Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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NYAC Fall Program

Exploring African American Contexts in New York Archaeology

NYAC will host the fall meeting on October 1, 2022 at the New York State Museum in the Huxley Theater. The general business meeting will be from 12:45-1:45 and the program from 2-4:30. 

Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of slave holding households was higher in New York than many places in the south. Unlike the plantation economies to the south, enslaved people in the north rarely lived in clusters of separate quarters. Most often enslave people of African and Indigenous lived in the main house, an outer kitchen, or other multi-functional outbuilding. Such complex households as well as free and Maroon communities have been investigated on archaeological projects in urban and rural settings. Surprisingly, there are few publications which address these households and communities that existed in New York. Only in cases where a household or a community was known to have been occupied by African Americans are deposits considered reflections of their lives.

Archaeologists have struggled to interpret the lives of enslaved people through the material culture of plural households. Recent investigations however, suggest that there are ways of ‘seeing’ African Americans in diverse households. This program brings together archaeologists to share what they have learned from their experiences working with plural households and communities in New York, suggestions for better material culture analyses, and the importance of working with descendant populations and vested communities. Format is short presentations followed by discussion with the audience.

Free and open to members of NYAC, NYSAA and to the public.

This event is free and open to the public however registration is required of non-members. Please register below:

NYAC will host the fall meeting on October 1, 2022 at the New York State Museum in the Huxley Theater. The general business meeting will be from 12:45-1:45 and the program from 2-4:30. 

Introduction. Marie-Lorraine Pipes Presenters:

Cobbler’s Cellar Fireplace Cosmogram with Offerings Underneath Altar Hearthstones. Christopher Lindner

It is probable that Henry Person was formerly a farmer in bondage on a Dutch-American estate, and that has wife, born Mary Barber in 1805, was enslaved to a nearby minister’s family. The couple bought at mid-century a house now known as the Parsonage, built in the 1760s probably by their forebears. Emma Jane Persons, the last of their children, died in 1911 while in residence there, ending a decades-long African American neighborhood of several families in Germantown NY. The surrounding community had begun in 1710 as four refugee camps of immigrant Rhinelanders called the Palatines, who founded this earliest major German-speaking settlement in America. The Parsonage was located in the religious epicenter of the community. Archaeology concentrates on its cellar and the buried foundation of an earlier dwelling, where people emplaced concealments in key positions relative to architectural elements.

Archaeology at River Lea. Ann Morton

What began as a one day survey for a new septic system has become a multi-year investigation at the Villa at River Lea, Beaver Island State Park, New York. The Villa, built about 1873 by Lewis Allen, is located at the southern tip of Grand Island, with beautiful views of the Niagara River. It was a summer destination for Allen’s nephew, Grover Cleveland. But the location was important much earlier for the Seneca ancestors who were here from the late Archaic into the early Historic period. Excavations in 2019 discovered two possible Middle-Late Woodland structures, along with a quantity of lithics and ceramics. Mixed in was historic material, presumably from the Allen family. But recent analysis of the faunal assemblage suggests this location may have attracted others—enslaved or formerly enslaved persons. This paper discusses the archaeology and historical background of River Lea.

The Point of Worked Bone from Historic Sites: Markers of Cultural Identity. Marie- Lorraine Pipes PhD RPA

Faunal remains are typically considered in terms of subsistence practices, animal husbandry, or resource exploitation. Pre-18th century Indigenous faunal assemblages commonly yield worked faunal specimens, far fewer in later times. When worked specimens are recovered from historic contexts, they present an enigma which to date has resulted in their relegation to invisibility. Without a conceptual frame for their interpretation, their cultural association and significance remains unknown. The analyses of faunal assemblages from multi-component and EuroAmerican sites present an opportunity for framing these types of objects as having been made and used by African Americans.

What I Learned from the Hemphill Site in Malta, New York. Ed Curtin, Curtin Archaeological Consulting, Inc.

One of this program’s underlying questions for African American sites archaeology is: How prepared is the archaeologist to excavate and interpret the site? For example, preconceptions such as: “Enslaved Africans quickly lost African culture as a consequence of slavery;” “There is little distinctive early African American material culture in the Northeast;” and “The enslaved lived in peripheral spaces in the enslaver’s house”, need to be recognized and challenged. In my experience with the Hemphill site, as the excavation proceeded, I became aware that there was a ca. 1816-1827 earth fast house behind the White Hemphill house, and the material record of this unexpected residence included several elements, such as knapped glass tools, collected Native American chert bifaces, chicken burials, and iron-rich sand concretions that are almost unprecedented in the Northeastern literature. I needed to learn more about each of these data classes, as well as some others to interpret African American life at the Hemphill site.

The Powell Family Farmstead and the Importance of Place. Mike Lucas

The story of Thomas and Betty Powell is one filled with triumph, pain, joy, and loss. Like most African Americans living in New York during late 18th century, they were enslaved at birth. Thomas was enslaved by the Fondas and Betty by the Lansings. They were married in the Boght Dutch Reformed Church in Colonie, just north of Albany. Their children and grandchildren were also baptized in the church. The couple was able to purchase an initial 5-acre farm in 1818, eventually expanding their holdings to 40 acres by 1850. Three generations of the Powell family farmed this land that provided a gathering point for African Americans in the area. The ruins of the Powell family farmstead remain today as a scarce extant reminder of Colonie’s rural African American heritage. Limited archaeological excavations to document its significance and ongoing efforts to preserve the farmstead in perpetuity as a tangible African American heritage place on the land for future New Yorkers, are important steps toward acknowledging what we have already lost and what we might still recover.

Dr. Thomas Elkins: Material Expressions of a 19th-Century Medical Provider. Matt Kirk

Together, we will explore the documentary sources and artifact assemblages of a renowned Black abolitionist from Albany, New York. Public archeology has brought to light a unique and varied collection from the 1850s and 1860s, when Dr. Elkins was caring for the community, as well as travelers along the underground railroad. How do archeologists interpret and present these materials so deeply intwined in notions of race, class, personal identity, and freedom? What new research questions emerge as we (as scholars) wrestle with the data and such highly charged conceptual constructs?

Seeing, but also Listening: Archaeologies of BIPOC sites on Long Island. Allison McGovern

Archaeological research at nineteenth century sites on Long Island has revealed the complexities of investigating the contexts of people of color, the limits to archaeological methodologies (particularly in phased approaches), and the challenges of developing inter-site comparisons. Through data from the Crippen and Fowler sites, this presentation briefly highlights the complexity of BIPOC site types on Long Island and makes an appeal for consideration of alternative approaches to archaeological research designs.

Archaeology and Public Engagement. Douglas J. Perrelli

This presentation will focus on the archaeological work of the Archaeological Survey, University at Buffalo, at the Cataract House Hotel and its importance with the Underground Railroad, and the public archaeology program involved with the African American community and collaboration with the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, Niagara Falls, NY.

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