On June 19th, 1865, Texas became the very last state in the country to abolish slavery. Each year, a celebration is held in commemoration of that momentous day in African American history, and to honor those people and practices of prior generations. This past Saturday, volunteer members of the field school and myself made the trip over to a neighborhood known as “The Hill” in Historic Easton to participate in a public archaeology display to rouse public interest in The Hill’s African American heritage and to celebrate alongside members of the community in their Juneteenth festivities.
While community members set up tables and entertainment along South Street, our group set up to dig shovel test pits (STPs) in the back yard of the Talbot County Women’s Club around the corner on Talbot Lane. The Women’s Club was founded in 1930 by 12 women who wanted to help their community. Before the acquisition of their club house, the women met at each others’ homes, sewing garments for needy children within the community. As time wore on, more members joined the Women’s Club and their projects expanded to hot lunches and milk for under-privileged children, and informational programs such as guest speakers, singers, readers, and political discussions. As the club membership club grew, the women realized they needed to acquire a club house in which they could hold their meetings and events. They settled on an old double house, part of which was 150 years old at the time. Club members wrote a musical comedy, which they convinced the men’s glee club to participate in with them, and through sales from the show, they were able to raise enough money to purchase the house. The Women’s Club continues to use the house, which is now more than two centuries old, for their club activities. Their mission is still to help those in need within the community, and they are doing great things for Easton.
Before the house was acquired by the Women’s Club, however, it was owned by another man, who was the center of our archaeological study: James Price. Price was the Registrar of Wills at the local courthouse, and he and his wife acquired the property in 1795. They lived in the small wooden-frame home there until 1803, at which time a brick addition was attached, though the two sections of the house were never connected. During the 65 years they lived at the home, they purchased the adjoining sections of land surrounding the house. On the 1810 Census, three freed African Americans were listed as living with the Prices on the property. After their deaths, the Prices willed the house to their children, who later sold it to another couple, Deborah and Mordecai Dawson, who lived in the house for 23 years. It was during that time that the house was renovated and adjoined. Records also show a stable and a shed on the property during this period.
Our archaeological investigations at the Women’s Club house focused on attempting to find the outbuildings that had once been on the property, and recovering any material items that may give an indication as to the lifeways of the Price family and the freed African Americans living with them at the time. A primary research question is to investigate how much, if at all, the freed African Americans were able to take advantage of the Prices’ affluence.
We laid out the back yard of the property in a grid and marked out areas to dig STPs, tag teaming digging and screening activities. One screen was set up near the front of the property in view of the street so passers-by or community members touring the clubhouse were able to see us. Though we didn’t get through all of the test pits, we did find a great number of artifacts in different areas of the property – some in what we believe may be a midden, and others in what may have been a work area at one time. Overall, we recovered ceramic pieces, porcelain, decorative, bottle and window glass, butchered animal bones, brick, coal, oyster shells, and cut nails.
Throughout the day, many members of the public came by the house and asked us questions about the property, how we excavate, and what we found. We were even interviewed by a few media sources. I had a wonderful time showing artifacts to visitors and teaching them some of what we do and how we do it. It was also very gratifying to not only teach the community, but be taught by the community. Many members of the public came by and told stories about the house and other community members, which not only assists us in our research, but builds a greater relationship with the people trying to understand the heritage of a place they hold dear.
In the near future, further excavations will be taking place at the Women’s Club and it will be extremely interesting to uncover more of the rich history surrounding the house they call home.