Goodbye Annapolis, Hello Wye House

Annapolis is a city of perceptions. Known as “the historic city,” it was designed to look old. The buildings, lamps, trollies and brick sidewalks all exude the feeling of a city lost in time. The thick, black electricity wires are the only reminder that we are living in the 21st century.

The Paca House and garden.

The Paca House and garden. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

The theme of perceptions is carried into the gardens of William Paca and Charles Carrol, who were both signers of the Declaration of Independence and prominent figures in Annapolis during their time. The gardens were designed to make the house seem grander, its inhabitants larger than life.

Although the beauty of the gardens was made possible by the hard work and maintenance of slaves, they too were made invisible in the overall illusion. Any passerby was left with the impression that if someone was able to maintain control over such an elaborate garden, then surely they deserved their high position in society.

Archaeology is about perceptions as well. All we have left of the past are artifacts and although we can learn a lot from them, they do not speak. What I have learned from digging in Annapolis is that sometimes the only answer to our questions is: We don’t know.

My group, which worked in Unit 26, discovered the articulated skeleton of some type of farm animal. Although we believe it to be a lamb, there still needs to be further analysis of the bones. The most important question to me is not even what species the animal was, but rather why there is an entire skeleton of an animal so close to a place of residence. Was the animal a pet? The bones weren’t completely fused together, which means the creature died young. Did it have some sort of disease? These are questions we can only attempt to speculate on and guess at.

Our interpretations of the past are biased by our perceptions in the present. There is no way to possibly grasp the thought process of people in the past. Assumptions and connections we make automatically today might not have existed. This is an ongoing challenge for archaeologists.

Today was our first day at Wye House. It is a completely different world from Annapolis. Located on the eastern shore, in the middle of nowhere, Wye House is best known as the plantation where Frederick Douglas was a slave. We are excavating in locations where we believe slave quarters once stood.

When describing the digging conditions at Wye we were told there would be swarms of bugs, poison ivy and glaring heat. Although we were fortunate enough to have a cool day, the first two accusations proved true. Armed with deet and a machete we managed to clear out the brush covering our unit. Hopefully in the weeks to come we will discover numerous artifacts that can help reveal what life was for slaves on the plantation.

1 Comment
  1. Excited to unravel the mystery of the wall of the slave quarter! This is where I was digging last summer. We found plenty of bricks (lemme tell ya) but none articulated in our unit. There should be an articulated wall around there so keep at it!

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