“This Gave Me Great Influence Over Them”

Wee Frederick Douglass, Source: Kate Beaton

Wee Frederick Douglass, Source: Kate Beaton

The following is a modified version of the talk that I co-wrote with Benjamin Skolnik and presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology conference earlier this month:

As historical archaeologists, we frequently claim that our work “gives voice to the voiceless.” However, our work of “giving voice” runs into the issue that the most famous voice from our site at Wye House comes from Frederick Douglass, who shares his experiences of being enslaved there as a boy. While we write our dissertations, we attempt to articulate our relationships with Douglass as a historical figure, an author, a literary character, in popular culture, and as a guide for our archaeological work. We ask, ‘How can archaeologists use the experiences of historical figures who spoke for themselves to better tell the stories of those who could not?’

The Lloyd family and their direct descendants have owned the Wye House plantation for 11 generations. One of early Maryland’s most prominent families, the Lloyds left researchers a wealth of information that spans almost all of Maryland’s history. This site consists of many, well-documented standing structures, most relating to the 18th-19th century white owning family. It is a National Historic Landmark and has a rich and thorough collection of primary documents. The Maryland State Archives have 77 boxes of digitized reels, papers, documents, and materials donated from the Lloyd Family. Since the 1960s, the discipline of historical archaeology has turned research from solely these documents and buildings to excavate in and around the homes and workspaces of the enslaved people. Archaeology in Annapolis’s excavations at Wye have been no different as we began excavating an area described by Douglass as the Long Green in 2005.

As a witness, Douglass provides several important functions for us. His writings describe an area of the plantation generally neglected by the Lloyds’ records, visitors to the plantation, and other researchers prior to Archaeology in Annapolis. He defines the boundaries of the Long Green, a term that, to the best of our knowledge, we use because of him. He describes several buildings on the Long Green. Many are gone now and many the enslaved population on the plantation occupied. We also turn to Douglass to help us answer questions concerning material culture at Wye House. As we pulled up oyster shells from around domestic areas, we thought of Douglass writing about the people he saw using oyster shells as spoons. When we interpreted a buried cache in the doorway of a slave quarter that opens immediately onto the Lloyd family cemetery, we recalled the description that Douglass gives of the cemetery. He writes “Strange sights had been seen there by some of the older slaves. Shrouded ghosts, riding on great black horses, had been seen to enter.” This allowed us to understand the absolute necessity for the cache or spirit bundle to separate the spaces of the living and the dead.

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Intersections of Place, Landscape, and Spirit at Wye House

This is a shortened version of my paper for the 2014 Society for Historical Archaeology annual conference, delivered at the beginning of January. I contributed to the second part of an exciting session called The Intersecting Plantation Landscape. You will be able to find my full presentation, and those of the other archaeologists in the session at our website, created by Terry Brock.

West side of the Wye House garden (1904).

West side of the Wye House garden (1904).

The sandy loam of the tidal shorelines of Talbot County, Maryland made for rich planting soil. Edward Lloyd I came to Talbot County in the mid seventeenth-century, carrying the name of Wye with him as an immigrant from Wales. His slaves built the Wye House Plantation along the Wye River which gave the Lloyds access to the Chesapeake Bay and all of the international trading routes it offered to a tobacco merchant. Within this perspective of the landscape are his story and the stories of the generations of Edward Lloyds that followed him. There is the way he saw his land, the formal garden paths, the plants, his view of the nature that surrounded him, and the place that he had created for himself. But his story is far from the only story, and he was not the only one creating places or bringing aspects of a homeland to the plantation. There were hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children at Wye House and several other properties owned by the Lloyds throughout the county.

The most famous was Frederick Douglass the abolitionist, who was held in bondage at Wye House as a child in the early nineteenth century. After his escape, he gave voice to his experience of slavery and oppression in his speeches and autobiographies. These are helpful to an extent, but for those who could not escape or write or speak, we have to turn to the records kept by the Lloyds, the archaeology of the plantation, and archaeobotany to illuminate their lives and histories.

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Pardon the Interruption

The AiA Blog is back after a six-month struggle thanks to the work of the University of Maryland IT Department. We’ll be posting a back-log of students’ posts from the summer and working to get the blog up-to-date with everything we are doing now. It will take a little bit longer to get it back to looking like it did. The design changes are temporary until I can restore our custom theme.

All of us at Archaeology in Annapolis will be traveling to Quebec City this week for the 2014 annual Society for Historical Archaeology conference, so you can expect to see the research that we will be presenting there soon. Thank you for reading, and we apologize for our unintended absence!

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The Sun is the Same, in a Relative Way

Personification of Time

Personification of Time by Carstian Luyckx, 1650

How well the skillful gard’ner drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new;
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And, as it works, th’ industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!

– Andrew Marvell, The Garden (1681)

The above poet describes the natural rhythms of a garden landscape—the opening and closing of flowers, the path of the sun across the sky, and the movements of animals—and how one can understand time in this way. This intuitive sense of timekeeping seems to be in contradiction to the strict segmentation of many of our busy days into regular hours and minutes. With the advent of “factory time” and a standardization of hours, the day became regimented by the minutes on the clock rather than the flows of nature—corresponding to the similar increased order and symmetry in landscaping, architecture, and dining brought about in the Georgian era—that is, the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (see Leone and Shackel for more information on this process). The world of economic elite during this time became a very segmented and ordered place, including the way they thought about time. However, I don’t think there is a complete separation between an intuitive, natural timekeeping and an artificial, Georgian one.

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A Blogging Evaluation

Word Cloud of the AiA Blog

A word cloud of the AiA Blog, in which the words are sized according to how often they appear in text. Source: worditout.com.

Almost two years ago, I started this blog for the Archaeology in Annapolis project. A little over a year ago, it occurred to me that we should try to understand who our audience is by collecting site traffic data. Though it began as a means of justifying the blog’s existence by showing that people from around the country—and even the world—are interested in our research, it has since turned into an introspective look at how our blog functions, what topics we are discussing, and who is listening. Last week, I realized that the readers of the blog might be interested to learn who else is in their company and what I’ve learned.

Using a word cloud, which takes all of the words used in an accumulation of text and sizes them according to their frequency, I was able to visually represent the most important topics on the blog so far. The cloud, shown above, demonstrates a focus on individual stories, making sense of the past, landscapes, slavery, and communities. Making this cloud has also shown me how overshadowed our Annapolis research has been by the Wye House, which I will try to remedy in the future.

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Challenging Landscapes

The Archaeology in Annapolis crew is back from another Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) conference, this year held in Leicester, England. Ben Skolnik and I co-authored a paper, combining our research interests and efforts. You can listen to Ben deliver the paper and see the visual aids from our presentation in the video below.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLZEKIX9CGA

If you would prefer, the following is the written version:

Challenging Landscapes: Alternative Perspectives of Chesapeake Plantations

When Edward Lloyd, the first of his name, arrived in Talbot County, Maryland around 1660 as part of the original Virginian colonizers, he built the Wye House Plantation at its geographic center, with immediate access to the Wye River, the Chesapeake Bay, then the larger Atlantic world. He erected his house near the cove that cuts into the property, emphasizing his attention as a tobacco merchant to trade through waterway access. He migrated from Wales and established his family estate on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, complete with formal gardens that displayed his knowledge of plant cultivation and the trends of European-inspired designs. We know this through recorded history, and the plantation today is largely held up as an example of Georgian planning and a nostalgic remnant of Colonial times. Landscapes, however, are experienced in a multiplicity of ways. Until the mid-19th century, there were two main groups of individuals living on the plantation—free whites and enslaved blacks—who viewed and moved through the grounds in distinctly different ways. We’ll use the Wye House Plantation and another Chesapeake landscape, William Paca’s garden in Annapolis, as examples.

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