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.


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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A Hothouse Found

The greenhouse at the Wye House Plantation is known for being the only standing greenhouse from the 18th century in North America. When Archaeology in Annapolis began its excavations at Wye, particular attention was paid to this structure, at the request of the owners. My dissertation research has been focused on the greenhouse and gardens, and the various ways in which they can be interpreted or understood. You can read here about the pollen analysis from this greenhouse and its attached slave quarter.

Landscapes never stand still, and though the Wye Greenhouse appears today on its own in the garden, directly behind the mansion with an unhindered view, the scene in the 18th century would have differed. According to the 1798 federal direct tax record, which contains a description of each building on the Wye Plantation, there were two greenhouses and one hothouse that were used simultaneously. The hothouse is recorded as being “16 x16 feet, 1 Story Brick with 4 wind.” A ledger entry from 1785-1787 additionally notes the employment of the workers to build a hothouse in those years.

Ground penetrating radar of the greenhouse and its surroundings.

Ground penetrating radar of the greenhouse and its surroundings. The square shape in red on the lower right represents the hothouse. Source: Bryan Haley

It wasn’t until the tax records were pointed out to us by historian Amy Speckart that we were able to make sense of the anomalies detected in a ground penetrating radar (GPR) analysis conducted by Bryan Haley in 2009. Haley’s report showed what looked to be the foundations of a 16×16 foot structure to the southeast of the present-day greenhouse, matching the description of the hothouse in the historical records.

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Making Archaeologists

The following was written for the Day of Archaeology blogging event, 2012:

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen.

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen. Source: Kate Deeley

The weather report says that today is hot and humid. High 101° F. Heat index near 110° F. The students of the 2012 Archaeology in Annapolis field school from the University of Maryland know that it will be a sweltering and tiring day as they walk through their morning haze to collect their equipment from storage. They also can’t wait to see what they will find today.

Two weeks ago, we were in Annapolis. In view of the Maryland state capitol building, we excavated in three backyards, exploring the connections of past tenants to the Naval Academy and to nineteenth century immigration to the United States. For the second half of the field school, we moved to the Wye House plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, home to a line of Edward Lloyds stretching back to the mid-seventeenth century. Here, the students chase the foundation walls of two slave quarters discovered last year.

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The Importance of Names

Example of a slave inventory.

Example of a slave inventory. Source: Thomas Jefferson, 1795

To build on the discussion of my last post on community engagement, it has been a goal of Archaeology in Annapolis to keep our research relevant to the present. The past is not dead, forgotten, and faceless. At the Wye House plantation, we have multiple historical documents that describe the lives of the Lloyd family–writings by them and about them. They are ancestors that are fleshed out and understood by their descendants, the current owners of Wye. With many of the descendants of the enslaved at Wye living in and around Easton, Maryland, we strive to use archaeology to bring the lives of the slaves into just as sharp a focus.

The historical documentation of slaves is sparse, and provides little information. Recently, with the help of historian Dr. Amy Speckart, I have been looking through lists that the Lloyd family kept of the names of the enslaved at each of their properties. Finding these names gives the research on the slave labor at Wye House an individual perspective, reminding us that the institution of slavery is comprised of actual people rather than anonymous “slaves.”

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What Happens to the Artifacts?

With the cataloging of the Annapolis sites almost completed, it is an ideal time to address the question of what happens to artifacts after we’ve completed our initial work. Many artifacts are kept in organized boxes, stored in the lab, as we’ve shown in previous posts. These are part of the Archaeology in Annapolis collection, and may be used by students for future research or put on display in exhibits. Legally, the ownership of the artifacts belongs to the homeowners, on whose private properties the objects were collected, and the final decision about the artifacts’ use rests with them. This can at times lead to conflicted feelings among the archaeologists, whose research relies on the analysis of these finds.

Tobacco leafe pipe bowl found at the Pinkney House. Source: Ben Skolnik.

Tobacco leafe pipe bowl found at the Pinkney House. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

Over the past few weeks, AiA archaeologists have returned two artifacts to a homeowner on request–a molded pipe bowl and an ironstone jug from Pinkney Street. We can date the tobacco leafe pipe bowl to a 1720-1750 range because of the 5/64” diameter of its pipe stem hole. The size of the holes changed so consistently throughout time, that a mathematical formula developed by Louis Binford allows archaeologists to accurately date the pipes. The undecorated jug was used as a serving pitcher for beverages and has a maker’s mark printed on the base. Before returning the artifacts, it was important to thoroughly photograph them from every angle so that, even without the physical object, we still have a digital record of each feature of its surface.

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Wye House: Unearthing History

Amanda Tang on TerpVision. Source: TerpVision

Amanda Tang on TerpVision.

Terpvision, the University of Maryland news program, has featured our Wye House excavations in a segment called Wye House: Unearthing History. Dr. Leone, Amanda Tang, Benjamin Skolnik, as well as undergraduate Sophia Chang, give informative interviews about the archaeological work.

Watch the video, and let us know what you think!

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