The Pinkney House: A Little Context

To contextualize our work at the Pinkney House, here is a brief history of the site. This is our first field season working at the site, although this work is an extension of our earlier work on neighboring Fleet, Cornhill, and East Streets.

Screening for artifacts at the Pinkney House. Source: Benjamin Skolnik.

Screening for artifacts at the Pinkney House. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

During the last decades of the 19th century, and the first quarter of the 20th century, there was an increase in new building construction, as well as an increase in homes and boarding houses built to house working class Annapolitans in this portion of the historic district. During this time many of the larger 18th century lots were subdivided into smaller parcels, with narrow street frontages, on which attached row houses were built. The James Holliday and Pinkney Street houses reflect this development. During the late 19th and early 20th century, East, Pinkney, and Fleet Streets were occupied predominantly by African American residents, and the area became a well known African American enclave in the City.

The land on which the Pinkney House now sits was part of lot 87 during the subdivision of the City, a plot of land that was adjacent to Nicholson’s lot (on which Fleet, Cornhill, and parts of East Street now sit). By 1831, the land was owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a wealthy planter who was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll sold the lot to John Randall one year before his death, which occurred when he was ninety-five years old.

John Randall’s wife and heir, Eliza Randall, sold the lot, to William H. Butler in 1867, after John Randall’s death. William Butler owned over 25 properties in Annapolis, and was one of the wealthiest free African Americans in the City in the 1860s. Butler used several of his properties, including the Pinkney House, to build frame row homes, which he then rented out. During this time period, Pinkney Street was known as Carroll’s Alley, and the 1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance map marks the properties as “Tenement Houses”. Butler died in 1892, but his family continued to own and rent out the property until it was sold to Louis and Pauline Bloom, Russian Jewish immigrants, in 1920. Both Butler and Bloom did not live at the site, and rented the house out to other residents.

Census records from the early 20th century give us a glimpse of the renters who occupied the Pinkney House. During each census year (the United States Census is taken every ten years) the occupants are different, and it is probable that residents also changed between Census years. During the beginning of the 20th century, the Pinkey House site was occupied by African American renters, who worked as washerwomen, servants, and laborers, and their children. During the next census year, 1910, the property was occupied by the families of two white employees of the Naval Acadeny, who worked as a teacher and a chemist, and the family of a physician. By 1930, the Pinkney House was occupied by two Filipino workers for the Naval Academy, their African American wives, and their families.

This summer, our work at the Pinkney House is keeping the following research questions in mind:

  • What different uses of the site by its 18th, 19th, and 20th century occupants will be visible archaeologically?
  • How is the daily life of the occupants reflected archaeologically?
  • How do changes in the use of space and artifacts at the site reflect its different occupants’ identities (gender, race, ethnicity, class) and the development of the City and the Naval Academy?
  • Can we explore the Filipino history of the City archaeologically?
  • What are the connections between Annapolis’ Filipino and African American communities?
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