A student discovers a pottery sherd in the "Archaeology Site-in-a-Can" activity

A student discovers a pottery sherd in the “Archaeology Site-in-a-Can” activity

“Look at what I found!” the girl beamed, holding her artifact up high for the picture.  She discovered the small redware sherd in the dirt as she excavated in the “Archaeology Site-in-a-Can” activity during the Maryland Emancipation Day Celebration at Oakley Cabin African American Museum and Park.

“What do you think that artifact was used for?  Who might have used an artifact like that?” prompted Montgomery Parks’ Archaeology Volunteer, Valerie Hall.

Greg McKee, an Archaeology Volunteer, talks about tin smithing

Greg McKee, an Archaeology Volunteer, talks about tin smithing

Next to the “Archaeology Site-in-a-Can” a mother helped her daughter steady her nail so she could tap a heart design into a piece of tin.   Greg McKee, another Archaeology Volunteer, described how people used pierced tin for keeping the bugs out before they had window screens.  Archaeologists have found pie-safe tin fragments in 19th century archaeological sites in the area.  Archaeology Volunteer Carole Fontenrose talks with a girl about how the children who lived at Oakley Cabin played with clay marbles just like the ones the girl just made.

Inside, a small display of 19th artifacts found during excavations at Oakley Cabin complements the children’s activities.  Visitors contemplate the bones, shells, tobacco pipes, ceramic sherds and nails, drawn by the glimpses these objects provide into the past.

Visitors mingled around the cabin sipping hot cider, sampling corn bread made on an open hearth by Parks Interpreter Lisa Berray and listening to the blues strummed and sung by Rick Franklin & Friends.  The highlight was the reading of Maryland’s November 1st, 1864 Emancipation Proclamation by Ben Hawley, a re-enactor of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment B Company.

Lisa Berray demonstrates open hearth cooking

Lisa Berray demonstrates open hearth cooking

For twenty years, Montgomery Park historians, interpreters and archaeologists have come together at Oakley Cabin in Brookeville, Maryland the first weekend of each November to celebrate Maryland’s Emancipation Day.  Many Marylanders have come to know their state’s history in recent years due to the on-going efforts of Parks Museum Manager Shirl Spicer and the persistent advocacy of a small grass roots community.

Recognizing that many of Maryland’s citizens thought its enslaved people were emancipated in President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the community set out to educate and set the record straight.  This small grass roots community consisting of the Friends of Oakley Cabin and the Underground Railroad, began a letter writing campaign to Governor O’Malley in 2008, asking for November 1st to be recognized as the official day of celebration of the freeing of the slaves by the state of Maryland.

The group wanted to recognize Maryland’s unique history.  The group’s letter writing campaign was followed by an appeal to the delegates for the Montgomery County District where Oakley Cabin is located– which did result in a sponsored bill.  Unfortunately, that bill ultimately died in committee.

Not one to give up, Ben Hawley sparked State Senator Karen Montgomery’s interest and she sponsored a bill that was accepted and then made into law in 2013 just in time for Maryland’s Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th Anniversary (the Sesquicentennial).[1]  The effort took longer than the actual Civil War!

Valerie Hall talks to students about excavating

Valerie Hall talks to students about excavating

Archaeologists have long recognized the importance of using archaeology to educate students and the public about our shared heritage.  The Society for American Archaeology’s Principles of Archaeological Ethics encourage all archaeologists to undertake public education and outreach while the Society for Historical Archaeology states that archaeologists have a duty to encourage education about archaeology.[2]

We know that archaeological education provides touchstones to the past—

Teresa Moyer, in “Reaching Out,” describes reaching out with maps, documents, artifacts and other objects to ‘hook’ students by transforming the tangible resources into stories that hold and capture them.  Archaeological interpreters use concepts such as tangibles, intangibles, universals and opportunities. Ceramics, tin and clay marbles can come alive with imagination. In the process, such programs can create a “safe place” for talking about issues with roots in the past that students face today”[3]

This year’s Maryland Emancipation Day at Oakley Cabin brought the past to the present—Visitors smelled and tasted the open-hearth cooking, heard the guitars plucking and listened to the words of the a Capello spirituals sung while hearing the …



WE, the people of the State of Maryland, grateful to Almighty-
God for our civil and religious liberty, and taking into our
serious consideration the best means of establishing a good
Constitution in this State for the sure foundation and more
permanent security thereof, declare:

ARTICLE 1. That we hold it to be self evident, that all men
are created equally free, that they are endowed” by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life,
liberty, the enjoyment of the proceeds of their own labor, and
the pursuit of happiness.[4]

The Lower Eastern Shore Community College A Capella Singers performing at the event

The Lower Eastern Shore Community College A Capella Singers

Rick Franklin and Friends Band performing at the event

Rick Franklin and Friends Band








For more about Montgomery Parks Archaeology:  www.ParksArchaeology.org

For more about Oakley Cabin Events:  www.HistoryintheParks.org


Written by: Heather Bouslog

About the author: Heather Bouslog is the Co-Lead of Montgomery Parks Archaeology Program. She is the senior archaeologist who leads the archaeology camp, volunteer program and  public education program for Montgomery Parks Archaeology.


[1] Maryland Emancipation Proclamation Backstory courtesy of Susan Soderberg 2016

[2] Society for American Archaeology, www.saa.org; Society for Historical Archaeology, www.sha.org;

[3] Teresa Moyer 2007 “Reaching Out: Archaeological Interpretation for Education” in Archaeology for

Interpreters: A Guide to Knowledge of the Resource. Archaeology Program by Heather A. Hembrey and Barbara J. Little, National Park Service, Washington, D.C, http://www.cr.nps.gov/archaeology

[4] Archives of Maryland On-Line, Proceedings and Debates of the 1864 Constitutional Convention http://aomol.msa.maryland.gov


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