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The Dig: Josiah Henson Archaeological Site

Josiah Henson Park is located on the historic Isaac Riley Farm in North Bethesda where the Reverend Josiah Henson lived and worked as a slave from 1795 to 1830. This park is a historic resource of local, state, national and international significance because of its association with Reverend Henson, whose 1849 autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Josiah Henson (June 15, 1789 – May 5, 1883) was an author, abolitionist, and minister. Born into slavery in Charles County, Maryland, he escaped to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1830, and founded a settlement and laborer’s school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, near Dresden in Kent County.

This episode is hosted by Dr. Cassandra Michaud, Senior History Specialist at the Montgomery Parks Department. We thank her and her team for taking the time to tell the incredible story of Josiah Henson to AITC and our constituents.


Fort Shirley Archaeological Site

For the past five years, AXIS Research Inc., a registered non-profit organization, has been involved in the excavation and documentation of the Fort Shirley Site, located in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Fieldwork has been conducted in conjunction with the Penn State University Archaeology Field School and has involved over 70 students and researchers. This archaeological site is significant to documenting early colonial life during the French and Indian War (or the larger conflict known as the Seven Years’ War), as well as the unique relationship between the provincial government of the Commonwealth with Native Americans from the Ohio Valley.

As one of the four original commissioned forts erected west of the Susquehanna River, Fort Shirley is unique for several reasons. First, it was the first constructed by George Croghan, the prominent Indian trader and land speculator, in 1755 as he attempted to protect his business and the few Native American allies of the British Empire in Pennsylvania. Second, the well-preserved archaeological site provides material evidence of cooperation between Anglo-American settlers and the Mingo/Seneca natives as they prepared for what would become a global conflict for empire between England and France. Third, the site reveals structural details of the fort’s defenses (construction and configuration), which are archaeologically elusive on comparable fort sites in the Mid-Atlantic region. Fourth, the site served as the advanced staging point for the Kittanning Expedition (September 8, 1756), the only major expedition carried out by the Pennsylvania Militia and the first victory in the backwoods conflict for the British settlements. Lastly, Fort Shirley is mentioned often in the Colonial Records, archives, and documents allowing the disciplines of Archaeology and History to collaborate in telling the story of this momentous frontier outpost.

The artifacts recovered during the project are rare and important to this specific era of American history. For example, the project has produced the largest collection of glass trade beads in the county, as well as other items of personal adornment like buttons and cuff links, and trade materials like copper tinkle cones, triangles, and charms.

For the past three decades, archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst have been conducting extensive archaeological investigations at the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. This was once the home of William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois, one of the 20th century’s leading African-American scholars who challenged the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow era.

W.E.B. Du Bois lived at the site as a child, which was continuously owned by his relatives and members of the Burghardt family. Du Bois owned the property from 1928 until 1954, when the home was demolished. While the structure no longer stands, the site is listed as a National Historic Landmark, designed with a series of trails and informational signs to serve as a contemplative space for public interpretation of African-American heritage in New England.

The goal of principal archaeologists Dr. Robert Paynter and Prof. Whitney Battle-Baptiste has been to assess the extent and integrity of the material landscape, specifically with regards to the lives of an African-American family who resided at the site for over 130 years in what Du Bois refers to in his writings as “The House of the Black Burghardts.” The archaeologists have been striving to interpret how these artifacts illuminate and reconstruct ideologies of domestic African-American spaces and the enveloping cultural narrative of New England.

This episode of The DIG as well as all artifacts in our 365 Days of Artifacts series was made possible by Emily Felder. Emily is a documentary filmmaker and editor based in Western Massachusetts.

One such documentary includes “Layers of Pompeii,” a film showcasing the contemporary Italian city of Pompeii, particularly focusing on the historical and modern-day relevance of the Quadriporticus, one of the oldest active archaeology sites at Pompeii, as well as a massive player in Italy’s tourist industry.

Producing such films, and her belief that archaeology should be about civic engagement and social relevance, has fostered Emily’s interest and collaboration with Archaeology in the Community to film the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite as not only a commemoration of the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, but a means to articulating critical heritage through engaged archaeology.

You can watch a larger selection of her work on Vimeo here. Contact Emily on Twitter at @EmilyRoseFelder

The Laboratory is based on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in the School of World Studies building, which is located on Shafer Street in Richmond, Virginia. The initial function of the VCL was to test the capabilities and limitations of the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner on archaeological objects for our initial DoD Legacy Program funded project. For that DoD Legacy Program project, we either borrowed collections from regional repositories, or we took our portable scanner to various museums, collections repositories, or heritage locations to scan objects to fragile or too unique to loan. These places included the Fort Lee Regional Curation Facility, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, Mount Vernon, Jamestown, Poplar Forest, Montpelier, Colonial Williamsburg, and George Washington’s Ferry Farm. When that project ended, we continued working with these heritage locations and collections repositories to scan artifacts that would help meet their collections and research needs, and to create original research opportunities.

On the eve of its 350th anniversary, the present day cemetery of St. Francis Xavier in Maryland, reveals new details of a long-gone Jesuit chapel. Father Brian Sanderfoot, pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Maryland, authorized several phases of investigation at St. Francis Xavier Cemetery to map the cemetery and its many grave markers and to conduct limited archaeological testing. One of the most exciting outcomes of this work is the identification of the site of the 1662-1704 Jesuit chapel.