population."
According to Ferguson (p 118), "So far, archaeology has been
of little value in expanding our knowledge of African-American
Second, they are successful because in an era when there is
much talk about multi-disciplinary and comparative approaches
to the study of the black past, Ferguson and Piersen do not just
talk, but draw on other research techniques in their analyses.
Both make good use of the documents traditionally used by the
historian to complement and lend insight into their data. Each
believes comparing black experiences in various parts of the eighteenth-century
Americas helps to better understand the Afro-American past. Ferguson
(p 58) writes that, "knowledge of African-American lifeways
in the Tidewater region may be significantly expanded by excavating
the camps and villages of the maroons," and comparing them
to slave villages. In this way, he argues, it may be possible
to disentangle the complex intermingling of black, white and red
cultures in the colonial Americas. Throughout his book, but especially
in Part 4, Piersen places black Yankee culture in the context
of other eighteenth-century Afro-American cultures, demonstrating
that knowledge of these cultures lends insight into black New
Despite their different approaches, the archaeologist and the
folklorist reach similar conclusions. Ferguson (p 120) finds that
while slaves "may not have overtly resisted their enslavement
on a day-to-day basis, most . . . ignored the European American
ideology that rationalized their enslavement." Piersen (p
160) concludes, "In their religious beliefs . . . in their
work habits and crafts . . . black New Englanders remained their
own people -- no longer Africans, but sure not second-class Europeans
either." Ferguson and Piersen agree on the early emergence
of a strong, independent and self-conscious black American culture
distinct and different from that constructed by white Americans.
The silliest argument ever advanced by (some) black scholars,
put forth with the utmost seriousness during the 1960s, was that
whites could not do, nor could they understand, black history.
Ferguson and Piersen are both white and their work clearly enhances
our understanding of the crucial period when Africans were becoming
From The Editor:
I would like to apologize for any misunderstandings about who
had "1994" and who had "unpaid" on their last
Newsletter. Those of you who had paid for 1993 and 1994 had "1994."
Those of you who had paid for 1993, even if you paid in December
(and received all 1993 back issues), had "unpaid." The
last issue cost well over $100 just for postage. The few who had
paid their $5.00 ended up paying for the many who had not. At
that rate I would not have been able to mail out this issue.
I apparently did not explain this very well in the last issue.
With my unsophisticated accounting abilities, I cannot keep track
of part years, and have opted to keep everyone on a calendar year.
New subscribers will get back issues of the current year to bring
them up to speed.
To the Editor:
Although I listened to a similar discussion at the SHA meetings
in Richmond several years ago, I was very disappointed to read
of the protests concerning the University of Virginia project.
Talk about being ethnocentric! Does this mean that only Euro-
Americans can excavate Euro-American sites and only Native Americans
can excavate Native American sites? What about women's, or men's,
or Polish-American, or Italian-American, or Hispanic, or Irish-American,
or Jewish sites? Where are the politically correct experts for
We all have some ethnic or religious roots in this country.
That's why it is considered to be a melting pot. Further, the
large majority of us are not purely one group or another. Even
African Americans frequently have Euro-American or Native American
ancestors. Where do you draw the line?
Let's get beyond the fact that there is a shortage of minority
archaeologists, an unfortunate but true situation. It seems to
me that several factors are important here:
- 1. We are supposed to be trained anthropologists, observers of culture. I always understood that to mean that we were supposed to be objective outside observers who recorded what we saw, rather than becoming a part of the culture under study. This is supposed to give us a perspective different from those who are part of the culture and perhaps allow us to understand the interrelationships within the culture by standing apart from those relationships.
- 2. African Americans are no more a part of the past African-American culture than I am of the past Euro-American culture. What does a 25-year old urban northern African American really know about the 19th century rural African-American south other than what he or she has been told or read? All I know about my families' rural 18th-century roots is what I've been told and read; it is certainly not part of my life experience. Yes, it may be part of their tradition, but tradition and culture are not the same.
- 3. As I somewhat facetiously pointed out in the first paragraph, we are all (including African Americans) studying the remains of cultures to which we probably have limited ethnic, gender, or religious ties. If we don't do it, who will? And does this mean African-American archaeologists should be prevented from studying the Euro-American component of African-American sites?
- 4. I would also note that in terms of historic sites in this country, there is probably no such thing as an ethnically pure site. Certainly the African-American component of a plantation, while it may have functioned as a separate world and reflect Africanisms, was also influenced by and in turn influenced the world of the owner. An urban free African-American site in the north was also part of the community or region in which it was located, and as such was influenced by and in turn influenced that region -- which was probably predominantly some other ethnic group. African-American sites here in Florida were almost certainly influenced by the Seminoles or the Spaniards or the British or the Americans. None of us operate in a vacuum.
- 5. Yes, yes, yes!! It is extremely important to get input from the cultural groups which produced a site -- if such input is available and moreover, reliable. All of us know the pitfalls in oral traditions, but that does not lessen the potential contribution of such traditions to understanding a site. And yes, again, these cultural groups should have a voice in the ultimate curation of materials and management of the site. But perhaps it should be in terms of disposition by a group which can demonstrate a legitimate relationship to the site beyond saying it's part of my heritage. In reality sites are part of everyone's heritage.
Today when so many sites are threatened by the increase in
development, it seems more important than ever to pull together
to salvage the data and tell the story than it is to squabble
over who should be in charge. I realize part of the problem stems
from the early errors in the New York burial ground mess, but
can't we get beyond that to the real goal -- understanding all of
the cultures of the past? We all have something to contribute
and we all have a stake in the results. Do we really need to be
establishing separate special interest groups? Shouldn't we try
to work together to address our common interests?
Lucy B. Wayne, Ph.D., SouthArc, Inc.
Recently I joined the HistArch listserv on the Internet
and invited input for the Newsletter. I noted in my introductory
message that the last Newsletter covered several topics, including
whether non-African Americans should excavate African-American
sites. The response was immediate (I had four or five responses
within two hours). For those of you not familiar with the Internet
or listservs, I am including a few of the shorter responses. These
can be a little disjointed since after the first response or two
people start responding to each other, and the discussion takes
on a life of its own. The responses below may be a little hard
to follow as a result. To subscribe to HistArch send a message
with "SUBSCRIBE to HistArch" in it to "firstname.lastname@example.org".
As a short reply to the question of whether or not non-African
Americans can or presumably should conduct archaeology on Afro-American
sites, a fundamental question that underlies your question is
should the pursuit of knowledge be dependent on the researcher's
ethnicity and/or abilities?
Marc Kodack, Corps of Engineers
Maybe the colour of one's skin does not make someone more insightful
as far as the interpretation of a site is concerned. However,
someone who has been brought up in the United States with darker
skin has felt the prejudice inflicted upon him/her which has developed
over the past centuries. Someone who hears stories from grandparents
about the horrors inflicted on their ancestors will have a different
view point than those of us who haven't. This is not just a matter
of skin colour, it is a matter of conditioning and social standards
which are ingrained into the American psyche whether anyone wants
to admit to it or not. Granted, an education is important, but
the lack of one does not mean someone can't have an opinion and
an important input. Keep your options open.
Sandra Sauer, Simon Fraser University
. . . To shut someone out of a site simply because they are
not of the persuasion of those being excavated, is in itself shutting
out a perspective that may shed light on the subject. But I would
offer this: It would be improper to excavate such a sight without
the exhausting input from those who could offer a closer view
of the sight being excavated.
While at a field school in Annapolis, we excavated the home of
a freed slave (it is now known as the Maynard-Burgess house).
The excavators included only one African-American. In my opinion,
this dig suffered because of that; at times I felt I was operating
in a vacuum, unable to confidently offer an opinion. However,
that experience opened up my world enough that I began to read
much more widely in that field.
I guess what I am saying is that to shut out any view, is to
risk the possibility of shutting out an important view . . .
John Buckler, University of Maryland
Electronic version compiled by Thomas
R. Wheaton, New South Associates, Inc.
©2005 African Diaspora Archaeology Network
Please send comments or questions to: email@example.com
Last updated: April 16, 2005