Monday, September 20, 2010

Market Master's house backlot, Day Six: "Looking Back at Five Excavations in Bladensburg"

This post is from Mike Roller, from the University of Maryland:

In the last two years I have taken part in five excavations in Bladensburg. Each site has been distinctly different, with its own revelations, quirks and mysteries. Speaking from an excavation conditions standpoint, we all agree that this site has been a pleasure to dig. The pleasant weather, the sandy smooth soils, the shady backyard and the accommodating land owners have all contributed to this. This time we have employed a strategy of grouping our units closely this time, in order to open a larger space clustered in the back of the Market Master’s house. This has allowed us to discuss our findings and compare our soils as we dig. It has really helped us to create a more cohesive picture of the historic landscape of this area. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many mysteries to solve….

Retrospectively, however, there are a few things from this site that have been consistent with many of the sites we have excavated here in Bladensburg.

-The material culture of conflict in the form of Civil War or War of 1812 bullets, uniform buttons and gunflints. As yet we have not tabulated how many of these we have collected throughout Bladensburg or what they can tell us about the town during these conflicts, but future research may reveal new facts. This site has been no exception, with a musketball, gunflints and military buttons.
-Evidence of prehistoric lives have been found at almost all the sites we have excavated in Bladensburg suggesting long and extensive Native American occupation in this location dating back as early as six thousand years ago. As discussed in previous blogposts, the ecological richness of this area, at the junction of two streams with a rich floodplain and numerous natural springs, would have made the Bladensburg area very attractive to prehistoric inhabitants.

-Late-nineteenth and twentieth century efforts to modernize or otherwise modify old features to meet modern needs. In this section we could include the extensive efforts by the early twentieth century occupants of the Bostwick house to modernize and fashionably remodel the architecture and landscape around the house. This included removing older structures such as outbuildings and, probably, slave and servant’s quarters. At the Magruder house and Indian Queen Tavern we saw drainage systems put in an effort to keep the Anacostia floodwaters at bay. At the Indian Queen we saw a historic well reconstructed as a system for draining the house. Here in the backyard of the Market Master’s House we have seen some evidence of twentieth century construction, including the possibility of a similar effort. (more on this in a future blogpost?)

One question we can begin to ask now is: “What have we not seen in Bladensburg that we might have expected?”. We have not seen much evidence of what we know was probably a big business in Bladensburg, the trade in enslaved peoples from Africa. Neither have we seen much evidence of the lives of those that lived in Bladensburg in forced servitude. Additionally, we do not have a good sense of how the laboring classes in Bladensburg might have lived. Though four brick or stone eighteenth century structures have survived Bladensburg’s 250+ year history, we know that the majority of structures in Bladensburg were modest wood frame dwellings. Who lived in these houses and how did there lives differ from the lives of those that lived in the wealthier portions of the town? Archaeology and additional research and analysis conducted in the future may have the answers to some of these questions...

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