Anyone who has walked around Annapolis, Maryland during the spring, fall, or summer has probably seen one, or more, groups of people following around a tour guide dressed in colonial garb. But what do these tour guides do when no one is visiting Annapolis because the city, and the rest of the state, are covered in snow and ice and its too cold to be outside for very long? The answer: They do training to brush up on their knowledge of Annapolis history. As part of this training, they invite scholars to come talk about different aspects of the history of the city. I was fortunate enough to be one of those scholars. I gave a lecture on Thursday, February 6 at Ram’s Head Tavern that highlighted the work of Archaeology in Annapolis in the city of the last thirty-plus years, particularly looking at the contributions we have made to African American archaeology and history in Annapolis.
I began by talking about the evidence we have found in Annapolis of practices from West Africa. This included talking about the excavations at the Charles Carroll House and the cache of objects found by a volunteer in the East wing/ground floor of the house in 1991. The cache, or bundle, of objects contained 12 quartz crystals, pieces of chipped quartz, a glass bead, polished stone, needles, and a few other objects, all contained underneath a pearlware bowl (see image). This was interpreted as a West African ritual bundle, and was the first time that Archaeology in Annapolis had identified something with an explicitly African signature in the archaeological record.
During excavations at another famous archaeological site excavated by Archaeology in Annapolis, the James Brice House, a cosmogram was found beneath the brick floor of the basement of the east wing. This cosmogram consisted of circle with two crossed lines within the circle and symbolizes the BaKongo conception of the universe – the intersections of the worlds of the living and the worlds of the dead and the movement between the two. The circle and axises were formed in the basement of the Brice House through the deliberate placement of objects underneath the floor.
Finally, I talked about the Fleet Street Bundle, made famous by the New York Times article. This bundle of objects was found four feet below the current street surface at the top of Fleet Street and was encased in a thick layer of clay that showed the impressions left by a piece of fabric that would have originally held the bundle together. This bundle of objects was found next to an 17th/18th century road, also found below the current street. Using x-ray images, we were able to see that the bundle was carefully organized, with over 300 pieces of lead shot at the bottom, a couple dozen straight pins and nails in the middle and a stone axe wedged between the nails and pins. The axe would have stuck out of the top of the bundle (see image). This has been interpreted as a nkisi, or power packet, which would have been designed to influence the world around the person who placed the bundle next to the street.
After discussing some of the more famous African American archaeological sites in Annapolis, I turned to my own research, which focuses on a comparison of four African American archaeological sites in Annapolis. Two of these sites, the Maynard-Burgess House and the James Holliday House, were purchased by free African Americans prior to the Civil War. The other two sites, one on Pinkney Street and one on Fleet Street, were built in the late nineteenth century as tenement homes primarily rented by African American tenants. Using that materials recovered archaeologically from these four sites, I demonstrate that there was more variety within the African American community than is generally acknowledged, and that there were at least two different reactions to the racist structures of Jim Crow Era Annapolis. These two different reactions are not only seen the objects obtained, used, and eventually discarded, by individuals living at these four sites but can also be loosely aligned with the strategies promoted by prominent 19th century African American intellectuals, such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois.
The audience was very enthusiastic and were a pleasure to interact with. I hope that the tour guides who attended the lecture found it useful and will be able to incorporate some new material about African Americans in Annapolis and Archaeology in Annapolis into their tours.
Special Thanks to Watermark Tours for the invitation to speak! I hope you all enjoyed the lecture!