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African-American Archaeology

Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network

Number 18, Fall 1997

John P. McCarthy, Editor


"Where's the Newsletter?"

A Letter From the New Editor

Where indeed is the newsletter? Here it is -- late, but hopefully worth the wait.

I have to admit that producing a newsletter such as this involves a lot of hard work -- much more than I realized when I agreed to take it over from Tom Wheaton. The greatest difficulty I have had has been finding enough suitable material to make up an issue. In addition, I have undertaken to redesign and refocus the newsletter as a source of useful information for researchers in African-American material culture, broadly defined.

While I deeply apologize to one and all for the outrageous delay in producing this first issue under my editorship, hopefully with this issue African-American Archaeology (A-A A) will resume a more or less regular publication schedule. In addition to this Fall issue, I plan to produce an early winter issue to be mailed in early December, prior to the 1998 Society for Historical Archaeology Meeting in Atlanta. A late winter issue will report on the meeting, and with a sufficient flow of submissions, Spring/Summer and Fall issues will follow in due course.

Toward that end, please, each and every one of you, consider A-A A as your first choice for publication of breaking research news, preliminary papers, interpretive essays, book reviews, etc. As a matter of policy, this newsletter will remain uncopywriten to facilitate scholarly exchange, and the subsequent journal publication of materials first appearing here.

A new group of contributing regional editors has been appointed, see the last page, and hopefully you will be hearing from them as they round-up news and other contributions to A-A A. Please bear with me as I try to learn how to produce a newsletter not only of which you can be proud, but also one that you will hopefully find indispensable to your work.

Very Sincerely,

John P. McCarthy, Editor/Publisher

Excavations at Little Africa - A Missouri Freedmen's Community

Brett Rogers, Columbia College, Columbia, Mo.

In the wake of Emancipation, small African-American communities dotted the Little Dixie region of central Missouri, each a manifestation of the freed people's desire for land, economic independence, and security. One such community, commonly referred to as "Little Africa," developed in a rugged area southwest of the then prosperous town of Roanoke in north Howard County. By 1876 at least 300 adjoining acres were under African-American ownership, and in excess of 500 acres by 1897. On one of the properties, a small neighborhood, or settlement, was established where some of the farmers and a number of unlanded individuals built homes. A church, school, and a remote secondary neighborhood soon followed. Although these freedmen made efficient use of the natural resources and attained a minimal degree of agricultural self-sufficiency, they were integrally tied to the tobacco industry that accounted for the area's prosperity and previously employed much of its slave labor. When tobacco production in Little Dixie declined around the turn of the century, the community slowly began to dissolve; by 1920 Little Africa was a ghost town and its small farms absorbed by surrounding landowners who subsequently bulldozed and burned most of the community's built environment. Only wells and scant traces of foundations remain to mark the network of farmsteads that were built and used for decades, and the only obvious remnant of the actual settlement is a small cemetery. Although public documents and local oral history provide some insight into the social, agricultural, and material development of the community, the information is largely fragmentary. Since there is no longer an African-American community in the Roanoke area, the oral record is especially punctuated with uncertainty. In March and April 1997 a series of excavations were conducted in an attempt to more fully document the history of Little Africa. The resulting archaeological record provides a small a window into the lives of these freedmen (and women) and has played an integral role in my larger interdisciplinary study of this once vibrant hamlet.

Although preliminary excavations and surface collection have aided in documenting and dating the sites of many of the individual farmsteads, most of the archaeological activity has focused on the central neighborhood, and a secondary area of settlement located one half mile west, where most of the residents lived. The settlement was founded between 1871 and 1874 and originally included an AME church, a school, and assorted log and frame structures. It was completely destroyed and the land drastically reshaped in the 1950s; as mentioned, only the cemetery remains.

Intense surface collection at this site has yielded a significant number of artifacts, primarily ceramics, dating to the period of the original settlement. An examination of the ceramics suggests that the residents of Little Africa used a variety of wares; ironstone, blue-glazed, and blue and white patterned porcelain as well as pottery of local manufacture and a large variety of stoneware crockery. Other artifacts found at this site include nails, colored glass (green, clear, dark blue and white) and sizable fragments of what were the fieldstone foundations of the various dwellings. The bulk of the glass recovered is common window glass, but the collection includes fragments of jars and bottles as well. The surface evidence not only provides insight into the material possessions of the residents, but has allowed me to speculate on the original placement of their dwellings and various outbuildings.

Today, two fieldstone-lined wells, and a subterranean fieldstone foundation of an icehouse along a wooded hilltop, are all that remain of the Murrell farmstead, which served as a secondary neighborhood. Here, surface evidence includes bricks, nails, and glass fragments. Formal excavations at various locations on the site provide more substantial material insight. Work at the icehouse uncovered excellent examples of local pottery (in various forms), two kinds of stoneware, assorted glassware, and metal hardware (including one of the massive strap hinges of the original door). The icehouse, rare for Missouri, is situated adjacent to a small pond and is thought to have provided cold storage for the entire community until the time that the site was abandoned, around 1920. Similar artifacts, though not as plentiful, have also been excavated from the two wells, one of which was used as a refuse pit after the turn of the century.

Collectively, the artifacts suggest that both sites were inhabited from as early as the 1870s, when the community was initially established, through the early years of the 20th century. Although the information provided by these artifacts is incomplete, and represent only a small portion of the activities that actually occurred on the site, the artifacts have played a key role in identifying the location and general architectural arrangement of the settlement. Perhaps more importantly they contribute to our general understanding of African-American life in these secluded rural communities and everyday life in post-Civil War Missouri. Further excavation at the Little Africa site is planned for early next spring.

A portion of this paper was presented at the Thirty-ninth Missouri Conference on History in April, 1997.

An African American Site Investigation in Rural Delaware

John Bedell, Louis Berger & Associates, Inc., Washington, D.C.

This last June Louis Berger & Associates, Inc. carried out Phase II test excavations at the house of Arthur John Henry, a African-American farmer. Henry's house, built c. 1878 at Pine Tree Corners in southern New castle County, was originally considered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a typical example of a dwelling type known as a "House and Garden," common among tenants and poor free African Americans in Delaware.

Documentary research indicated, however, that despite being unable to sign his name, Henry was the owner of 50 acres of farmland on which he grew fruit and vegetables. When he died in 1929 his real estate was valued at $1,200.00 and he left $230.00 in cash and $80.00 of tomatoes. In addition, he was a leading member of his church, Lees Chapel AME, and one of the founders of the community of Pine Tree Corners.

Henryıs success shows the danger of considering any person's life and home "typical." Unfortunately, archaeological testing indicated that the house had been moved in the 1930s, after Henry's death, and no artifacts or features associated with him were identified.

A report on the project is forthcoming in the Delaware Department of Transportation's archaeology series, detailing the investigation of the Henry house and presenting a historic context statement for "House and Garden" sites. The department can be contacted at P. O. Box 778, Dover, DE 19903, (800) 562-5600.

The Brown Lodge/Cadwell Pottery Site, Arrow Rock, Missouri

Timothy E. Baumann, University of Tennessee at Knoxville

During the second week of July 1996, the Missouri Archaeological Society (MAS) in cooperation with the Friends of Arrow Rock, a local historical agency, conducted a one week field school at the Brown Lodge/Caldwell Pottery site (23SA451). The Brown Lodge/Caldwell Pottery site is located on Block #30 in Arrow Rock, Missouri. This paper summarizes the history of Block #30 and preliminary archaeological results at the Brown Lodge/Caldwell Pottery site.

Arrow Rock, founded in 1827, is located in West-Central Missouri along the Missouri River. African-Americans in Arrow Rock and in Central Missouri have a long and significant history, that until recently has gone largely unnoticed. West-Central Missouri is historically known as the "Little Dixie" region. The Little Dixie region was settled by American immigrants from the Upper South states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, and from the Carolinas. These settlers brought with them not only their material culture and agricultural system, but also their enslaved African-Americans. During the ante-bellum period, the Little Dixie region, which includes Arrow Rock and Saline County, had the highest percentage of black population in the state. African-Americans were responsible for clearing and cultivating the land, were domestic help, and provided industrial labor. At the outset of the Civil War, many enslaved African-Americans fled their masters, moving into cities like Arrow Rock, creating their own villages, or moving out of the state altogether. In the cities, African-Americans lived in segregated neighborhoods and became self-reliant by establishing their own businesses, schools, and churches. Arrow Rock had a large influx of freed African-Americans who lived in a segregated area along Morgan Street, which includes Block #30.

On Block #30 (23SA451), archaeology has the potential to interpret African-American history from slavery to freedom in an urban context. During slavery, Block #30 can define industrial slavery from the Caldwell & McCumber pottery factory. After freedom, Block #30 can explore Arrow Rock's African-American community through: 1) the domestic lives of three family residences, 2) a black owned business of a store, restaurant, and bar, and 3) community support and social life of the Masonic Lodge.

Between 1856 and the 1870s, Block #30 was the site of a stoneware manufacturing site operated by Caldwell & McCumber. Census data indicate that Mr. Caldwell owned one male slave. If this slave worked at the pottery factory, or if Caldwell & McCumber rented or owned other slaves as factory workers, their presence might be established during this project. Archaeological evidence of the pottery factory may include kilns, outbuildings, stables, and possibly the residence of N. G. Caldwell. After 1880, African-Americans purchased and constructed three residences and the Brown Lodge No. 22 of A. F. & A. M. Colored Masons on this site. African-Americans occupied Block #30 until the 1950s.

Archaeological remains of the African-American component should include residence foundations, wells, privies, other outbuildings, and midden areas. Currently, only the Brown Lodge is still standing. The lodge is a two story frame structure with the Masons hall on the second floor. The first floor was used as a store, restaurant, and bar.

The Friends of Arrow Rock have recently received a Missouri Humanities Grant to conduct archival and oral history of Arrow Rock's African-American heritage. Past and present residents of Arrow Rock are volunteering to support this project. Information compiled from the Missouri Humanities Grant project will be used to compare and interpret the archaeology of Block #30. The Friends of Arrow Rock also are planning to restore the Brown Lodge as an interpretive center for African-American heritage.

During the 1996 Missouri Archaeological Society field school on site 23SA451, the east half of Block #30 was investigated. Posthole digger tests were spaced at 15-foot intervals across the site to provide locational information regarding structure and midden features, artifacts, and site stratigraphy. Soils were screened in 0.5-foot levels and recovered material was bagged separately. A total of 88 posthole tests was excavated. Post hole tests revealed possible kiln locations, pottery waster dumps, and artifact middens.

The MAS field school also excavated five three- foot square units around the standing Brown Lodge. The units were excavated at 0.2-foot levels with each level screened and bagged separately. A float sample was also taken from each unit level. Units 1, 2, 3, and 5 were placed outside doorways to collect artifacts from secondary adjacent middens on each side of the structure. Unit 4 was placed 12 feet behind the lodge in an attempt to recover artifacts from the second story balcony entrance to the Masons Hall. The units revealed 12 cultural features and numerous artifacts associated with both the Brown Lodge and the pottery factory. Features included post holes, limestone piers, a gravel walkway, and a brick foundation or floor. Artifacts included bottles, ceramic tablewares, toys, buttons, animal bone, salt-glazed stoneware sherds, unfired potter's clay, kiln furniture, and salt-glazed bricks. The artifacts are currently being processed, analyzed, and temporarily stored at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville's (UTK's) Historical Archaeology Laboratory. Tim Baumann, a doctoral student at UTK, is planning to write his dissertation on African-American components at the site. Deb Krause, a masters student at the University Of Missouri, Columbia, is using artifacts from the stoneware pottery factory for her thesis.

A joint archaeological field school was held by the Missouri Archaeological Society and the UTK at the Brown Lodge/Caldwell Pottery Site. For further information at the MAS contact Dr. Dan Elliott or Melody Galen at (573) 882-3544, or by e-mail:

For further information from UTK contact Dr. Charles Faulkner or Tim Baumann at the Department of Anthropology, 252 S. Stadium Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996, (423) 974-4408, or by e-mail:

Conference Report: "Four Rivers of Africa"

Jeanne A. Ward, IMA Consulting, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.

The National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington sponsored a one-day symposium on May 3, 1997 entitled "Four Rivers of Africa: Historical Archaeology and Art in Africa". The conference was part of the celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the museum and was well-attended by a diverse, overflow audience of both professionals and interested lay people.

Welcomes from Edward Lifschitz, Curator of Education, Roslyn Walker, Director, and Philip Ravenhill, Chief Curator of the Museum began the morning with an invitation to tour the museum which was featuring an exhibit on Nubia at the time.

Dr. Christopher DeCorse of Syracuse University, provided an introduction to the conference including a definition of historical archaeology in the African continent. While historical archaeology, as practiced in North America consists primarily of the archaeology of European expansion, in Africa it is a combination of oral history, documents, and archaeology which are being used to provide a sense of the diversity of Africa's past as the presenters at this conference fully exhibited.

Dr. DeCorse talked about his research in Elmina, Ghana. This community, which in the 18th century consisted of 1,000 stone houses, was leveled and turned into a parade ground in the late 19th century by the British colonial regime.

Dr. DeCorse was followed by Dr. Tereba Togola, of the National Museum of Mali, Institut des Sciences Humaines. She discussed the formation and development of complex societies in the Niger River Inland Delta. The Niger River Coastal Delta was discussed by Dr. Ekpo Eyo of the University of Maryland. His presentation focused primarily on the development of the Nok culture from its inception c. 600 BC through 1900 AD.

After lunch, Dr. Pierre de Maret of the Free University of Brussels in Belgium discussed the Zaire River Basin. He talked about excavations in Congo, Teke, and Alluba. Dr. George Abungu of the National Museum of Kenya presented results from his work in the Zambezi River Valley. He defined his study area as 3,000 miles of the Swahili coast from Zembezi to Umpopo in the interior. He argued that historic structures in this region, widely believed to be of Arab origin, are actually of native construction. Finally, Dr. Betsy Bryan of Johns Hopkins University presented a paper on the Nile Valley. She discussed the site preservation challenges presented by changing climate and due to rising water tables resulting from the construction of the Aswan Dam.

The day concluded with a panel discussion revolving around ways to preserve Africa's archaeo-logical resources. Because so much of the looting of archaeological sites in Africa is related to foreign trade in art objects, Dr. Eyo appealed to ways to curb Western demand for such objects. Much hope was expressed about improvements in the pace and severity of looting, and the fact that archaeology is giving something back to the local people in the communities where the presenters work.

While there was no talk of publication of the papers presented, the participants clearly thought the conference worthwhile and discussed the possibility of holding a similar session at some future date. The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, can be contacted at 950 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20560, (202) 357-4600.

1997 USM Field School Investigations

Amy L. Young, The University of Southern Mississippi

The 1997 archaeological field school at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Department of Anthropology and Sociology spent six weeks testing three important sites associated with African-American slaves in Mississippi. Work represents the beginning of a long-term research project investigating African-American slavery in the southern portion of Mississippi.

The first site investigated, McCallum Farm, is located in the Pine Hills Region of Mississippi. Not known for extensive cotton plantations, early settlers began arriving around 1810 to raise cattle. This farm was established in 1808 by Malcolm McCallum and his wife Mary McIver, both born in Scotland. Malcolm McCallum was one of the larger slaveholders in the Pine Hills. Malcolm's son, John McCallum followed in his father's footsteps and in 1860 the slave schedule of the federal census of Perry County indicated he had 5 slave houses. Tax lists and census records indicate that John McCallum owned around 20 slaves (the number changed through time). The farm is still owned by descendants of Malcolm McCallum and Mary McIver. No 19th-century buildings remain on the farm, however. One week was spent conducting an archaeological survey of the extensive farm to locate the positions of the documented slave houses and John McCallum's residence. Plowed fields were systematically collected, and shovel tests were excavated. The approximate location of the John McCallum house was known to current residents, and the site was located and collected. A large 19th-century artifact assemblage, apparently associated with the slaves, was recovered. Additional investigations at the site are planned for a future date.

Two weeks were spent doing limited testing at a town site in the Pine Hills called Old Augusta. Established before 1819, the town was the county seat of Perry County until it was abandoned c. 1900. The town served as a major slave trading site between Natchez and Mobile. No standing structures survive, and the site is covered with secondary forest growth. One area of the town was extensively surveyed and one-meter square units were excavated where artifacts (especially bricks) were noted on the surface. Unfortunately, the courthouse at Old Augusta burned three times in the 19th century, so there is little documentary evidence available. There is extensive oral history surrounding the site, and field school students interviewed many local residents. The jail, courthouse, a general store, an unknown building, and "The Quarters" were located and tested. The "Quarters" was inhabited by African Americans after the Civil War.

The final three weeks of the field school were spent at a cotton plantation in the Natchez District known as Saragossa. It was likely established around 1820 by Stephen Duncan who owned several plantations and several hundred slaves, but Saragossa was never his home. Based on the average family size and the number of slave houses, Saragossa was home to 60 to 75 slaves (including children and elderly) as well as an overseer. In 1855, Walton Smith purchased Saragossa and enlarged the overseer's house to serve as the home of his own family. Smith also owned other plantations in the Natchez District. An 1843 map shows an overseer's house and eight slave houses. The brick overseer's house and one slave house (timber frame double pen with central brick chimney set on brick piers) survives today. Twenty one-meter square units were excavated to test the area of the slave houses. While some of the slave residential area has been plowed, a number of the house sites are largely undisturbed. Animal bone was recovered in quantity and the site has enormous potential to yield information about slavery on a cotton plantation in Mississippi. Just outside the gates of Saragossa is a small rural African-American community that is largely descended from the slaves. The field school was fortunate enough to be invited to their Fourth of July party and has been invited back to learn more.

Materials from the field school are being processed in lab at USM. A number of students are already preparing papers for presentations at professional meetings.

Some Thoughts on Archaeology and Public Responsibility

Kenneth L. Brown, University of Houston

Over the past decade that I have been conducting research and writing in historical archaeology, I have been made continually aware that we are not, or at least should not be, "prehistoric archaeologists." In many ways this statement is true. Differences between the two archaeologies exist in areas such as: questions formulated and researched, methods employed in investigation, and our contact with the very people whose ancestors helped to create the archaeological sites. While the issues of questions and methods have received a great deal of attention, the aspect of our work related to living descendants has not been addressed in the same detail, although some authors have addressed this issue with respect to cemetery sites (e.g. Roberts and McCarthy 1995; McCarthy 1996). After more than ten years of research in a number of historic sites in and around the city of Houston, Texas, I have come to believe that the question of living descendants should be of vital concern to historical archaeologists. Indeed, if we do not face this issue, we may shortly face the resentment and hostility currently being displayed by Native Americans toward our prehistoric colleagues.

It seems to me, that the descendant populations historical archaeologists are concerned with are likely to be even more directly affected by our work than is the case for most Native American groups. Certainly, historical descendants can perceive themselves to be more directly impacted because historical archaeologists use the actual names of the people who built the sites we excavate. We tell scientifically based stories about the lives of actual named individuals, many of whom have living descendants. Through various means, these descendants, along with their neighbors and co-workers have access to these stories. We hold living people's ancestors up for public examination. Private lives become public ones without the consent of the living or the dead. They become public for scientific" reasons. Somehow, we historical archaeologists think that since it is only for science (read benefit to humanity) we can somehow invade the lives of individuals from both the past and present, without regard to the potential impact such an invasion may have. This type of thinking has led to potentially devastating results for prehistoric archaeologists. Such thinking may lead historical archaeologists down the same road. It may also lead us to court.

During our research on the Levi Jordan Plantation, in Brazoria County, Texas, a number of incidents have occurred which have directly effected our relationship with the various communities concerned with this investigation and our interpretation of the site. I would like to relate two incidents/discussions from the Jordan Plantation work, that I feel can serve to illustrate the problems with the current "we only serve science" approach to historical archaeology.

The first concerns a chance meeting between one of my students and a descendant of one of the slave and tenant families known to have been living on the Jordan Plantation. This descendant overheard a conversation between this student and another person concerning the student's research on the plantation. Later that day the descendant (a co-worker of the student's) went to the student and asked about the plantation research. The descendant stated that they had been keeping up with the research through the various news reports and through contact with other relatives living near the plantation. The descendant also stated that there were some feelings of apprehension concerning this research and its publication felt by many members of the "descendant community," especially those working outside of the immediate plantation area. This descendant wanted to know more about the project in order to assess what impact our publication might have on their lives. The descendant was given copies of all papers (published and/or presented) as well as a statement as to our future plans, by the student. At the next meeting with the student, the descendant stated both an interest (stated as a curiosity) in the research, a willingness to serve as an informant on that family, and a strongly expressed desire that the family's name not be published in anything written. The sole reason given by this incredibly valuable descendant/ informant was a fear that such publication would cause harm and embarrassment to all those descendants working outside of the local area. "Harm," the descendant felt, would come through the creation of an unacceptable environment in the places these descendants were employed. This fear was supported by the fact that the descendant's immediate supervisor visited the student on several occasions clearly attempting to find out "what was going on?" (why was the student meeting with this descendant?) "Embarrassment," the descendant felt, would come through the fact that we have obtained information on subjects that the general public can "ridicule" as primitive superstitions and dismiss the people and their descendants as stupid and backward. The interpretation of the Conjurer's Cabin and the Cosmogram from our excavations at the Levi Jordan Plantation are two examples of "scientific interpretations" that might contribute to this sense of embarrassment. The second incident concerned the reaction of a member of the descendant community to our research and our request for aid in obtaining additional oral history concerning the slaves and tenants on the plantation. This individual stated that for us to obtain that help from the descendants of the site's occupants, we would have to demonstrate to them the relevance of our work and interpretations. In a very real sense, this is the same concern as the "embarrassment" issue raised earlier. However, it goes beyond embarrassment to directly question the belief that interpretations proposed by "scientific historical archaeologists" are neutral in any fashion -- especially when they involve the employment of peoples' names.

Clearly, our intention is not to hold people up for any kind of treatment, either positive or negative -- ours is merely the job of reporting scientifically-derived facts. Even despite the impossibility of this "job," it is, in fact, the descendants of the people who originally produced our scientific facts who are directly impacted by any presentation of those facts (scientific or otherwise). Members of the "general public" will interpret what we say and they will act on it. This might not effect us as archaeologists directly, but it has the potential to effect the descendants, possibly negatively, despite our best intentions. A series of such impacts may produce a strong dislike of historical archaeologists among the descendants, much like that being experienced by prehistoric archaeologists.

There have been several attempted solutions to these problems during the final phases of the Jordan Plantation project and the beginning phases of the public interpretation of this research. First of all, where it has been requested, the actual personal and family names have not, and will not, be employed in any publication. This has been difficult. In one case as the family's history has been research back to the 1730s, and has proven to be a fascinating study in slavery to freedom by the members of this family. However, there is a very real fear among several of the descendants that this information can and will be used against them. Second, we have begun to "alter" our interpretations of life in the tenant community in our public presentations. For example, the presence of a Conjurer has been construed in a very negative light by a number of members of the general public. However, when this individual is presented as a folk-healer and a midwife, the negative connotation has not been observed. Placing the tenant community into the context of the late 1800s in a rural area aids this. Doctors were very scarce, and all rural people had to employ folk medicinal practices and/or mid-wives in order to survive. There is even limited archaeological and historical evidence to suggest that this Conjurer was, in fact, a female.

The presentation of this "scientifically-based interpretation" to the general public, descendant communities, and the scientific community has been altered. However, the descendant communities are much more comfortable with this approach, and there has been no violation of "scientific principles." The interests of those most likely to be affected by what is said about their ancestors have been served, and the scientific community has also been served as we gain the trust of the descendant communities involved with the old plantation and gather additional oral information. I believe that historical archaeologists cannot, as our prehistorically oriented colleagues have maintained, that the past is anonymous. For us it is simply not the case. Accordingly, we must directly address the issue of how our work can impact descendants, and we must deal appropriately with these potential impacts.

References Cited

Roberts, Daniel G., and John P. McCarthy
1995    Descendant Community Partnering in the Archaeological and Bioanthropological Investigation of African-American Skeletal Populations: Two Interrelated Cases from Philadelphia. In Bodies of Evidence: Reconstructing History Through Skeletal Analysis, edited by Anne L. Grauer, pg. 19-36. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.

McCarthy, John P.
1996    Who Owns These Bones?: Descendant Community Rights and Partnerships in the Excavation and Analysis of Historic Cemetery Sites in New York and Philadelphia. Public Archaeology Review 4(2)3-12.

Book Reviews and Notes

Note: A-A A will be including reviews of recent publications of interest to our readers. If interested in preparing a review, contact the editor who will endeavor to obtain the volume from the publisher.

Ronald Segal, 1995. The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York. vii + 477 pp. Notes and index. $27.50 (cloth).

Ronald Segal explores the African, or as he calls it, "the black diaspora," and attempts to provide with a comprehensive narrative tracing African and African-American political, economic, and cultural history over the past five centuries. This is a project of synthesis, and, as such, Segal draws upon the research of other scholars in an attempt to create one grand narrative of the diaspora. Thus, while providing no new historical data, The Black Diaspora is useful for the attention it brings to the basic link between peoples of African descent, slavery, and the development of the modern world. The experiences of African peoples is put into the context of global history.

The volume is divided into five sections. The first section, "From Africa to Slavery," looks specifically at the effect of the Atlantic slave trade on the development of the global economic system. Segal discusses the racializaton of trade and how it was that African people and (as the institution of slavery continued into the 19th century) people of African descent, continued to be understood as a species, rather than as human beings.

The second section, "The Insurgent Spirit," provides us with a detailed survey of slave resistance in the New World. Segal notes that racial demographics had considerable effect on the form and effectiveness of slave resistance.

"Chains of Emancipation," the third section, examines the contemporary political state of former slave societies. Segal argues that the political instability, government ineffectualness, and consequent military rule of former slave states results from their inability to develop diversified and sound economies.

The fourth section, "Travels in the Historic Present," changes its narrative voice, taking on the role of cultural critic through explanation of his experiences in the countries studied. Here Segal focuses on the people of these countries and the effects of the slave past on contemporary cultural production in Jamaica, the dilemma of identity in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the mulatto elites of Haiti, and culture of color in Brazil.

In the final section of the book, "Selections from an Anatomy of Achievement," Segal focuses on what he calls the "soul" of the diaspora, to explore what it is that connects the various cultures of the diaspora. Starting with music (which he suggests is perhaps the one thing which dispersed and enslaved Africans did not lose and which continues to connect the people of the diaspora), he then moves very quickly through the visual arts, literature, sports, to end with religion. His treatment collapses culture and politics and produces less than compelling interpretations of the meaning of contemporary African-American cultural production and practice

While this volume makes an important argument concerning the significance of race and the historical legacy of slavery to contemporary political, economic, and social situations on a global scale, it is less than successful in integrating the cultural history of African people in the diaspora. The substantive nature of the diaspora and the importance of social and cultural identities in it remain open issues to which archaeologists might contribute.

Susan J. Tracy, 1995. In the Master's Eye: Representations of Women, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Antebellum Southern Literature. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst. ix + 307 pp. Appendix, notes, bibliography, and index. $42.50 (cloth).

This is a study of the literature produced by six proslavery southern men in the years preceding the Civil War. The novels of these authors were analyzed to assess the fictional portrayal of females, African Americans, Native Americans, and poor (lower-class) white men. None of these six novelists, George Tucker, James Ewell Heath, William Alexander Caruthers, John Pendleton Kennedy, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, and William Gilmore Simms, wrote for a living. Rather, they were intellectuals who dabbled in literature because they enjoyed writing. All six were born or married into slaveholding families. Even Simms, the most prolific of the six, derived his primary income from his wife's 2500-acre plantation rather than the sale of his books. While female novelists of this period no doubt warrant a study of their own, as Tracy argues, their arbitrary segregation weakens our understanding of the comparative perspective of these male authors and their impact on their intended audience: white plantation women.

The leading characters of these novels are generally white elite men and women. The villains in this literature are from the "poor white" class. None of the villains in any of the novels written by these six writers is African American, Native American, or foreign. The foreign immigrant, in fact, is virtually ignored by these novelists. Tracy identifies only two minor characters who are recognizably foreign, both German immigrants, and she classifies both with the "poor whites."

The female characters in these novels in three categories--the "Belle" or the young romantic heroine, the "Mother," and the "Fallen Woman," usually a lower-class white or ethnic (Cajun or Native American). Much of the volume is given over to the discussion of these character types.

Of greater interest to the readers of this newsletter is the treatment of African Americans. Perhaps it is not surprising, but the African-American characters created by these six novelists fit the usual stereotypes seen in Antebellum literature, both North and South. Males are portrayed as "faithful retainers" who put the master's needs above their own, are obedient, affectionate, childlike, submissive, and dependent. In only one novel, James Ewell Heath's Edge-Hill (1828), does a slave earn his freedom through heroic action. The novels written later, in attempting to promote the benevolent paternalistic nature of chattel slavery, depict "happy" slaves that would prefer to stay with "kindly" masters.

In addition to race and gender, Tracy attempts to address class. In the novels discussed, all of the villains are "poor white" men. Although African Americans and Native Americans are presented as stereotypes in other ways, they are never portrayed as sinister or evil. While some lower-class whites can be heroic, there no the class migration of the sort so often seen in the work of other 19th-century American writers. In this fiction, the elite is born to natural leadership, and the middle and lower classes are destined to play supporting roles.

Overall, this examination of antebellum literary images has the potential to inform aspects of archaeological analyses. It is recommended for that reason.

John Ashworth, 1995. Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic: Vol. 1: Commerce and Compromise, 1820-1850. Cambridge University Press, New York and Cambridge. xii + 520 pp. Illustrations, notes, appendix, and bibliography. $64.95 (cloth).

This volume is an examination of political developments during the thirty years leading up to the Compromise of 1850 that draws on a Marxist framework to synthesize studies of antebellum America to set the social, economic, and ideological stage upon which political events took place. Ashworth's breadth of subject matter, the sophistication of his analysis, and his willingness to engage other historians' approaches mark this as an important volume with which all serious students of the coming of the Civil War are going to have to contend.

The past few decades have seen both a number of studies of antebellum politics and studies of antebellum social and economic history, but there have been few works that attempt to merge the findings of these trends. Ashworth maintains that his book's "principal thesis" is that "it was possible for southern slavery and pre-capitalist free labor in the North to coexist, but increasingly difficult, and finally impossible, for slavery and capitalism to coexist" (p. 115).

While this is sure to be controversial work among historians, even those who disagree with its premises will find much that is useful for Ashworth provides summaries of a wide-range of historical literature. His analysis, while explicitly Marxist, is very powerful and compelling at times. For example, he repeatedly draws attention to the ways that ideological structures protected class interests. He also emphasizes black resistance to slavery, but this theme falls into the background for the most part. There are also places where Ashworth's discussion of the various political factions of the parties loose connection with the overall themes of the book. Not everything fits into his framework. Nevertheless, the volume provides a rich political and economic context for the antebellum 19th century.

Stephan Palmie, editor, 1995. Slave Cultures and the Cultures of Slavery. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville. xlvii + 283 pp. Notes, bibliography, and index. $35.00 (cloth.)

Slave Cultures and the Cultures of Slavery is a collection of essays by historians and anthropologists presented at a conference at the Amerika Institut of the University of Munich, Germany, that provides an excellent review of the various debates surrounding New World chattel slavery. The essays address slavery in the Danish West Indies, Suriname, Jamaica, the American South, and the Gold Coast. The works in this volume assess the variety of factors that shaped the system of slavery. Instead of focusing primarily on the legal or economic relation between slaveholders and slaves, the essays examine the daily life of slaves and struggles with masters. They also explore the "continuities of the cultural process across the historical threshold between slavery and freedom" (p. xxviii).

While it is not possible to discuss each of the articles comprising the volume in this brief review, papers of particular interest to the readers of this newsletter will be highlighted. Stephan Palmie's introduction succinctly addresses themes and recent debates in slave historiography. In his discussion of definitions of slavery, he examines a variety of forms of dependent labor. David W. Blight also reviews major themes in slave historiography in "'Analyze the Sounds': Frederick Douglass's Invitation to Modern Historians of Slavery." Blight agrees that slavery historians must provide emphasis on the brutality of the system as well as a focus on slave strength and culture. He argues that slave culture enabled slaves to survive even though its roots were formed in rather brutal circumstances.

Sidney Mintz's suggests approaches to the study of resistance in "Slave Life on Caribbean Sugar Plantations: Some Unanswered Questions." He cautions that the intentions of slaves are not always known, and notes that some acts become resistant when viewed as taking place over the course of time. In this sense, resist acts need not be directly harmful or cause injury. His temporal perspective helps identify subtle accommodation.

Richard Rathborne looks at the experience of slaves in Africa in "The Gold Coast, the Closing of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and Africans of the Diaspora." He focuses on repatriates, slaves who returned to Africa, who were either integrated or reintegrated into African society.

Jean Besson's paper, "The Creolization of African-American Slave Kinship in Jamaican Free Village and Maroon Communities," examines the creolization of kinship in two case studies. She found that legal marriage coexisted with forms of African-Caribbean kinship in one community, while another permitted community endogamy and cousin conjugality. While Besson does not address in detail the factors that accounted for these patterns, she does note that both communities prohibited incest and also established exogamous conjugality and bilateral kinship. This essay suggests considerable cultural variability among slave communities.

Two of the contributions address relations between African Americans and Native Americas. In "Indian-Black Relations in Colonial and Antebellum Louisiana," Daniel H. Usner, Jr., explores interaction between natives and enslaved Africans. While historians have tended to focus on these two groups separately, legal history indicates that laws were promulgated prohibit interracial contacts by keeping slaves on plantations. However, interethnic interaction took place extralegally and legally in the marketplace.

In the second paper on this topic, Renate Bartl considers "Native American Tribes and Their African Slaves." While this topic has not been addressed in the historiography of North American slavery due to its marginality and controversial nature, Bartl shows that some Native Americans enslaved Africans in a manner similar to European practice in the plantation economy.

The essays tend to focus on slaves as a homogenous group without addressing gender, ethnic, or labor organization issues. Nevertheless, this work provides an essential comparative context on slave systems of considerable utility.

Paul Heinegg, 1997. Free African Americans of North Carolina and Virginia. The Genealogical Publishing Company/Clearfield Company Books, Baltimore. 700 pp. Price unknown.

This volume addresses the colonial history of the majority of free African-American families in this region. The book's introduction, which was available for a time at the Family Tree Maker WWW site, indicates that the volume contains a wealth of information previously overlooked by professional historians.

Lesley M. Rankin-Hill, 1997. A Biohistory of 19th-Century Afro-Americans: The Burial Remains of a Philadelphia Cemetery. Bergin & Garvey, Westport, Conn. and London. xvi + 203 pp. $59.95 cloth.

Rankin-Hill presents an analysis of the skeletal remains of approximately 140 members of the First African Baptist Church (FABC) who were interred between c. 1822 and 1843. This forgotten cemetery was discovered during a construction project in Center City Philadelphia and was subsequently excavated by team led by Michael Parrington. Rankin-Hill was a member of a team of physical anthropologists working at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History who examined and recorded the remains, under the direction of the late Dr. Larry Angel, prior to their reburial.

Rankin-Hill situates her study by discussing the difficulty of studying the history of a people who are essentially invisible in the documentary record and the importance of cemetery archaeology as a source of information on demography, health, and disease in such populations. She offers what she terms a "biocultural approach" (p. 13) that recognizes local environmental and cultural factors that affect the human organism. She details her methods and identifies comparative data from other African-American cemetery studies, mostly slave cemeteries excavated in the South, and provides a detailed historical context for her data including brief discussions of socioeconomic conditions, churches and beneficial societies, and residential and population demography of the antebellum African-American community of Philadelphia based on documentary sources.

The bulk of the volume presents the analysis of the skeletal population including its demographic and mortality profile and evidence of nutritional deficiencies, infectious disease, trauma, degenerative joint disorders, and occupational stress markers and anomalies. Much of the discussion is highly technical, but the concluding summary and discussion of results are not. The evidence Rankin-Hill presents clearly shows that the urban existence of the FABC congregation was stressful and unstable in ways that increased risk of disease, trauma, and mortality. While the African-American community of Philadelphia organized itself to "culturally buffer" the effects of local environmental conditions, additional stress arose from the social context of racism and the ethnically-based division of labor which kept African-Americans in the lowest paid menial occupations and segregated in the poorest housing.

Notwithstanding the apparent truth of the study's conclusions, the meaning of most of the specific results of the analyses are difficult to assess without comparative data from contemporary European-American populations. Cemeteries associated with such populations are seldom "lost" and remains were often removed when congregations relocated. Comparison is limited to a number of Southern slave cemeteries. While rates of infant mortality appear to be relatively high and evidence of infection and periodic nutritional stress (undernutrition) was widespread, these free Black Philadelphians appear to have been better fed and healthier that their enslaved counterparts.

The subsequent discovery and excavation of an earlier cemetery, used by the FABC c. 1810-22, presents the opportunity to consider the stories the skeletons tell over most of the course of the first half of the 19th century. Further, excavation of a portion of the eighteenth-century African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan presents additional comparative material that will further enrich the interpretation of the FABC cemetery populations.

News and Announcements

Atlanta High School Students Dive on Slave Ship

Summarized from Page R-1 of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 16, 1997

A group of nine teens, students at Atlanta's Benjamin E. Mays High School, participated in a dive on the slave ship wreck known as the Ivory Ship near Key Largo, Fl. The students prayed over the wreckage and forged a spiritual connection with the history of the slave trade. The trip was organized by Tom Garmon, social studies teacher at the school, as a means of making history more real and relevant to his students.

The North Star is an online journal of African-American religious history. The editors seek contributions of all kinds. For additional details contact: Judith Weisenfeld, Religion Department, Barnard College, New York, NY 10027 (212) 854-5071,

14th Biennial Conference, Society of Africanist Arch-aeologists, Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y. May 21-24, 1998. In addition to the paper sessions, pre- and post-conference tours are being planned. Proposals or inquiries concerning possible symposia, panels, and individual papers should be sent to: SAfA, c/o the Department of Anthropology, 209 Maxwell Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244 by January 1, 1998.

Just published: American Material Culture, The Shape of the Field, edited by Ann Smart Martin and J. Ritchie Garrison, The Henry Frances du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE and The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville. $39.95 (Cloth).

Roots: The African Background of American Culture Through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, a 4-week NEH Summer Institute for College Teachers will be held at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities from June 8-July 3, 1998. The Institute will focus on the African background to American history, and the processes that brought Africans to the British Americas from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries. Participants will include 25 full or part-time undergraduate teachers. Co-directors are Jerome S. Handler (Anthropology) and Joseph C. Miller (History). For information and application procedures see their web site:, or contact Handler at the VFH, 145 Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22903 (804) 924-3296. E-mail: Deadline for applications is March 2, 1998; notification by April.

The Summer 1997 issue of Prologue, Quarterly of the National Archives, has as its theme "The Impact of Federal Records on African American Historical

Research." Learn more at their WWW site:

Send your news and announcements the editor via e-mail: I can be reached at or

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