19th Century middle class black household excavated by archaeologists

african kings

University of Michigan archaeologists have resumed their dig of the home of James Holliday, a freed slave and one of the first African-Americans to work as a cook at the Annapolis Naval Academy. They were pleased to find a rich haul of household items within the home that told the story of middle class African-Americans and their lifestyles more than 100 years ago.

The Holiday family has owned the home uninterrupted since the 1850s. At the start of the 20th century a wave of Filipino immigrants followed the Philippine-American War of Independence and headed to the coastal cities of the United States.


Phys.org reported that when the Academy hired Filipinos, they fired African-American workers, and tensions grew between the two groups even though they were both discriminated against in the white dominated city. Still, one of Holliday’s granddaughters married a Filipino man.

“We’re discovering family stories carved in irony,” says University of Maryland Archaeologist Mark Leone, who is directing the research “…anchored in Annapolis by the Naval Academy, brought together by its racial stereotyping, and yet overcoming cultural and racial barriers quite successfully in their own lives.”

Heritage Daily reports:

“African-Americans in Annapolis displayed the outward appearance of conforming to Victorian etiquette by buying and using fancy, up-to-date dishes, but uniquely, only in limited numbers,” explains University of Maryland archaeologist Mark Leone, who created and directs the Archaeology in Annapolis program. “They bought them in small numbers, perhaps for financial reasons, perhaps to put their own unique stamp on their dining. Their table looked up-to-date, but the dishes did not have a single decorative pattern.”

The Capital Gazette reports:

Mark Leone, who founded the Archaeology in Annapolis field school and is directing the excavation, said what they’re learning from the East Street house and other sites near it changes the way the area has been historically viewed — as upper-class and white.

The archaeologists’ findings show that the area was a diverse cluster of classes and ethnic groups. Filipinos, African Americans and Jews all lived in close quarters.

“It’s a very different Annapolis than the one you’d see walking around with a tour guide,” said Leone, an archaeologist. “It’s not a conventional way of seeing the city from about 1950 on.”

Last summer, the group excavated the house’s basement, which used to be where the kitchen was located. In the ground they found women’s and children’s artifacts, dressmaking supplies such as pins, needles, a thimble and an awl, plus toys marbles, a domino and a toy soldier. Details can be found on the Archeology of Annapolis blog.

Follow Similoluwa Ojurongbe on Twitter and GooglePlus