Arundel site may hold answers about slaves

April 02, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

A site believed to contain the remnants of quarters for the 18th-century slaves of a colonial governor of Maryland has been found near the tip of the Broadneck peninsula.

Archaeological researchers have unearthed domestic debris, shells, fragments of ceramics and glass, and pieces of brick about a mile from Whitehall, the mansion Gov. Horatio Sharpe built about 1765 overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

"In my educated opinion, what we are looking at [are] slave quarters," said Al Luckenbach, Anne Arundel County archaeologist.

The find, in fields where a developer plans to build a 134-home community called Lighthouse Landing, is considered significant because little material exists about rural slave life in colonial Maryland, or elsewhere.

"Elitism . . . of those who chronicled history was such that there was very little attention given to enslaved Africans," said Michael L. Blakey, a Howard University professor of anthropology and director of the 18th-century New York African Burial Ground Project in Lower Manhattan.

While there have been digs in Annapolis of the homes of free blacks and slaves, "I don't think that there has been in this county an excavation of rural slave life," Mr. Luckenbach said.

The site has a "potentially high level of significance," he said. "There are a number of buildings undoubtedly involved."

Mr. Luckenbach said it is unlikely the quarters belonged to a tenant farmer, because their proximity to the mansion suggests quarters for field slaves.

Much of Anne Arundel County was farmed in colonial times, and there were rural slave quarters. Some still stand but are not believed to be as old as the find at Whitehall.

The number of slaves who lived at Whitehall is unknown.

"That is difficult to gauge. You had elderly slaves who didn't work . . . and children," said Orlando Ridout IV, a preservation and architectural historian whose ancestors came from England with Governor Sharpe.

Experts said the site has the potential to reveal all kinds of information about people whose masters often recorded them only in terms of their market value. They had no legal rights and were considered insignificant.

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