Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network
Applied Archaeology and History Associates,
Lane, Annapolis, MD 21401 :: ISBN 1060-0671
Number 26, Early Winter 1999John P. McCarthy,
In This Issue
This issue includes great essays by students in Maria Franklin's
graduate seminar at the University of Texas, Austin and the second
contribution to Progression! by Anna Agbe-Davies. It is a real
pleasure to be able to present this fourth issue of 1999. Please
keep your essays and news coming so that we can end the 2nd millennium
of the Common Era as a truly quarterly publication! Be sure to
renew your subscription before increased rates go into effect
on January 1.
Have a Merry Christmas and a great New Year!
Progression! Advances in African-American
Carol McDavid, Column Editor
During the 1999 Society for American Archaeology meetings in
Chicago last Spring, I participated in a panel entitled "Communication
and Consultation: Working toward an Informed Archaeology."
Panel members included a number of archaeologists who work with
indigenous people, as well as several who work with African-American
and other descendant communities. As I had hoped, our discussions
that day started a process of bridge building based on shared
interests (collaboration, consultation, power and politics, etc.),
bridges that have only recently begun to be explored, due to entrenched
boundaries that separate prehistoric archaeologies and archaeologies
of the historic period. I asked Anna Agbe-Davies, co-chair of
the workshop, to discuss the development of this panel and to
critique it for the 'Progression' column.
Communication and Consultation: Bridging Boundaries within
Anna Agbe-Davies, University of Pennsylvania & The Colonial
Everyone has an agenda. That is the only explanation for my
impulse to volunteer to help organize and chair a workshop with
the theme of communication between indigenous people and archaeologists.
Part of the appeal was the challenge of convincing a group that
seemed to be thinking primarily in terms of prehistoric Native
American archaeology to broaden the field to include perspectives
from other realms of archaeological practice, most particularly
one of my fields of interest: the archaeology of African America.
Related to that attraction was the desire to hear the discussion
which would result from getting archaeologists who work in a variety
of social contexts, with different interest groups, coming together.
Clearly, communicating and consulting with descendant communities
has been a major concern for a number of archaeologists whose
research focus is African-American archaeology. A complete list
of works on this theme would be out of place here, but would include
Brown 1997, Harrington 1993, Leone 1992, McDavid 1999, McKee 1994,
Patten 1994, Potter 1991, Wilkie 1995, contributions to McDavid
and Babson 1997, and contributions to Update (the newsletter of
the African Burial Ground project), among others. Works such as
these echo the concerns facing the archaeological community at
large, as we grow increasingly self-reflexive and aware of the
social contexts within which we work. The similarities I perceive
between the social contexts of archaeological practice in African
America and Native America inspired the attempt to bring practitioners
in these fields together. I often wonder to what extent the popularity
and prominence of African-American archaeology in historical archaeology
is because it fulfills important social functions, not unlike
Native American archaeology did in the early years of archaeology
in the United States (see, for example, Trigger 1980). According
to this vision, archaeology becomes, among other things, a means
to alternately understand, idealize and objectify an intimate
and problematic "other." African-American archaeology
becomes a mode for coming to grips with African America (Agbe-Davies
The idea for the session was conceived at the meeting of the
Student Affairs Committee at the annual meeting of the Society
for American Archaeology (SAA) in 1998. After brainstorming for
a topic to develop into a workshop for the 1999 meeting, the group
settled on the theme of communication between archaeologists and
Native groups. Two of us volunteered to help organize the session.
My co-chair, Melissa Baird, had a great interest in the ethical
practice of archaeology, and during the course of our collaboration
was working as the NAGPRA coordinator at Agate National Monument.
Over the next few months we worked on developing a more specific
direction for the workshop, rounding up participants, and putting
together an abstract. Throughout this process I continued to push
the idea that this workshop need not be (indeed, should not be)
restricted to archaeologists at work on prehistoric Native North
America. Our e-mails back and forth about the wording of the workshop's
abstract reveal the process of negotiation. Although Melissa Baird
was very open to the inclusion of archaeologists from other fields,
the language of our abstract became very abstract. I was hard
pressed to express my interest in a broad construction of "descendant
communities" and the importance of working with other interest
groups (I've since picked up the handy word "stake-holders")
without resorting to jargon or platitudes. The end result, described
in the abstract, below, constituted our vision of a workshop we
called "Communication and Consultation: Working toward an
This three-hour workshop sponsored by the Student Affairs Committee
critically examines relationships between Native groups and archaeologists
in order to facilitate communication and cooperation. How can
archaeologists, descendant groups, and host communities collaborate?
How do we traverse the distance between science and tradition?
Many archaeologists attempt to work with other constituencies,
but lack the experience or networks necessary for effective consultation.
Furthermore, successful interaction requires an investment in
time and commitment from all sides. How can we achieve this ideal?
This workshop is a forum for discussing how archaeologists, descendant
groups, and local communities might reach a common ground. The
emphasis is on communication that encourages the development of
working relationships between groups and addresses issues that
have previously prevented collaboration. The panel includes members
of Native groups, professional archaeologists and graduate students
at work in a variety of contexts, with experiences in communicating
and collaborating across archaeology's constituencies.
The panel of ten archaeologists (Alison Bell, Shannon Dawdy,
Garrett Fesler, Andrea Hunter, Kathy Kawelu, Carol McDavid, Robert
Preucel, Nina Swidler, Joe Watkins and Michael Yeatts) represented
many facets of the discipline. The group included graduate students
and professors as well as archaeologists that work in cultural
resource management, museum and government settings. Some of the
panelists were employees of the groups whose past they studied.
Several were members (at various levels of inclusion) of the groups
whose past they studied. Some were in the field, some spent most
of their time wearing a bureaucratic hat.
I was thrilled to be able to recruit a number of historical
archaeologists, all of whom had an interest in African-American
archaeology, who were committed to communication not only with
"the public," but with colleagues in other subfields.
Four of the members of the panel came specifically to discuss
their experiences working with African-American constituencies
and, equally interesting, communication with non-African Americans
about the legacy of slavery in their communities.
As organizers, Melissa Baird and I were in contact with the
panelists over the year leading up to the workshop. We hoped to
stimulate discussion within the group prior to the SAA meeting,
so we circulated informal position papers that we would use to
kick off the session. Following that would be a combination round
table discussion and questions from the audience. The informal
position papers generally took the form of a narrative of the
panelist's experiences either with a particular project or over
the course of a career. Throughout these stories ran a number
of common themes, many of which readers of this newsletter will
The underlying element in all of the following workshop themes
is power, particularly as defined by Weber as the ability to act
contrary to the will of others (Weber 1968:53). I believe that
this is the root of many of the differences observed between the
archaeologists of Native America and Hawaii, and those whose focus
was on non-indigenous inhabitants of the modern U.S. One could
argue that the power relationships between Native America and
the white majority was, and are, not unlike those of African America
in many respects. This is in all likelihood the root of the shared
themes discussed below.
Very prominent in the panelists' narratives was the need to
overcome the negative legacy established by the practices of previous
generations of archaeologists. The archaeologists who study the
Native American past noted having to undo the damage of colleagues
who treated the archaeological record as a "laboratory"
and ignoring the human factor in the past, as well as in the present.
Likewise, archaeologists of African America were challenged to
dismantle, by word and deed, the belief that archaeology and its
sister disciplines, such as historic preservation, are more than
elite enterprises that serve only to venerate, and to perpetuate
the hegemony of, the white majority. Time and again, panelists
confirmed that the best way to do this was to do work that is
of value to one's constituents. Carol McDavid described the goodwill
she established--and the cooperative networks she built--by sharing
the genealogical data with people who had a vested interest in
the work at the Levi Jordan plantation. Other examples included
monitoring and inventorying sites of cultural value, or addressing
those questions of host communities that can be answered with
Of course, then the question becomes who comprises "the
community?" Who are these "stakeholders" whose
opinions should be taken into account? Garrett Fesler described
his reluctance to approach black leaders in the town where his
site lay, because he did not wish to assume (or appear to assume)
that, 'naturally', this slave quarter site would necessarily be
of interest to any and all black Americans today. As it was, he
received a very enthusiastic response, both from those contacts
(and from the citizenry at large) for his efforts. Yet even if
it were a simple matter to identify a bounded entity with which
to consult, groups contain factions. Even attempts to work with
a group may find the archaeologist working against the interests
of some element of that group. While one doesn't often hear such
buzzwords as "information age" and "knowledge-worker"
applied to the practice of archaeology, their currency points
out the fact that our society in some senses resembles a bureaucracy,
in which authority is grounded in knowledge (Weber 1968:225).
The production and dissemination of archaeological knowledge clearly
has consequences beyond the discipline. In a struggle for power,
archaeological information can become a valuable resource.
One axis of power struggle in African-American archaeology
is between "black America" seen as a collectivity, and
those individuals or groups who see their interests in some way
conflicting with those of that collectivity. This may be out of
a racist ideological commitment, but is no less likely to be inspired
by the perception of African-American archaeology as a competitor
for attention or resources with more traditional (read: comfortable)
historical themes, or in reaction to the revelations of archaeological
research into specific African-American pasts. For example, Shannon
Dawdy described the challenge of working at a site significant
to the story of black Union soldiers with input from the Daughters
of the Confederacy.
This question of interest surely has an impact on another issue
that was raised repeatedly in the workshop: the small numbers
of archaeologists from some of the groups whose pasts we study
(see also Franklin 1997, Singleton and Bograd 1995:28, 30-31).
While in the session we didn't spend much time discussing why
that might be, a number of remedies did come to light. Intensive
archaeology workshops for at-risk youth (such as that developed
by Shannon Dawdy in New Orleans), open houses and internships
have all provided opportunities for enthusiastic black school-age
children and college students to explore the inner workings of
archaeology and get them excited about the potential for applying
the discipline to issues that they find relevant. Of course, the
problem of inclusion is also imbued with questions about power
and authority. The impetus to create a more diverse archaeology
is sometimes (mis)construed as an assault on a) the authority
of current practitioners and/or b) the authority of an objective
social science. Nevertheless,
The past can only be told as it truly is, not was. For recounting
the past is a social act of the present done by [people] of the
present and affecting the social system of the present... I mean
that the whole archaeological enterprise from its inception--the
social investment in this branch of scientific activity, the research
orientation, the conceptual tools, the modes of resuming and communicating
the results--are functions of the social present. To think otherwise
is self-deceptive at best. Objectivity is honesty in this framework...Objectivity
is a vector of a distribution of social investment in such activity
such that it is performed by persons rooted in all the major groups
of the world-system in a balanced fashion. Given this definition,
we do not have an objective social science today. On the other
hand, it is not an unfeasible objective within the foreseeable
future. (Wallerstein 1974:9-10)
Diversity of archaeological practice is clear even from outside
the discipline. The diversity of the discipline is just one facet
of the need that all of our panelists saw for an expanded educational
agenda. Many commented on the lack of attention to ethical issues
and the question of working with descendant communities in their
own graduate training, and their high hopes for the new educational
agenda expressed by the SAA in their document "Teaching Archaeology
in the twenty-first century: Promoting a National Dialogue"
(SAA 1998). Six of the seven principles--Stewardship, Diverse
Interests, Social Relevance, Ethics and Values, Written and Oral
Communication, and Real World Problem Solving--include topics
that we addressed with this workshop.
Of course one of the reasons that it is so important to encourage
the development of "insider" professionals, and as professionals
to consult with interested parties in our research, is that the
archaeological value of a site or its contents is not always congruent
with other values such as religious or spiritual, political, local
or familial ones (see, for example Watkins 1998, contributions
to Layton 1989). Understanding the nexus of these sometimes-competing
agendas for, and interests in, the archaeological record was expressed
time and again in our workshop. Alison Bell found that the local
value of the Piedmont Virginia house sites she analyzed was to
a certain extent wrapped up in beliefs about their age, beliefs
which did not conform to her archaeological and architectural
analysis. This, she felt, undermined the value of these sites,
in local eyes (though certainly not in hers), which led her to
pose the question how and to what end do archaeologists
confront stakeholders with information which contradicts deeply
cherished beliefs? Should beliefs about a structure's age be more
or less subject to confrontation than beliefs about the role of
African-American slaves in the region's history? As many on the
panel pointed out, archaeologists need to develop the conceptual
tools to analyze and reconcile multiple assessments of archaeological
While power relationships between archaeologists and other stakeholders
can account for the similarities in the presentations by archaeologists
of African America and Native America, it is also the root of
their notable differences. Federal legislation such as NAGPRA
has created a system within which Native American groups have
power vis-à-vis the archaeological establishment. Whereas
previously, the primary power was to conduct research or salvage
without regard for the will of Native American constituencies,
now there is a reciprocal power to demand the return of archaeological
and other materials and to monitor ongoing archaeological work
regardless of the will of the archaeological community. A legal
source of authority (that is to say, of legitimate domination
(Weber 1968:212-216) does not exist in the practice of African-American
archaeology. Archaeologists communicate and consult with African-American
constituencies out of self-interest or out of altruism, but not
due to any legal compulsion, a difference that affects the character
and content of the discourse. The existence of legal mandates
for archaeologists to "consult" with Native American
groups means not only that there are guidelines for engagement,
but that there has grown up in the past few years an infrastructure
for coping with the power struggles which emerge: precedents to
appeal to; boards and committees to settle disputes; guidelines
for establishing the limits of accountability.
One notable product of this difference was the vocabulary of
the archaeologists immersed in federal compliance procedures.
In crafting the abstract for this session, I had been using the
word "consultation" in its most basic, English language
sense, as "to ask the advice or opinion of...to have regard
to." But I found that the term carried more specific meanings
for several of our panelists. "Consultation" was a federally-mandated
process that was simultaneously a crucial right and a financial
burden for some tribes. It was difficult to unpack the nuances
of this term when our experiences of "consultation"
were so different.
In certain ways, archaeologists of African America are formalizing
the communication and consultation process in a way which echoes
the experiences of the archaeologists on our panel who are in
the employ of Native American tribes. Both Garrett Fesler and
Carol McDavid described working with structured steering committees,
groups that had real power to develop research programs, devise
publicity strategies, identify additional resources, and generally
ensure that the progress of archaeological research does no harm
to those people whose lives are impacted by the execution of archaeological
In many ways, the workshop fulfilled my every expectation.
It was an important opportunity for a group of archaeologists
with similar concerns but different arenas of expertise to come
together and discuss their viewpoints on and strategies for negotiating
the sociopolitical contexts of archaeological research. I think
that beneficial ideas were exchanged and that all concerned had
a new appreciation for the efforts of their colleagues in other
subfields to conduct archaeological research that was responsive
to the needs and interests of descendant and local communities.
Of course, there were a number of areas where there was some disconnect
between those working in African-American contexts, or other historical
archaeological arenas, and those whose primary work was with Native
American or Native Hawaiian archaeology. This fact convinced me
more than ever of the need to keep the lines of communication
open, to continue educate ourselves, as historical archaeologists,
about the strides made by those working in fields where "communication
and consultation" are not only desirable, but mandated by
law. Likewise, I hope that archaeologists of all specialities
will continue to realize that positive working relationships with
stakeholders are an important part of any archaeology.
Agbe-Davies, A. S.
1998 "Race" Matters in African-American Archaeology.
Paper presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Society for
American Archaeology, Seattle.
Brown, K. L.
1997 Some Thoughts on Archaeology and Public Responsibility. African-American
1997 Why Are There so Few Black American Archaeologists? Antiquity
1988 Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and
the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies 14(3):575-599.
Harrington, S. P. M.
1993 Bones & Bureaucrats: New York's Great Cemetery Imbroglio.
Layton, R. (editor)
1989 Who Needs the Past? Indigenous Values and Archaeology. Unwin
Leone, M. P.
1992 A Multicultural African-American Historical Archaeology:
How to Place Archaeology in the Community in a State Capital.
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological
1999 Contemporary conversations about the archaeology of slavery
and tenancy: Collaboration, descendants, and computers. Paper
presented at the World Archaeological Congress 4, Cape Town.
McDavid, C. and D. W. Babson (editors)
1997 In the Realm of Politics: Prospects for Public Participation
in African-American and Plantation Archaeology Historical Archaeology
1994 Is It Futile to Try and Be Useful? Historical Archaeology
and the African-American Experience. Northeast Historical Archaeology
Patten, M. D.
1994 Report on the 1994 Summer Excavation Season at Venable Lane.
University of Virginia, Office of the Vice President, Charlottesville.
Potter, P. B., Jr.
1991 What is the Use of Plantation Archaeology? Historical Archaeology
Society for American Archaeology's Task Force on Curriculum
1998 Teaching Archaeology in the 21st Century: Promoting a National
Singleton, T.A. , and Bograd, M.D.
1995 The Archaeology of the African Diaspora in the Americas,
Guides to Historical Archaeological Literature, No. 2. The Society
for Historical Archaeology.
1980 Archaeology and the Image of the American Indian. American
1974 The Modern World-System Volume I: Capitalist Agriculture
and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth
Century. Academic Press, New York.
1998 Native Americans, Western Science, and NAGPRA. SAA Bulletin
1968 Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology.
Bedminster Press, New York.
Wilkie, L. A.
1995 Plantation Archaeology: Where Past and Present Can Collide.
African-American Archaeology 13:2-5.
Top of Page
Reclaiming a Silenced Past: Community Outreach and Oral History at Andrew Jackson's Hermitage
Whitney Battle, University of Texas at Austin
The Hermitage plantation was once the home of President Andrew
Jackson and more than 160 enslaved Africans. The Hermitage has
functioned as a museum since 1889, when the Ladies Hermitage Association
acquired the property in order to save and restore the decaying
mansion and surrounding property. Their intent was also to restore
the story of Andrew Jackson's life and legend. When the property
was purchased, a man by the name of Alfred Jackson lived just
outside of the mansion in a small log structure. Once enslaved,
Jackson would be the source of personal stories, Hermitage events,
and memories of life during the nineteenth century when he was
The oral history told by Alfred Jackson became a major source
of information for the museum in its earliest years. Images of
how the plantation would have looked and stories of events that
took place both inside and outside the Jackson mansion were brought
to life through the tales of its first caretaker. As time went
by, the importance of oral history at The Hermitage became a thing
of the distant past. The legend of Alfred was preserved, but the
importance of his role in establishing The Hermitage would be
left behind as The Hermitage established itself as a leading museum
in the state of Tennessee. In recent times, The Hermitage has
had to develop an interpretive framework that would ensure its
success as a historic site.
In response to the growing need to expand the scope of the
Hermitage, a permanent archaeological program was established
in 1989 under the direction of Dr. Larry McKee. There were few
surviving documents that addressed the enslaved Africans that
lived, worked, and died on the plantation. The "erased"
stories of the enslaved community became the primary focus of
archaeological excavations conducted at the museum site. Although
a great deal of energy was now focused on including the contributions
of the enslaved African population in the museum's narrative presentation,
something was still missing. The oral history of Alfred Jackson
that was once the catalyst for the lore of The Hermitage seemed
no longer to be scholarly enough or relevant for the current interpretive
I first arrived at the Hermitage for a five-week internship
during the summer of 1996. There was a great deal of public interaction
and one-on-one dialogue with the visitors. I was very encouraged
by this approach, and as a result decided to return as a field
supervisor for three consecutive summers. Each season I returned
I could see visible changes across the landscape "beyond
the mansion" with the inclusion of enslaved African men and
women in the interpretation of the outside.
During the summer of 1999, with the hard work of the public
relations department, a great deal of local media attention began
to center around the summer archaeology program at the Hermitage.
With the new media coverage, people from all over Nashville and
surrounding areas were beginning to visit and see archaeology
first hand. Yet, I could not help but notice that although the
number of visitors was growing, the faces hadn't really changed.
African-American visitors remained few and far between. The goal
of public archaeology is to engage with multiple publics, and
being the self-reflective critical archaeologist that I am, I
could no longer turn a blind eye to the reasons behind this absence.
The great deal of energy that went towards illuminating African-American
history at The Hermitage did not deal with the reality of contemporary
issues regarding how the past is presented and how the museum
continues to neglect the very communities it supposedly sets out
I feel strongly about the involvement of the local African-American
community in the dialogue of changing various Hermitage exhibits.
How, as archaeologists, can we practice African-American archaeology
while failing to reach out the African-American community? I seriously
contemplated how I could begin to find the African-American community
in and around the Hermitage area, but had no idea where to start,
or if this local community existed. Archaeology took over as my
primary concern, until a two-week volunteer from Boston, decided
she wanted to go to church.
Joan Harris came to excavate with us through Earthwatch, and
her search to find a local African Methodist Episcopalian church
led to the beginning of an incredible community partnership that
has only begun to yield positive results. Harris' inquiry would
put me in touch with an active and vibrant African-American community
that was literally across the street from The Hermitage. I had
been at this job for three summers and never knew they were so
close. Each Sunday after that I traveled to yet another church
to find large congregations with individuals who had stories that
stretched over 70 years. Some were the very descendants of those
enslaved at The Hermitage.
I was able to get into contact with an incredible woman by
the name of Mrs. Washington. I met Mrs. Washington while looking
at a cemetery just outside of the old Stateland Baptist Church,
next door to her house. Mrs. Washington and I began to talk about
once a week. Through these interactions, I learned a great deal
about the founding families of The Hermitage, the beginnings of
the Black church, how other churches claimed Stateland as a mother
church, and how many people in community knew about the lives
of folks from "way back when". When I talked to people
in the community, I did not concentrate on what people knew about
slavery or Andrew Jackson. I wanted to learn more about local
histories, and to once again evaluate these histories by adding
another dimension to the story of The Hermitage plantation.
I find it very important to use the stories of how people remember
the past and how all types of memories about The Hermitage can
contribute to the museum. Through these interactions with community
members and leaders I am creating a bridge to connect the current
needs of the community with the interpretation of African-American
history at The Hermitage.
The process of recording oral histories has just begun, but
importantly, the connections have been made. When I shared what
the archaeological excavations were revealing I was met with great
curiosity, excitement, and encouragement. In the summer of 2000,
I will return to The Hermitage and continue my work with both
the community and the museum. Through the suggestions of Dr. Amy
Young and her work with African-American communities in Mississippi,
I will try to involve the younger people of the community in taking
down oral histories. Dr. Young used this tactic to create an active
community outreach program, while leaving a great deal of the
information in the community itself and teaching the younger generations
about the importance of the plantation in terms of African-American
history and culture.
The legacy of Alfred and other enslaved Africans from the plantation
can be seen today in and around Nashville. These descendants remain
in the area and for so long have felt no connection with the plantation
or its museum. However, through site tours, oral interviews, and
presentations to the elders, the story of the extraordinary lives
of the enslaved community can once again take its proper place
in American history. There is good reason for the African-American
community to be involved in the interpretive message of The Hermitage,
and partnership-building seems to be an appropriate way to reclaim
a silenced past.
Top of Page
Orange Vale Coffee Plantation,
1780-1850, Portland, Jamaica
Paula Saunders, The University of Texas at Austin
Situated two km west of the Buff Bay River, near the base of
the Blue Mountains in the parish of St. George (now Portland),
the ruins of Orange Vale plantation reminds us of the agony of
Jamaica's legacy of slavery. To the immediate east of Orange Vale's
boundary lies property belonging to the Moore Town Maroons. Orange
Vale operated from the late 1700s until its abandonment in 1847,
and was an example of the thriving mono-crop coffee industry that
supplemented the slave economy of "king sugar," once
common in the mountainous regions of Jamaica. The site was initially
owned by John Elmslie, a "London proprietor," from 1782
until 1807. Orange Vale then passed into the ownership of Alexander
Donaldson from 1807-1817, then to his "heirs" upon his
death, who apparently maintained ownership until it was abruptly
abandoned in 1847. At that time, the property was then split up
and sold to the Bragg and Welsh families.
In conjunction with archaeologists from the Jamaica National
Heritage Trust and interested parties from the Environmental Foundation,
I conducted a preliminary on-site walking survey of Orange Vale
plantation in the summer of 1999. I also conducted archival research
of the plantation to establish a textual history of the site from
documents and records at the National Archives and General Registrar's
Office in Spanish Town. The purpose of the on-site survey was
to locate potential archaeological remains and to assess the possibility
of future excavation at the site.
After crossing the Buff Bay River by foot and walking about
two miles uphill through a series of turns in thickly wooded environs,
we arrived at the site's works-domestic complex. Although shaded
under the cover of large tree branches and heavily covered in
vines, the extensive and well-preserved ruins of the plantation
were clearly visible. One could get a clear indication of the
magnitude and success of this once thriving enterprise dependent
upon forced labor of enslaved Africans.
The on-site survey was successful in locating many brick ruins.
The entrance is marked by ruins of two massive stone gate posts,
located on either side of a cobbled road running through the center
of the plantation that appears to separate the works from the
owner/overseer residence. At the highest elevation inside the
"works-residence complex" and to the left side of the
road (north), were the remains of two two-storied wall structures
(believed to have been built with English ship ballast stones).
Both structures had exterior stone steps leading up to the second
stories, which no longer remain. These structures might have been
the "great house" complex that possibly served as the
residences and/or offices of the owners and/or overseers. One
interesting artifact discovered in this area was a large copper
basin, usually associated with sugar production. However, it is
too early to speculate on how and when it was used at the site.
To the right of the road (south), were the extensive remains
of a multi-level structure connected by steep steps that lead
downhill. These ruins include large, dark, moss-covered stone
walls that represent the remains of an aqueduct, a waterwheel
emplacement, large drying platforms or "barbecues,"
a peeling mill?, two washing cisterns, a mill house, a "coffee
house," and a possible "dungeon" for the enslaved.
The still intact aqueduct, whose water source seemed to have originated
from the White Spring Falls, was used to power a giant waterwheel
that was possibly used in the washing of the coffee beans in the
Even further downhill near the river and at the lowest elevations
of the property are the remains of slave housing. It was difficult
to discern the actual nature of these structures since they were
heavily covered in dense undergrowth and partly washed away by
erosion. However, along with the surface debris of historic artifacts,
the outlines of these structures were visible enough to identify
these as dwellings for the enslaved population.
Historic artifacts in the form of ceramics, glass bottles,
and metal objects were visible at the surface throughout the site.
Also present relatively close to the main house were two intact
stone/marble grave markers with some as yet uninterpreted inscriptions
at their tops. Except for the occasional tourist adventurous enough
to make the trek to the site, the plantation ruins have remained
relatively intact and untouched. The isolation of the site has
contributed to site integrity and the potential for future archaeological
research appeared to be high.
Survey and evaluation testing at Orange Vale will be conducted
during the summer of 2000. In addition, further archival research
focusing on constructing a detailed history of the site's occupation
will continue. Testing will focus on areas near domestic structures
in the hopes of finding evidence of diet, expressed in the kinds
of food eaten, and artifacts associated with other daily activities.
My goal is to shed some light on the lives of those involved
in the economic and social ventures of coffee production. I hope
to investigate the layout and land use patterns at Orange Vale
to identify any discernible and meaningful differences in its
physical and social structure in comparison to other coffee and
sugar plantations in the region (Delle 1998, Higman 1988, Montieth
1991). In addition, I hope to learn about the ideology, social
structure, and power relations among the people of different legal
and social status who lived at Orange Vale.
Future archaeological excavations, combined with historical
documentation, can potentially provide a wealth of insights into
these and other questions with regard to the formations of identities,
social interactions, and daily activities of those who lived at
1998 An Archaeology of Social Space: Analyzing Coffee Plantations
in Jamaica's Blue Mountains. Plenum Publishing Corporation, New
1988 Jamaica Surveyed: Plantation Maps and Plans of the Eighteenth
and Nineteenth Centuries. Institute of Jamaica, Kingston.
1798 The Coffee Planter of Saint Domingo. T. Cadell and W. Davies,
1991 The Coffee Industry in Jamaica, 1790-1850. Master's Thesis,
University of the West Indies at Mona, Kingston.
Top of Page
Freedman's Cemetery (1869-1907):
Establishing a Chronology for Exhumed Burials from an African-American
Burial Ground, Dallas, Texas
James M. Davidson, University of Texas at Austin
In the early 1990s, archaeologists working in Dallas, Texas,
participated in one of the largest historic cemetery removal projects,
to be treated archaeologically, ever conducted in the United States.
The focus of the project, Freedman's Cemetery, was the principal
burial ground for virtually every African American in Dallas between
the years 1869 and 1907, a critical period spanning the Reconstruction
and Jim Crow eras.
The Freedman's Cemetery Project was necessitated by the expansion
of North Central Expressway (U.S. Highway 75). In the late 1980s,
a preliminary pedestrian survey of threatened cultural resources
performed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) identified
the remaining intact portion of Freedman's Cemetery. Later research
revealed that previous highway building efforts undertaken in
the 1940s had paved over nearly an acre of the site.
To mitigate the effects of highway expansion, the Freedman's
Cemetery Archaeological Project was formed by TXDOT. Between November
1991 and August 1994, excavations within Freedman's Cemetery encompassed
nearly an acre (.95 acre). At the close of these excavations,
archaeological investigations had resulted in the exhumation,
documentation, and analysis of 1,150 burials (containing the remains
of 1,157 individuals); i.e., nearly 1,200 men, women, and children
who had lived and died a century ago (Condon et. al 1998). Since
none of the graves were marked with dated tombstones, both the
identities and dates of interment for these individuals were unknown.
Without knowing when someone lived and died, without the ability
to view them in the very context of their times, it becomes difficult
to judge with any certainty the quality or content of their lives
in any meaningful way, economically, spiritually, or socially.
Thus, establishing a chronology for these exhumed burials became
the first step involved in realizing the vast potential of the
Freedman's Cemetery data.
Numerous prior historic cemeteries have been excavated and
reports produced, all without a thorough knowledge (or at times
even a basic grounding) in the material culture of the nineteenth
and early twentieth-century funerary industry (e.g., coffin hardware).
Though most historic cemeteries subjected to archaeological investigation
are unmarked, and the individual burials undated, as a rule the
resulting site reports make only limited attempts at interpretation
or chronology. Some do not even deign to hazard a guess as to
when the burials, that are the very subject of the report, were
originally interred (e.g., Taylor, et. al 1986). What, then, made
the Freedman's Cemetery Project any different from previous investigations,
and therefore significant enough to justify the added time and
expense in documenting the site as fully as possible?
When excavations ended in the summer of 1994, the Freedman's
Cemetery Project had exhumed a total of 1,157 individuals, a population
equal to a small town. This staggering figure makes Freedman's
one of the largest historic cemeteries ever excavated archaeologically
in the United States. This circumstance alone makes the Freedman's
Archaeological Project largely unique.
Additionally, unlike many historic cemetery excavations, where
only the most superficial study is permitted, the skeletal remains
and associated artifacts exhumed at Freedman's Cemetery were subjected
to both extensive and intensive documentation and analyses. For
example, the typical burial generated 29 pages of documentation
(e.g., excavation form, artifact inventory and analysis form,
skeletal analysis form, and dental analysis form). For the 1,150
burials exhumed arch-aeologically, the combined documentation
is approximately 33,000 pages (66 reams or 330 pounds of paper).
Also, extensive photographic documentation occurred with both
artifacts and skeletal remains; over 185,000 negatives exist (Condon
et. al 1998).
Extensive local archival documentation was available as well.
Such data were an enormous help in interpreting the cemetery in
its totality, and aided in understanding individual graves as
The fact that Freedman's was an African-American cemetery was, for me, yet another significant factor in the project. African
Americans founded the Freedman's Town, of which the cemetery was
but one part, in the early years of Reconstruction. Arguably,
the one period in American history most fraught with change for
African Americans spans the Reconstruction Era to the time of
Jim Crow, a period within which the use of Freedman's Cemetery
was known to fall. Finally, it was established that for nearly
all of its history, the Freedman's Cemetery served as the only
public burial ground for African Americans residing within Dallas. Thus, the demography of the
cemetery is an inclusive one, simultaneously containing both the
poorest members of the community (numerous paupers buried at city expense), as well as Dallas' African-American
middle class or elite represented by elaborately trimmed caskets.
Two basic and complimentary dating schema were used in the
creation of the Freedman's Cemetery chronology. First, an entirely
internal chronology was established, using specific artifacts
as temporal diagnostics, cross-dating, stacked burials (i.e.,
superposition), as well as knowledge of land purchase and subsequent
use (e.g., the spatial patterning of graves). The other dating
schema made use of broad, national trends in coffin hardware innovations
and stylistic motifs, through an exhaustive study of coffin hardware
catalogues, trade journals, and all pertinent records of the United
States Patent Office. Although extremely time-consuming, this
study was a necessary step to advance the knowledge base of 19th
and early 20th century mortuary hardware beyond the preliminary
studies of Hacker-Norton and Trinkley (1984), Garrow (1987), and
The chronology created for Freedman's Cemetery made it possible
to assign narrow date ranges to virtually all of the recovered
burials. From historic records, I was able to establish that Freedman's
Cemetery was founded on April 29, 1869, and remained open and
received interments up to July 26, 1907. Three major (and one
minor) time periods were identified. The Early Period spans sixteen
years, from the cemetery's founding in 1869 until 1884 (n=64 burials;
5.5% of total exhumed). The next period defined for Freedman's
Cemetery is the Middle Period, a fifteen year interval stretching
from 1885 to 1899 (n=170 burials; 14.8% of total exhumed). The
next temporal period is a minor one, termed simply "Pre-1900."
This designation was devised to describe those burials that while
identified as dating prior to 1900, could not be further subdivided
into either the Early or Middle Periods. The "Pre-1900"
Period contains 37 burials (3.2% of total exhumed). The final
temporal period is termed the Late Period; it covers a mere eight
year interval occurring between 1900 and 1907. The Late Period
contains the bulk of the exhumed burials (n=878; 76.4% of total
exhumed). Of the 1150 burials exhumed during excavations, only
one (Burial 1127) could not be more finely dated due to its highly
disturbed nature, location within the cemetery, and complete lack
of associated artifacts.
The Freedman's Cemetery chronology took approximately six years
to formulate, research, implement, and finally, document within
my masters thesis (Davidson 1999). Other investigators involved
with historic cemetery excavations might wonder at the necessity
or the lengths that I have taken in this detailed analysis and
subdivision of a relatively short 39-year time span. This seemed
the first order of importance for a number of reasons. To date,
Freedman's Cemetery is the largest historical cemetery of its
kind in the United States to have been excavated, documented,
and analyzed to the extent performed in Dallas, and it seems unlikely
that such a site of comparable size will ever again be examined
as minutely as Freedman's.
Until Freedman's Cemetery was firmly tethered in time, any
analyses conducted would have been perfunctory in tone or preliminary
in extent. Indeed, for any analysis or meaningful interpretations
to come of the Freedman's Cemetery Project, a diachronic perspective
was imperative. The chronology forms the basis for my dissertation
work: diachronic studies of the subject of race and racism within
Dallas, the changing cultural landscape, health and demography,
socioeconomic, and the socio-religious realm as mirrored through
specific burial practices.
To only view this skeletal population and material culture
(in toto) as contemporaneous would deny the wonderful opportunity
to chart the social, economic, and health trends within the African-American
communities of 19th and early 20th century Dallas. Indeed, the
active "life" of Freedman's Cemetery parallels some
of the most formative years of the Black Experience, beginning
during the troubled Recon-struction period and proceeding into
the early 20th century, both of which influenced the birth of
America's modern era.
Condon, C. G., J. L. Becker, H. J. H. Edgar, J. M. Davidson,
J. R. Hoffman, P. Kalima, D. Kysar, S. Moorhead, V. M. Owens,
and K. W. Condon.
1995 Freedman's Cemetery: Site 41DL316, Dallas, Texas, Assessments
of Sex, Age-at-death, Stature, and Date of Interment for Excavated
Burials. Report No. 9. Archaeological Studies Program, Environmental
Affairs Division, Texas Department of Transportation.
Davidson, James M.
1999 Freedman's Cemetery (1869-1907): A Chronological Reconstruction
of an Excavated African-American Burial Ground, Dallas, Texas.
Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
1987 A Preliminary Seriation of Coffin Hardware Forms in Nineteenth
and Twentieth Century Georgia. Early Georgia 15 (1& 2): 19-45.
Hacker-Norton, Debi, and Michael Trinkley
1984 Remember Man Thou Art Dust: Coffin Hardware of the Early
Twentieth Century. Chicora Foundation Research Series 2. Columbia,
Peter, Duane, Marsha Prior, Melissa M. Green, and Victoria
Green Clow (editors)
1999 A Legacy of A Pioneer Black Community in Dallas, Texas: Freedman's
Cemetery (Draft report September 1999), Special Publication No.
6, Environmental Affairs Division, Archaeological Studies Program,
Texas Department of Transportation.
Taylor, A. J., Anne A. Fox, and I. Waynne Cox.
1986 Archaeological Investigations at Morgan Chapel Cemetery (41
BP 200), a Historic Cemetery in Bastrop County, Texas. Archaeological
Survey Report, No. 146. Center for Archaeological Research, University
of Texas at San Antonio.
Top of Page
The Old Washington Collections:
The Potential for an Engendered Archaeology of the African Diaspora
in Southwestern Arkansas
Jamie C. Brandon, University of Texas at Austin, and Kathleen H. Cande, Arkansas Archaeological Survey
For the last 20 years, historical archaeology investigaitons
have been conducted at Old Washington Historic State Park, in
extreme southwestern Arkansas. Old Washington is perhaps the best
surviving example of a 19th-century county seat in the Old Southwest
(Cande and Brandon 1999:1; Stewart-Abernathy 1993:2). The town
of Washington, Arkansas (1825-1939; 3HE236), the former county
seat of Hempstead County and a booming antebellum cotton town
on the Southwest Trail, is perhaps best known historically as
the Confederate capital of Arkansas during the Civil War. Although
archeological investigations into this aspect of Old Washington's
past have been made (e.g., Harcourt 1994), it is the potential
of the archeological assemblage for illuminating the lives of
the enslaved individuals that provided much of the labor on Old
Washington's "urban farmsteads" that seems most promising
at this juncture (Cande and Brandon 1999:22-24; Stewart-Abernathy
After several devastating fires and its omission from major
railway routes, Washington was condemned to the role of economic
backwater and eventually the nearby town of Hope replaced it as
the seat of government in Hempstead County. The town's stagnant
economy, however, meant that very little of the town's architecture
changed during the course of the 20th century. Beginning in 1959,
the Pioneer Washington Preservation Foundation served as steward
of the town. The Foundation was joined by the state of Arkansas
as Old Washington Historic State Park was established in 1973
(Guthrie and Witsell 1985:18; Stewart-Abernathy 1997:2). The park
is now one of the highlights of the state's heritage tourism program.
The 20 years of historical archaeology that has been undertaken
by the Arkansas Archeological Survey (AAS) was largely under the
supervision of Leslie "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy (e.g.,
1981, 1984, 1985, 1986; Stewart-Abernathy and Ruff 1989) and,
more recently, by Randall Guendling (Guendling 1993; Guendling
et. al. 1999). However, as most of this work has been funded under
contract by Arkansas State Parks on a project-by-project basis
and/or through the AAS annual training program excavations, little
money has been available for the extended analysis needed for
synthetic interpretation of the data. In fact, many of the artifacts
and data collected have yet to be analyzed, synthesized, and written-up.
More importantly, despite Stewart-Abernathy's best efforts to
disseminate the information gleaned from the Old Washington excavations
to a professional audience via conference papers (e.g., Stewart-Abernathy
1988, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997), the site remains seldom-cited in
historical archaeology's literature due to the lack of synthetic
In July of 1997, the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources
Council (ANCRC) awarded two grants to the AAS for the purpose
of cataloging the more than 80,000 artifacts recovered from excavations
at antebellum houseplaces, outbuildings and public buildings in
Old Washington Historic State Park. In addition to a comprehensive
"finding aid" for the reorganized collections, the resulting
report (Cande and Brandon 1999) also provides an historical overview
for excavations and a review of the research strategies employed
by the archeologists working within the park. This work, however,
included only limited examples of the usefulness of the excavated
data (e.g., Brandon 1999), while this data set has the potential
to be mined for many veins of fruitful research-including landscape
studies, commercial and industrial aspects, the economic and social
connections between plantations and "urban" service
centers, material culture studies and, of course, the studies
of gender and both the Jewish and African diasporas (Cande and
From the perspective of diasporic studies, the surface of the
potential of Old Washington's collections has only barely been
scratched (but see Stewart-Abernathy 1995, 1997; Stewart-Abernathy
and Ruff 1989); a potential which interestingly springs largely
from an unexpected source-architectural history. Similar to the
situations at many other "living history" museums or
parks throughout North America, the major role of archaeologists
at Old Washington has been to provide information for architectural
reconstruction. This element of archaeological work is made all
the more important since the original outbuildings, which can
tell us a great deal about the fabric of the lives of those residing
in the antebellum town, were largely removed by the mid-20th century
(Guthrie and Witsell 1985:54-58). Several of these outbuildings
have been archaeologically relocated, including the detached kitchens,
privies, and wells associated with the Sanders House, the home
of Simon T. Sanders, a city official from 1845-1882 (see Guendling
1993 for details) and the Block House, occupied between the 1830s
and 1857 by the Block family, successful local merchants (see
Guendling et al. 1999; Stewart-Abernathy 1985).
It is the contexts of these outbuildings, especially the detached
kitchens, that offers us a glimpse of both race and gender on
the antebellum urban farmsteads of the Old Southwest. For instance,
Abraham Block, patriarch of the aforementioned Block family and
himself a part of the Jewish diaspora and personally involved
in the slave trade through his mercantile activities, (see Stewart-Abernathy
1995; Stewart-Abernathy and Ruff 1989), owned at least 25 human
beings who worked on land holdings spread throughout the county
(Montgomery 1981:19-21, 25, 27). The census data, however, tell
us that the Blocks only kept between two and three slaves at their
home in the town of Old Washington. All were women who appear
to have lived in the detached kitchen (Stewart-Abernathy 1995:5).
More tantalizingly, to date several artifacts have been recovered
from Old Washington's detached kitchens which hint at the possibilities
of dramatic interpretations. Artifacts such as a pierced 1856
seated liberty dime (from the Block detached kitchen) and a porcelain
doll head which appears to have been painted black (from the Sanders
kitchen) point to the potential of interpreting enslaved African-American
life in urban Old Washington, but without placing these artifacts
within the proper, broader contexts such interpretation would
be over-simplistic and possibly misleading (cf., Deetz 1995; Fesler
and Franklin 1999:5).
Thus, the purpose of this article is to alert interested researchers
to the existence of these collections, their condition, and their
rich potential, especially for African-American Archaeology. It
is hoped that in the future more researchers may use these collections
and help bring about a synthesis that has "fallen through
the cracks" of our discipline.
Thanks go out to ANCRC and the AAS for making it possible for
the authors to work with the Old Washington Skip Stewart-Abernathy
for the years he has devoted to the site. Anyone interested in
research involving the Old Washington collections should contact
either Lela Donat, AAS registrar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Kathleen Cande, Senior Research Assistant, AAS Sponsored Research
Program (kcande @comp.uark.edu).
Brandon, Jamie C.
1999 Appendix E: Analysis of Selected Provenience, OWHSP, ANCRC
Grant 98-001. In An Old Washington for a New Millennium: Archeological
Collections Management and Research Design for Old Washington
State Historic Park, Hempstead County, Arkansas, 1980-1999. ANCRC
Grant 99-001. Report submitted to the Arkansas Natural and Cultural
Resource Council by the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Cande, Kathleen H., and Jamie C. Brandon
1999 An Old Washington for a New Millennium: Archeological Collections
Management and Research Design for Old Washington State Historic
Park, Hempstead County, Arkansas, 1980-1999. ANCRC Grant 99-001.
Report submitted to the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resource
Council by the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
1995 Cultural Dimensions of Ethnicity in the Archaeological Record.
Keynote address, annual meeting of the Society for Historical
Archaeology, Washington, DC.
Fesler, Garrett, and Maria Franklin
1999 The Exploration of Ethnicity and the Historical archaeological
Record. In Historical Archaeology, Identity Formation, and Interpretation
of Ethnicity, Franklin and Fesler (eds.). Colonial Williamsburg
Research Publications, Williamsburg.
Guendling, Randall L.
1993 Archeological Assessment of the Sanders Block, Old Washington
State Park, Hempstead County, Arkansas. Final Report, Project
847. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville. Submitted to
the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Little Rock.
Guendling, Randall L., Mary L. Kwas, and Jamie C. Brandon
1999 Archeological Investigations at Old Washington State Park,
Arkansas: The 1836 Courthouse Block (3HE236-0) and the Block-Catts
House Block (3HE236-19). Final Report, Project 99-02. Arkansas
Archeological Survey, Fayetteville. Submitted to the Arkansas
Department of Parks and Tourism, Little Rock.
Guthrie, Anne, and Charles Witsell, Jr.
1985 Master Plan: Old Washington State Park, Washington, Arkansas.
Witsell, Evans, and Rasco, PA and Arkansas State Parks, Little
Harcourt, James P.
1994 Archeological Testing at the Confederate State Capitol, Old
Washington State Park, Hempstead County, Arkansas. Final Report,
Project 883. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville. Submitted
to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Little Rock.
1981 Block-Catts House: Historic Structure Report. Report submitted
to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Little Rock.
Stewart-Abernathy, Leslie C.
1981 Preliminary Report: Sanders Kitchen Archeological Project.
Journal of the Hempstead County Historical Society 5 (2).
1984 The Block House Piers: A Contribution to the Archeological
Underpinning of Historic Preservation in Washington, Arkansas.
Final Report, Project 575. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.
Submitted to the Arkansas Department of State Parks and Tourism,
1985 The Block House Cellar. Arkansas Archeological Society
Field Notes 203:9-11.
1986 Urban Farmsteads: Household Responsibilities in the City.
Historical Archaeology 20 (2):5-15.
1988 Queensware from a Southern Store: Perspectives on the
Antebellum Ceramics Trade from a Merchant Family's Trash in Washington,
Arkansas. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Society
for Historical Archaeology ,Reno.
1991 Cutting Christians into Shoestrings in the Twinkling of
a Bedpost: Urban archaeology on the Cotton Frontier. Paper presented
at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology,
1993 History Below Ground Level: Historical Archaeology and
Washington, Arkansas. Paper given at the annual meeting of the
Historical Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, Washington.
1995 Separate Kitchens and Intimate Archaeology: Constructing
Urban Slavery on the Antebellum Cotton Frontier in Washington,
Arkansas. Paper presented at the 1995 annual meeting of the Society
for Historical Archaeology, Washington, DC.
1997 "Just Putting it Back the Way it Was": Construction
of an Antebellum Townscape in Washington, Arkansas. Paper presented
at the 1997 annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology,
Corpus Christi, TX.
Stewart-Abernathy, Leslie C., and Barbara Ruff
1989 A Good Man in Israel: Zooarchaeology and Assimilation in
Antebellum Washington, Washington, Arkansas. Historical Archaeology
Top of Page
Testing the Oral History at Middleburg
Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina
Kerri S. Barile, University of Texas at Austin & University
of South Carolina, Columbia
Middleburg, a rice plantation near Charleston, South Carolina,
was home to the Simons, Lucas, and Ball families from 1699 through
the 1970s. The families themselves, however, comprised only a
small percentage of the plantation's historic population. Middleburg
was also "home" for several hundred enslaved Africans.
As with many plantations, many of the former slaves took up residence
on land directly surrounding the estate upon emancipation. The
continued presence of both the white owners and the free blacks
fostered a rich and detailed oral tradition, which illuminate
persisting racial conflicts in the area.
In his 1992 work Uncommon Ground, Leland Ferguson discusses
his search for the slave quarters at Middleburg. Archaeological
excavations and documentary research revealed their location east
of the main house and the period of occupation from around 1770
through the first quarter of the 19th century (Adams 1990:93).
Sometime after the quarters were removed, a large two and a half
story structure was built on the site (Figure 1). This building
is colloquially referred to as the Commissary, a name derived
from the period in the early 20th century when the structure served
as a local store (Hill 1988). It is believed to have served as
a storage building during the 19th century. The ground level is
made up of a single large room to the west and two small (three
feet by five feet) exterior chambers that open on the east elevation
(Figure 2). It is these exterior rooms that have been the focus
of a growing oral tradition. Among white descendants, these two
rooms were believed to have been used to teach new slaves English.
The new slave would be put in one room and an American-born slave
would be put in the other, with the slaves divided by a wall of
brick. They would be let out of their "school-rooms"
when the lessons were over.
A very different tradition exists among black descendants who
continue to live in the area. Their belief, passed down through
generations, is that these two rooms were, in fact, the plantation
jail cells used for holding and inflicting harsh punishments (Ferguson
1998: personal communication). These two traditions mirror the
way each group of descendants differentially, and even oppositionally,
interpret the history of slavery at Middleburg. In Slaves in the
Family, Edward Ball (1998) collected oral histories from the descendants
and relations of both white owners and black slaves to explore
his family's heritage. A 90-year old white family member said:
"We lean over backwards where the Negros are concerned. But
they live like animals, you know" (Ball 1998:53-57). The
descendants of the Middleburg slaves who still live in the area
told Ball of the splitting and selling of families, the beating
and flogging, and the harsh work conditions. As one said, "that
was an awful time. I'm glad I wasn't there then" (Ball 1998:395).
In January and February, 1999, archaeological excavations and
architectural analysis were undertaken to answer some of the contrary
interpretations of the Commissary. Two excavation units were placed
around the exterior of the Commissary foundation to answer questions
about the building's construction and the deconstruction of the
slave quarters below. One unit was placed inside the southern
exterior chamber to reveal construction details and insights into
the room's purpose. The two units at the Commissary foundation
revealed that the slave quarters in the area were purposely burned
to clear the area and the Commissary was immediately constructed
on the spot around 1820 (Barile 1999). The interior of the structure
revealed a different picture. Upon investigation, the interior
dividing walls that separate the two exterior chambers from the
large main area were found to have a "cold" joint with
the exterior foundation walls on both sides and, further, these
walls are not tied into the roofing members. Archaeologically,
the builder's trench in the unit inside the southern chamber contained
fragments of aqua bottle glass, which has a terminus post quem
of 1860 (Jones and Sullivan 1985:13-14). Together, the archaeological
and architectural analyses show that not only were the walls that
create the two exterior chambers added after the initial construction
of the building, but these changes were made after 1860. During
the period of slavery at Middleburg, the Commissary appears to
have had only one large room on the ground floor, not three. With
this knowledge, these chambers could be neither schoolrooms nor
As both oral traditions regarding the Commissary appear to
be inaccurate, what can this say about the validity of oral histories
on archaeological and architectural research? Anne Yentsch (1988:5,16)
makes a point to note that many times, such traditions were not
truths to be passed down as completely factual histories, but
were instead methods of "binding society and promoting solidarity"
among different societal factions. For this reason, architectural
historians and archaeologists have been hesitant to include this
information in their studies. She also recognizes, however, the
inherent value in the hidden meaning of oral traditions, for "encoded
within them is ethnographic information on social values and folk
ideas about kinship, community identity, society, history, culture
and nature" (Yentsch 1988:5).
It is with this idea that the oral histories of the Commissary
at Middleburg reveal the past. Even though the chambers were found
to have been constructed after emancipation, the oral traditions
themselves divulge a plethora of information about the 18th-,
19th -, and 20th-century relations among the white and black populations
in the area. This information can be used to decipher meanings
among the plantation landscape and the dissemination of power
among its' inhabitants. It can also yield possible clues to living
conditions, social actions, and the daily lives of both the white
elite family and their enslaved African-American workforce that
are not seen in the written record and cannot be determined archaeologically
or architecturally. Like many aspects of researching the past,
archaeology can benefit from a multidisciplinary approach so that
an attempt can be made to illuminate the past in the present.
1990 Early African-American Domestic Architecture from Berkeley
County, South Carolina. Unpublished Master's thesis. Department
of Anthropology. University of South Carolina, Columbia.
1998 Slaves in the Family. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York.
Barile, Kerri S.
1999 Causes and Creations: Exploring the Relationship Between
19th Century Slave Insurrections, Landscape and Architecture at
Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina. Unpublished
Master's thesis. Department of Anthropology. University of South
1992 Uncommon Ground. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington,
1988 A Brief History of Middleburg Plantation. Unpublished manuscript.
Department of Anthropology. University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Jones, Olive, and Catherine Sullivan
1985 The Parks Canada Glass Glossary. Studies in Archaeology,
Architecture and History, National Historic Parks and Sites, Environment
Yentsch, Anne E.
1988 Legends, Houses, Families, and Myths: Relationships between
material culture and American Ideology. In Documentary Archaeology
in the New World, edited by M. Beaudry, pp. 5-19. Cambridge University
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AK 72801 (501) 968-0381
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Last updated: April 16, 2005