The AiA Blog The Archaeology in Annapolis Project Tue, 08 Apr 2014 19:03:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 21st-Century Challenges: Open Access Tue, 08 Apr 2014 19:03:40 +0000 Archaeologist Brittany Hutchinson explains an artifact at an open house in Easton, 2013. Source: Tim Poly

Archaeologist Brittany Hutchinson talks about an artifact at an open house in Easton, 2013. Source: Tim Poly

Over the weekend, Stefan Woehlke and I were asked to think about Maryland archaeology in the 21st century. The Archaeological Society of Maryland (ASM) held their spring symposium on Saturday, with the focus on the present and future issues and directions of archaeological research in the state. I spoke about the public digital projects that I’ve been working on through Archaeology in Annapolis, and Stefan took part in a panel discussion with Charlie Hall and Jim Gibb. We’ve come away with a lot to think about, so we wanted to share our parts of the discussion for those who could not be there, and hopefully we can continue the dialogue that we began there. Stefan’s post will follow soon.

For my talk, titled Open Access Excavations: Archaeology in Annapolis in the 21st Century, I focused on something that is not directly related to my dissertation research, but is still a large part of my methodology and what I think is important as an archaeologist. My part and influence on the Archaeology in Annapolis project has been trying to make our work as publically-accessible and understandable as possible, and I’ve been experimenting with various media, particularly online, in order to do that. I’m the one in the lab that says, regardless of what we’re working on at the time, “We need to put this online.”

I’m offering up my experiences for discussion. I don’t always know what I’m doing, how it’s working, or if there is a better way. Access to new technologies and media outlets is not the struggle. The struggle that many archaeologists are facing now is how to best use the tools available to us, how to integrate them into research design from the beginning, and what we or the audience should get out of the experience. The Archaeology in Annapolis project always strove to do public archaeology or public “engagement,” but what that means has changed dramatically in the past few decades.

Public tour of the Calvert House excavations in 1982. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

Public tour of the Calvert House excavations in 1982. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

The history of Archaeology in Annapolis has always been focused on public archaeology and including multiple tellings of the Chesapeake’s past. The annual field school that began in the early 1980s was geared toward the training and education of University of Maryland undergraduates, but also the public. Making archaeological interpretations a transparent and visible process allowed them to educate visitors about how we know what we know about the past—how history is created. The early graduate students of Archaeology in Annapolis were trained in public speaking and performance, focusing on how to translate archaeological processes and knowledge to the visiting audiences.

Lauren excavating one of the Schwar's Row backyards in Annapolis. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

Lauren excavating one of the Schwar’s Row backyards in Annapolis. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

In the most recent decade, Archaeology in Annapolis has had to change course and for a time, we had to all but eliminate the public tour aspect of the project. To continue an  inclusive perspective on history, the project shifted from being solely focused on the historic district of Annapolis to including an archaeology of the Eastern Shore and the plantations that kept the city running. Eight or so years ago, Archaeology in Annapolis began excavating at the Wye House plantation, near Easton, Maryland. We have maintained our ties to Annapolis, but rather than publicly-accessible sites, we began excavating in private yards, often fenced-in and invisible to the foot-traffic of the city’s streets. When I started my graduate program in 2010, we were excavating only in small backyard spaces and the wide, empty expanses of Wye House. Due to privacy and space concerns, there could be no more public tours. This meant that we needed to reconsider Archaeology in Annapolis’ mission and how to reach public audiences. We also needed to rethink what public archaeology means, and how to understand what communities are represented by that audience. In the transition to include the Eastern Shore in our archaeological research, we’ve begun to reexamine our mission and our effectiveness in being inclusive and informative.

One of my goals in the project was to find a way to share the work that Archaeology in Annapolis does through avenues other than traditional publication. This had already been started, with a website created by Matthew Cochran in 2001. The focus of the website was an online tour of Annapolis excavations, explaining what the archaeologists had found and why they interpreted the artifacts as they did. In 2011, when I updated the website, I redesigned it and thought about how public archaeology has changed in that decade. With discourse and engagement being a large part of the appeal of the Internet, I wanted to use our web presence for more than just the dissemination of our knowledge. Instead, I wanted to provide others with the tools and information that I was using in my research, creating open access to the history I was studying. It’s not up to me to decide the importance of Annapolis or Eastern Shore histories, but to share and facilitate discussion about what others have to say.

To that end, after updating our website, I integrated it into a network of sites where we could share our work and illicit feedback, using a core of social media outlets (Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook, and this blog). Though the excavations are on private property, through videos, pictures, and blog posts by Archaeology in Annapolis excavators, we are able to open up discussion about our collective research. In addition, it was important to me that the information I was using for my dissertation was also available for others’ use. The census transcripts of the enslaved population at Wye House that Jean Russo and Amy Speckart gave to me is not a tool that only I should be able to use. I created a searchable online database (People of Wye House) of these censuses so that other archaeologists, researchers, students, descendants, and interested parties can have access to this resource to use in ways that are important to them.

Locations of People of Wye House visitors in the U.S. Source: Google Analytics

Locations of People of Wye House visitors in the U.S. Source: Google Analytics

While our most frequent visitors to the People of Wye House website are from Easton, Maryland and its neighbors, the website has been visited by 25 different countries across the globe and 40 different states in the U.S. since it went online in October 2012. Using geographic and demographic data, combined with the qualitative information we get from e-mails and form submissions from the website, we are able to see the ways in which the history of Talbot County becomes not just a regional, but a national and global story as well. In an increasingly mobile world, descendant communities are no longer geographically-bound. Families, both black and white, whose ancestry ties them back to this area are discovering their history on this landscape through our online efforts.

One of the challenges that archaeologists are facing now is finding ways to incorporate this kind of work successfully into their research so that it is productive for everyone involved. With the ease of making information accessible, the problem becomes one of balancing education, entertainment, and usefulness rather than simply creating digital noise. It is also important for archaeologists to recognize the full potential of these media and understand that it means giving up a certain amount of control and sole ownership over research. As the first speaker at the symposium, Dan Sayers at American University mentioned that we need to find ways of getting our research into “the public and historical imaginations.” I think our 21st-century online practices are one important way of doing that.

What are others ways that archaeologists are making research more accessible? What ways have been the most successful for them and for the public? What changes should Archaeology in Annapolis make in the future to better implement these practices?

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Locating People in the Past – Our FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Competition Project Sat, 22 Feb 2014 01:12:47 +0000 On December 9, we were one of ten teams selected to participate in the final round of the FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Competition.  A team of students led by myself and including Beth Pruitt, Stefan Woehlke, Clio Grillakis, and Marcella Stranieri put together a proposal for a project to create an innovative historical dataset.  The judges selected our project for funding and we’ve been hard at work on it since December.

Our research project uses historic Geographic Information Systems (historical GIS or hGIS) to combine two historic maps of Talbot County, Maryland with United States Census returns from the same period into a historical geographic database in order to generate new geographic and spatial knowledge about the past. Whereas the maps contain spatial data without demographic data and the censuses contain demographic data without spatial data, combining these datasets creates a robust database that situates in space the demographic data from the census. Ultimately, our project will be made available online for researchers and the general public to use.

The motivation for this project comes out of Archaeology in Annapolis’ engagement with heritage and landscape on Maryland’s Eastern Shore at Wye House, Wye Hall, and on the Hill in Easton, Maryland. We have been looking for ways to utilize existing historical documentation to investigate the past in novel ways. We have made a particular commitment to increasing access to information about the past among African American descendants of slavery, as well as among avocational, middle-class members of the public for whom archaeological, historical, and archival research has traditionally been inaccessible.

William H. Dilworth Map of Talbot County

William H. Dilworth’s Map of Talbot County.

The two maps of Talbot County that will be joined are the 1858 William H. Dilworth’s Map of Talbot County; with farm limits and the 1877 Lake, Griffing, & Stevenson’s An Illustrated Atlas of Talbot & Dorchester Counties, Maryland. Both maps depict boundaries, roads, railroads, coastlines, rivers, property owners, and the primary structures on each property. These maps represent remarkable datasets for understanding the spatial distribution of settlements across Talbot County; however, they do not contain any other demographic data fundamental to historical or genealogical research. While the 1860 and 1880 US Censuses represent remarkable datasets for understanding historical demographics, they do not contain spatial information that would enable the researcher to map these data.

Lake, Griffing, & Stevenson’s Illustrated Atlas of Talbot & Dorchester Counties, Maryland

Lake, Griffing, & Stevenson’s Illustrated Atlas of Talbot & Dorchester Counties. 1877

On the two historic maps, property ownership is recorded with the first initial and last name of the property owner. On the census, each individual in the county is listed by first name and last name (enslaved individuals are not listed by name in the 1860 census; rather, they are listed by owner). Once these maps have been digitized in a GIS program and the censuses transcribed in a database, the names of the property owners listed on a map can be matched to the names of heads of household on a census. Once this link has been accomplished, the names and data from the census will be joined to boundaries and points representing properties and structures on the map through the names on the map. The social landscape as recorded in the U.S. Censuses can be mapped onto the physical landscape of Talbot County as recorded in these two maps.

Through the names of property owners—which are found on both maps and both Censuses, the demographic data from the US Census can be joined to the spatial data in the maps. Essentially, this process embeds the US Census data in a map depicting the same landscape. This combination represents new geographic and historical data. The FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Competition grant has enabled us to begin work on this important project.  Check back for updates as we complete our work!

Linking the historic maps with census returns

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What do the Annapolis Tour Guides do during the winter? – Get lectures on African American Archaeology! Tue, 11 Feb 2014 19:09:07 +0000 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.

Carroll House Cache

The cache of artifacts found in the east wing of the Charles Carroll House. Source: Archaeology 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.

Brice House Cosmogram and Artifacts

A composite image showing the exterior facade of the James Brice House, a drawing of the cosmogram and the location of the cache of artifacts found beneath the floor and images of some of those cache artifacts. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

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.

Fleet Street Bundle

A composite image of the bundle excavated from beneath Fleet Street showing the bundle in situ, the x-ray of the bundle, and the bundle after it was excavated. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

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!

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Archaeologies of Conflicting Ideologies: Frederick Douglass, Democracy, and Combating Racism Thu, 06 Feb 2014 19:12:05 +0000 The following post comes from a paper I presented at the annual Society for Historical Archaeology conference held in Quebec City, Canada this January.  Continue below for the body of the presentation.

Frederick Douglass Statue. Talbot County Courthouse, Easton, Maryland. Photograph by the author.

Archaeologists working at Wye House in Talbot County, Maryland have taken advantage of the historical descriptions provided by 19th century writer, orator, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was enslaved there briefly as a child and describes his experiences in all of his autobiographies.  These textual accounts allow the archaeologist to see the plantation landscape and enslaved African American culture through the eyes of one who was enslaved there himself.  Such a perspective is extremely rare in the historical record and have greatly aided archaeological investigations.  Not only have we turned to Douglass for help in locating and describing the structures we excavate on his former plantation, but we have also turned to his writings and his work to help us get inside American slavery, race and racism, colonialism, and ideology.

During the American Civil War, Douglass was a vocal supporter of the US Colored Troops, and actively worked to organize regiments of African American soldiers to fight for the Union in the war. In support of this goal, Douglass gave many public speeches. During one, he said:

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”

Portrait. Frederick Douglass. ca. 1879. National Archives.

What Douglass is invoking here is the ideology of democracy.  One could argue that he is also invoking nationalism, patriotism, Americanism, etc.  Turing to the writings of the founding fathers (many of who were slave-owners themselves), the ideology of American democracy (or at least one of the ideologies of American democracy) is that all people are created equal, all are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, pursuit of happiness.  If African Americans can stand up and say, “I too, am an American”, then they are invoking the equality granted to them through the ideology of democracy in order to combat the inequalities inflicted through race and racism.

In order to combat the repressive ideology of race and racism, in the past people have and in the present people continue to invoke competing ideologies–ideologies which highlight the contradictions inherent within American society.  While race and racism imply inherent inequity, the competing ideologies of democracy, capitalism, and religion each allow for a condition of equality.  By activating and invoking these specific ideologies, Frederick Douglass and African Americans could make a claim for equality using the dominant ideologies that existed which all too frequently only reinforced race and racism.


Hard rubber military button. Novelty Rubber Company. Recovered from archaeological excavations at Wye House. Photograph by the author.

This small button was recovered by Archaeology in Annapolis in 2013 while excavating an enslaved and later servants quarter at Wye House Plantation in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  It is made from hardened rubber by the Novelty Rubber Company using a patent filed by Charles Goodyear in 1851.  On the front is an American eagle with a shield, clutching an olive branch in one talon and arrows in the other.  During the Civil War, many African Americans took Douglass up on his offer to fight for the Union and more than a few of those enslaved at Wye House enlisted by either running away and joining the army or were enlisted by their owner, Edward Lloyd the V who signed them up for $300 each.  The oldest of these volunteers may have even known Douglass from their youths.

However, during the mid-19th century, standard issue United States military buttons were made from copper or brass, not rubber.  While rubber buttons like this with other decorative designs aren’t uncommon, it is difficult to find much information about this one with its American eagle.  Both the Civil War relic collector and reenacting communities ascribe these small black rubber buttons to two specially equipped units of sharpshooters in the Union Army.

1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooter uniform and equipment.  Note the black rubber buttons on the coat.  Image source:

The 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters were formed in September 1861 in order to bring precision shooting to the battlefield.  One of the most notable elements of these two units was their specially designed uniforms.  Because they frequently engaged in non-conventional, non-Napoleonic engagements, their uniforms were designed to camouflage their presence.  They wore green instead of the standard Union blue uniforms to blend in with trees and vegetation and their buttons were made from black rubber instead of shiny brass. These buttons were created especially for these two units specifically so that they would not stand out.  None of the individuals who lived in this excavated building at Wye House served with either of these two units and an analysis of troop movements throughout the war show only a few instances where the US Colored Troops from Wye House were even at the same battles at the Sharpshooters.  It is possible that this button was taken home from the war as a memento, was acquired as a quick uniform repair from available supplies, or perhaps was systematically distributed to Colored Troops as a form of discrimination.


Horace Gibson’s headstone. Like the headstones marking other African American veterans in this cemetery, this marker was provided by the United States Government. Unionville, Maryland. Photograph by the author.

After the war and with the abolition of slavery, many of those formerly enslaved at Wye House moved off the plantation and settled nearby and formed small towns like Unionville and Copperville, outside of Easton, Maryland while some returned to live in the same quarters they had lived in before the war.  Probably brothers, John and Horace Gibson were born at Wye House and served in the 7th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops.  After the war, Horace helped to found the town of Unionville and moved there while John returned to live at Wye House as a farm hand—probably in the structure this button was recovered from.  Despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, racism and discrimination was still rampant in the post-war South.  After the war, a group of eighteen surviving African American soldiers came back to Talbot County and helped form Unionville.  In the case of Unionville, newly emancipated African Americans were able to rent land to start their town from a pair of Quaker brothers, one of who led many of the Unionville Eighteen during the war.

The promises of Reconstruction were far from guaranteed throughout the south and the newly won rights of African Americans were only guaranteed if they could be enforced.  A relevant vignette comes to us from a local newspaper account.  After reports of African American voter intimidation and violence associated with African Americans registering to vote in the fall of 1870, the African American Union veterans put on their old uniforms, grabbed their rifles, and marched in an armed column headed by their white former colonel into Easton, the county seat.  Reportedly, violence and intimidation against African Americans stopped and the election proceeded without further incident.

Quoting from a 2008 dissertation on Unionville by Bernard Demczuk:

“What a spectacle it was to have eighteen black United States Colored Troops along with their white commanding officer, Colonel Cowgill, ride in full uniform with full weaponry into the town of Easton, the heart of Talbot County’s Confederacy, displaying the force in which they employed to win the Civil War and preserve the Union.  Maybe they were not met with celebrations when they arrived home after the war, but this time the county’s residents sat up and noticed they were here and were here to stay.”

Shaw Memorial. Augustus Saint-Gaudens. National Gallery of Art. Washington, DC.

Rather than as a show of force, I suggest this incident is powerful because of the symbolism associated with the objects they used, of which are included this button and many others.  These men activated the ideologies of democracy and citizenship, pointing out to those who would use racism to disenfranchise African Americans that they too were Americans and had, as Douglass argued they would, “earned the right of citizenship in the United States”.  In this regard, racism and democracy are incompatible and these veterans used the brass letters on their buckles and the eagles on their buttons to make this claim for equality.

Returning to the quote by Douglass, here, Douglass does three things: first, he clearly invokes these artifacts recovered by Archaeology in Annapolis from three African American sites across Maryland; second, he invokes the ideologies of racism and discrimination; and third, he invokes the ideologies of democracy and citizenship.  By doing so, he ties these pieces of material culture to the mutually incompatible and contradictory ideologies of democracy and racism and lets them combat each other through the deeds and actions of their wearers.  By earning the right to wear or associate themselves with these objects, men like John and Horace Gibson, 19th century African Americans from Maryland, were able to make a claim to this equality that should be incontrovertible.

An unidentified United States Colored Troop soldier. 34th Regiment, USCT .

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Intersections of Place, Landscape, and Spirit at Wye House Tue, 04 Feb 2014 15:00:10 +0000 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.

As Dell Upton has discussed with White and Black Landscapes, the enslaved people of the plantation would not have experienced the landscape in the same way as the plantation owners or their guests. While free whites could find refuge and pleasure in the formal gardens and the greenhouse buildings, for the enslaved people, it was a constant reminder of the restrictions placed upon them. Douglass uses this perspective when he relates how famous a spectacle the Wye garden was, with visitors coming from all over to see it. The slaves, however, would be severely punished for entering particular sections or giving in to the temptation to pick its fruit. Although the eighteenth century greenhouse that still stands at Wye House was quite famous in the American planter elite circles, Douglass never mentions it. Despite these restrictions, he describes the natural elements of the plantation as being very much a part of his world, rather than something that belonged only to the estate owners. He writes:

The tops of the stately poplars were often covered with the red-winged black-birds, making all nature vocal with the joyous life and beauty of their wild, warbling notes. These all belonged to me, as well as to Col. Edward Lloyd, and for a time I greatly enjoyed them.

The Middle Walk or "Dungeon" at Wye House (1904).

The Middle Walk or “Dungeon” at Wye House (1904).

The center of Douglass’ mental landscape was not the mansion house or the greenhouse and gardens. It was the overseer’s house, the agricultural fields, the woods, and creeks. Though the young Douglass was beginning to understand what it meant to be a slave, he claimed these places for his own and understood them in his own way.

Beginning in 1770, Edward Lloyd IV kept meticulous censuses of the enslaved labor force, recording first and last names, ages, and other comments in what was called the Book of Hands or Book of Negroes. We can see movement from one Lloyd property to another, creating intersecting paths of people split up and coming together in Talbot County.

In 1770, a 75 year-old woman named Antigua Jemmy lived at Wye House. The plantation passed to Edward Lloyd IV in that year, and property his father owned—which included human beings—was divided between he and his brothers. Eight years later, at age 83, she was sent to a different Lloyd property. On the census, it is denoted as a new park, and may refer to Lloyd’s Recovery or Lloyd’s Park. A year after that move, Antigua Jemmy was no longer listed among the names of the hands. Her origins before she came to Talbot County are expressed in the name she was assigned. (EDIT: I have since read that Jemmy was commonly a man’s name, and I wrongly assumed the gender of Antigua Jemmy to be female. He was most likely male.)

Others are more difficult to trace back to their homeland or track their movements, but there are general insights we can gain. In the mid-eighteenth century, a majority of the ships carrying slaves into Maryland came from Senegambia or the Bight of Biafra, though there were some that came from Sierra Leone and West-Central Africa. Frederick Douglass also noted ships from the West Indies coming into Oxford, Maryland, down the road from Wye House. This is as much as we know so far about where the enslaved Africans at the Wye House Plantation may have come from. A constellation of sites across the Atlantic that make up a diaspora—so many people different and shared cultures, religions, and practices came together in this space and left a material record. As we piece together the paths the enslaved people took, we can better discuss a whole life lived and better contextualize the materials that we find.

In 2001, fantasy author Neil Gaiman wrote a book called American Gods. Within its story, which is a meandering epic that sprawls throughout the United States and back through time, there is this idea that the settlers, the immigrants, the forced laborers, everyone who came to the New World brought their gods with them. The personified gods settled here, and as belief in the old ways faded away or mixed with new, they survived and were transformed, becoming the American Gods. Although it is a work of fiction, he describes the transportation and transformation of religious practices in a diaspora quite compellingly. In one segment, Gaiman describes the passage of slaves to the island of Saint Domingo, using agricultural metaphor to illustrate how “the gods of Dahomey and the Congo and the Niger put down thick roots there and grew lush and huge and deep, and they promised freedom to those who worshiped them at night in the groves.” The author situates one character in the Haitian slave revolt, saying that, “He went with the other slaves, in the small hours of the night, to the woods, although it was forbidden, to dance the Calinda, to sing to Damballa-Wedo, the serpent god, in the form of a black snake. He sang to Elegba, to Ogu[n], Shango, Zaka, and to many others, all the gods the captives had brought with them to the island, brought in their minds and their secret hearts.” These beliefs are intangible, but there is a material component to them, and this is where archaeologists can begin to contextualize certain reoccurring remains that appear on plantation landscapes.

The focus of excavations for the previous three summers at Wye House has been two slave quarters. In the summer of 2013, excavations of the door area of one quarter uncovered a large surface of arranged objects—round blue bottle bases, crushed metal cans, and an iron wheel—just inside the structure, but under the raised floor. Robert Farris Thompson has interpreted wheels or other round discs in African-American garden spaces, particularly those that have a cross on them as one of these does, to represent a Bakongo cosmogram and a sense of sanctifying the soil. This find joins two buried piles of iron farming implements that we excavated from this quarter two summers ago and reported last year. On New World plantations and even in the practice of Yoruba today, iron pitchforks, shovels, and hoes replace blades and spears as the sacred tools of Ogun.

Burdock, which was used for medicine in slave contexts (Source:

Burdock, which was used for medicine in slave contexts (Source:

Part of my research has been focused on these objects, but spiritual well-being, physical well-being, nature, and the supernatural are not necessarily separate concepts. These bundles and practices also included the use of the natural landscape to create safe spaces, cure ailments, direct spirits, and call upon gods. Though there is not yet clear evidence of gardens or kept yard spaces surrounding the quarters at Wye House, it was not an unusual practice at the time. Judith Carney calls these dooryard gardens the “nurseries of the dispossessed,” where planting methods and experimentations of African origin played out on plantations. Whitney Battle-Baptiste has discussed how these yards and garden spaces were actively shaped by women to be extensions of the house in order to create a safe domestic place within the plantation, particularly through a ritualistic sweeping of the yard, which aids in keeping unwanted spirits from the entrances. On the present-day landscape, the plant burdock grows in a concentration around one of the quarters at Wye House. According to slave narratives, this plant was used to treat multiple physical ailments, such as gout, rheumatism, and dropsy.

Throughout the African diaspora, there are also certain plants that are associated with spiritual practices and particular gods. The plants used for such purposes at Wye House are more intangible that the artifacts, however, there is significant evidence of this belief system’s existence in Talbot County in the writing of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass and the Fugitive's Song (1845).

Frederick Douglass and the Fugitive’s Song (1845).

When Douglass was sixteen, working in the fields of Mr. Covey’s farm near St. Michael’s in Talbot County, his beatings became so severe that he sought protection from an older enslaved man, Sandy Jenkins, whom he considered a trusted advisor. He describes their conversation with this passage:

He was not only a religious man, but he professed to believe in a system for which I have no name. He was a genuine African, and had inherited some of the so called magical powers, said to be possessed by African and eastern nations. He told me that he could help me; that, in those very woods, there was an herb, which in the morning might be found, possessing all the powers required for my protection…

The man instructed Douglass to take the root of that plant and wear it on his right side at all times. By doing so, no white man would be able to hurt him. These practices using symbolic materials and meaningful plants were known during Douglass’ time and he links them directly to Africa.

We are finding the meanings behind certain plants and arrangements of artifacts at Wye House because we are learning to look for them. We’re asking questions about the knowledge that people brought with them to the New World, knowledge of plants and of the gods that came live in the woods and the waters. These materials connect the enslaved to a vast network that we are only beginning to map in Talbot County and beyond.


Battle-Baptiste, Whitney
2010 Sweepin’ Spirits: Power and Transformation on the Plantation Landscape. In Archaeology and Preservation of Gendered Landscapes, edited by Sherene Baugher and Suzanne M. Spencer-Wood, pp. 81–94. Springer.

Carney, Judith A.
2010 Landscapes and Places of Memory: African Diaspora Research and Geography. In The African Diaspora and the Disciplines, edited by Tejumola Olaniyan and James Hoke Sweet. Indiana University Press.

Covey, Herbert C.
2007 African American Slave Medicine: Herbal and Non-herbal Treatments. Lexington Books.

Douglass, Frederick
1882 Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Park Publishing.

Douglass, Frederick
1845 [2009] Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave, written by himself. Harvard University Press.

Gaiman, Neil
2009 American Gods. HarperCollins.

Preston, Dickson J.
1985 Young Frederick Douglass: The Maryland Years. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Speckart, Amy
2011 The Colonial History of Wye Plantation, the Lloyd Family, and their Slaves on Maryland’s Eastern Shore: Family, Property, and Power. PhD, William and Mary, Department of History.

Thompson, Robert Farris
1988 The Voice in the Wheel: Ring-Shouts, Wheel-Tire-and Hubcap-Art. In Another Face of the Diamond: Pathways Through the Black Atlantic South, edited by Inverna Lockpez, pp. 28–37.

Upton, Dell
1984 White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia. Places 2(2): 59–72.

Westmacott, Richard Noble
1992 African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South. University of Tennessee Press.

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A Walking Tour of Easton Wed, 29 Jan 2014 17:03:13 +0000 Professor Green, Stefan, and the audience look on as Tracy makes a point.

Professor Green, Stefan, and the audience look on as Tracy makes a point. Source: Kate Deeley.

The following post is from July 2013:

As part of our work on The Hill we took two walking tours of Easton.  The first was lead by Professor Dale Green of Morgan State University based on his research on The Hill neighborhood and the second was given by one of the docents at the Historical Society of Talbot County.   Both tours showed a very different side of Easton.  While one exclusively discussing the African American community on The Hill and the other discussed almost exclusively the White neighborhood.  Both had very long and rich histories right alongside each other yet, ironically, neither tour mentioned the other community.

The work of Archaeology in Annapolis in conjunction with Professor Green’s research on The Hill is to further investigate and uncover the lives of freed African Americans who lived on the Hill in the early 1800s.  This work is not only for the benefit of the community on The Hill whose members have been working with Professor Green on his research, or for the historic preservation of the neighborhood, but for the study of history of life in early 19th century America.  Often history neglects the lives of minorities, but though ignored by history, they had a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape that we know today. Archaeology therefore, can be used to reshape old assumptions and understandings by providing a hands on look at the history and tell us a more accurate story of a blended and complex cultural past.

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Open House at the Women’s Club Thu, 23 Jan 2014 15:07:45 +0000 The following post is by undergraduate student Liz Berry from July 2013:

Morgan State graduate student Brittany Hutchinson displays the coin for visitors to the open house.

Morgan State graduate student Brittany Hutchinson displays the coin for visitors to the open house.

This past Sunday was the open house for the Women’s Club excavation site at the Hill in Easton, MD.  We had a fantastic turnout of about 240 visitors for the event. The community was so willing to learn about the site and many came with their own questions.  It surprised me that so many locals were following the news articles about our site and knew a lot of background information.  The 1794 coin was the artifact that brought in the most visitors and was the main attraction for people to see.  This artifact alone sparked interest and debate among its viewers; which according to Teresa Moyer is exactly what public archaeology should do.  Many people asked questions about the worth of the coin, it’s symbolic meaning, its material, and how it related back to the African American heritage that we were trying to uncover.  Others debated the finds relevance to the project or challenged the methods that we used to uncover other information, like the possible chicken coop.

This is exactly what we want to see in a public archaeology site, because it creates interest and is a learning opportunity. When people ask these questions, no matter the intention behind them, we are able to guide them to the conclusions that we have found.  We are also able to put the artifacts into context for the public; nail stock for example was a product that many people were not familiar with and could not understand the significance of.  Yet once we explained what the purpose of the nail stock and how it was used to create nails very fast and in an affordable way; and how the amount that we found and the lack of related objects around it lead us to the conclusion that we were not coming down upon a blacksmith site.  So by these lack of artifacts we were able to tell the public that if this was an area of the lot associated with African Americans that the nail stock could be used as a small side job to help bring in a little extra money for the family. This information can stick with visitors and inspire them to later look more into the issues presented, support archaeology in some way, or tell others about what they have found out and pass along the information.  A prime example of this occurring was a gentleman who had known a little about archaeology from past studies and wanted to see the coin that was discovered, he asked many questions about it, and unfortunately we did not know all of the answers at that time. However, he did not just except this, but instead he went home and did some research himself and came back to our site to show us what he had uncovered. This is another perk of public archaeology because we are able to learn so much from the community.

Natalie, Liz, Audrey, and Leaira screen dirt for artifacts at the Hill.

Natalie, Liz, Audrey, and Leaira screen dirt for artifacts at the Hill.

At the Sunday event we were honored to have a woman there who was oldest living descendant of an African American family from the Hill.  She was able to talk to our site manager and our Morgan State contact and give some great local history that we would not be able to find documented anywhere. Because the Hill is still so clearly defined as an African American community we have an easy way to connect the archaeology back to the present.  There is still such a gap in the publicized Easton history involving slavery and the free African American community, so by doing public archaeology we are able to bring these injustices to light. Archaeology in general has recently began to focus on the minorities of history; the lower economic class, immigrants, and women.  This results in a lot of tough questions for the community that the archaeology was done in. This is no different in Easton, I was personally shocked at the amount of locals who did not know the history of the Hill; but through this excavation and other public interaction this ignorance can be eliminated.  Our hope is by doing this the community will embrace their unique past and celebrate it. Sunday was a great success for this goal, and we have had many people stop by the site because of people who visited Sunday passing on our information to others. We are hoping that this interest will continue after we are gone for the summer, and possibly create some local activism to include African American history into Easton.


Moyer, Teresa. Learning Through Visitors: Exhibits as Tools for Encouraging Civic Engagement through Archaeology. (pg.263-277). From Little, Barbara and Shackle, Paul. Archaeology as a Tool of Civic Engagement. Walnut Hill. 2007.

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Pardon the Interruption Sun, 05 Jan 2014 03:57:12 +0000 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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Getting to Wye House Thu, 11 Jul 2013 17:59:36 +0000 I’ve been working at Wye House for three years now.  One impression that myself and many of our students are left with is its isolation and remoteness.  In the field school van, it takes more than an hour and a half to get to Wye House.  We have to cross the bay, drive down seemingly endless shady country roads, and frequently get stuck in traffic.  Some days, it seems like Wye House is the farthest possible site at which we could be working.

As far away as Wye House might seem on hot summer days, it’s much more connected than one might think.  We’re so used to thinking about distance in terms of lines on a roadmap that we sometimes forget that there are other ways of moving through space and other ways of determining connectedness.







This is a detail from a photograph of Wye House from the early 1920s or 1930s.  If you look closely, you can see the plantation’s wharf as well as the hull of a ship.  In My Bondage and My Freedom, Frederick Douglass writes:

In the river, a short distance from the shore, lying quietly at anchor, with her small boat dancing at her stern, was a large sloop–the Sally Lloyd; called by that name in honor of a favorite daughter of the colonel. The sloop and the mill were wondrous things, full of thoughts and ideas. A child cannot well look at such objects without thinking.

Douglass continues:

“I had the strongest desire to see Baltimore. My cousin Tom, a boy two or three years older than I, had been there, and, though not fluent in speech (he stuttered immoderately), he had inspired me with that desire by his eloquent descriptions of the place. Tom was sometimes cabin-boy on board the sloop “Sally Lloyd” (which Capt. Thomas Auld commanded), and when he came home from Baltimore he was always a sort of hero amongst us, at least till his trip to Baltimore was forgotten. I could never tell him anything, or point out anything that struck me as beautiful or powerful, but that he had seen something in Baltimore far surpassing it. Even the “great house,” with all its pictures within and pillars without, he had the hardihood to say, “was nothing to Baltimore.” He bought a trumpet (worth sixpence) and brought it home; told what he had seen in the windows of the stores; that he had heard shooting-crackers, and seen soldiers; that he had seen a steamboat, and that they were ships in Baltimore that could carry four such sloops as the “Sally Lloyd.”"

Is this ship the Sally Lloyd?  In his writings, Douglass makes it clear that this ship (and others like it) is the link between the plantation and the outside world.  Through this ship, a new avenue of transportation and connectedness opens.  While Wye House is seemingly inaccessible by road, it is but a short trip by water to the capital, Annapolis, or the shipping port, Baltimore.  Prior to the construction of the Interstate Highway System (1956), the Bay Bridge (1952), and the invention of the Model T (1908), archaeologists departing from the University of Maryland would almost certainly walk down the road to the port town of Bladensburg, board a ship, and sail down the Anacostia River to the Potomac, across the Chesapeake Bay, and onto the dock at Wye House.  The alternative would involve a LONG walk up and around the Chesapeake Bay.

Returning to the aerial photograph of Wye House suggests another way to get to Wye House: by air.  As remote as Wye House feels, we are frequently greeted by the sounds of powered flight.  Overhead, we’ve seen news helicopters, Coast Guard helicopters, private jets, small turboprop planes, home-made ultra-light aircraft.  We are also treated to daily flights of A-10 Thunderbolts, probably on training flights out of Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, DC.  Nicknamed the Warthog, the A-10 was designed to engage enemy vehicles and tanks with depleted uranium armor-piercing shells.  It flies low, slow, and loud and their commanding presence demands that we look up from our units and realize that we’re still connected to the outside world, even here at Wye House on the Eastern Shore.

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Wye House Plantation Environment: Culture and Perspective Sat, 06 Jul 2013 15:06:27 +0000 View to the Wye River

View to the Wye River. Source: Katie Hutchinson

I tried my best to appreciate everything that the Wye House Plantation has to offer in the short amount of time I was given to do so. The perspective that I created moving through this space was fluid. The first impression was the beauty of the open spaces, trees and river. The second impression after reading Fredrick Douglass was that this space represented horrific deeds of the American past. And finally bringing the space to the present for archaeologists, this space does not accommodate our agenda to find African American culture.

I am always fascinated with being outdoors, especially when I have the honor of being immersed in the profound beauty of the space that is the Wye plantation. When I first came here, what I noticed and appreciated immediately was that it felt as though oxygen is widely available from the big beautiful trees. The trees are not invasive because there are wide-open spaces for one to embrace the vastness of the world. The scene is completed with the serene and calming river.

Rhino beetle interrupting excavations

Rhino beetle interrupting excavations. Source: Katie Hutchinson

This perspective slightly changed after becoming more familiar with the less romanticized environment. Since we are on the long green, it is not the main point of interests that would be shown to other guests to represent the grandiosity of the plantation. And although this area is controlled, nature still reminds us that it does not accommodate to the culture of archaeologists. Our lunch has been accompanied by the graceful presence of a 3-4 foot long black snake, we have been nearly eaten alive by Jumanji sized mosquitos, and other creatures have accompanied us on our digs, like lizards and this rhino beetle. Our 5X5 test units usually have large roots running through them along with large plump earthworms, cicadas, and other ground life. Rain has interrupted our digs on more than three occasions.

Again my appreciation for the plantation changed after reading Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass, where I learned about the horrors of what happened on this plantation within the life span of our nation. The beauty of the place was still there, but it had been corrupted in my mind by slavery. The same river that I thought was so beautiful was also where a slave was shot in the head for refusing to receive his whipping. The conditions, which the slaves lived, as described by Fredrick Douglass were with brutality and atrocious violence. The beatings were a hovering and real threat for the slaves that lived on the long green. This created a new perspective of the landscape, and my appreciation for the beauty was also met with a deeply sunken heart. How could this space have been used in such a cruel way and how is it that it can easily be forgotten? Most importantly, there is a change in how I viewed the land after having been reminded of the realities of slavery.

In order to find out more about the culture of these very slaves, we have to use the scientific method to carefully and methodologically destroy what ever I inside of our 5X5 test unit. Archaeologists relationship with landscape is very interesting because the environment does not agree with our agenda as archaeologists. The worms and ground animals are not meant to be troweled through, unearthed and pressed through a metal screen, and the life line roots of the tree that provides us shade is not meant to be severed. Archaeologists have a particular weather condition that they need in order to do good excavation and that is no rain. Archaeologists do not like to have their units flooded. It is not ideal for us to trowel through muddy dirt that slightly compromises our ability to track the color and texture of different layers. It also compromises the integrity of our perfectly straight cut walls. Archaeologists have a particular way they move through the space of the Wye Plantation.

This last realization might sound mundane until the implications are examined. Archaeologists have a culture and an agenda. Our purpose is to find out more about the past in the most efficient ways by leaving minimal footprints on the environment and attempting to recognize our biases while doing so. This is an ambitious purpose, which is often met with resistance from the environment. If anybody thinks that archaeology is only about the material culture one finds in the ground, they would be missing a key part of identifying the past in the present; they would be missing changing and fluid impressions and perspective.

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