The past two weeks, Archaeology in Annapolis has moved from the backyards and private properties of the field school excavations to a publicly-accessible neighborhood site on the Hill in Easton. In March, we attended a community meeting (see the earlier post: Stories of the Hill) to discuss the role of archaeology and ethnography in the locally-driven project to celebrate and preserve the heritage of the Hill.
Several freshly graduated students of the AiA field school–newly professional archaeologists–accompanied us to a corner lot, where the “Home of the Buffalo Soldier” currently stands. The building is old, probably built around the 1880s, and its façade is weathered. The Hill remembers it, though. Every day we worked, neighbors sat on their porches and watched, asking what we found when we walked past. Every day people came up and peered in our ever-deepening units. They told us about the house as they remember it–the house where a relative lived, the yard where they shot marbles as children, the place associated with a real “black cowboy.” These stories gave our artifacts weight, including the dozen or so marbles found in the side yard.
This was what was important, more so than the archaeology on its own. The excavations were important in terms of beginning conversations about the history of this neighborhood. We wanted to generate stories and get people talking–and we certainly did. Neighbors told each other about the dig. Congregations talked about it at church on Sundays. Parents brought their children to introduce them to a history that is local, relevant, and unlikely to be found in their school lessons. The local news station reported on it, and an artist came to paint it. All of this happened whether or not we found anything archaeologically that we could connect to the Buffalo Soldier, Sgt. William Gardner, or his family, who lived in the house.
Finding an artifact like that was a pleasant surprise. In one of the yard units, we uncovered a brass button that would have belonged on the uniform of an officer in the United States army between 1850-1900. The back of the button reads “Scovill Mf’g Co. Waturbury,” a manufacturing company from Connecticut, who used that particular label for their buttons between 1850-1860. While we can’t definitively say that this button belonged to Gardner, there are not many pieces of evidence that could create a stronger tie. An artifact like this captures people’s imagination. It provides a material connection to a past and community spirit that isn’t quite forgotten and is being revived.
It was a pleasure to work on the Hill. We were welcomed in every way while we dug, explained, and were educated in turn.