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Archaeology project finishing its second year at the plantation where Frederick Douglass lived as a child.
University of Maryland archaeologists are finishing a second season at Wye House Farm in Maryland, guided in part by Frederick Douglass' account of his childhood in slavery there.
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The foundations of three buildings, and possibly a fourth, have been discovered along the narrow strip of land between a gravel path, mentioned by Douglass, and the Chesapeake Bay. A tall poplar grows between the foundation of what may have been a two-story slave quarters Douglass mentioned. An American Indian burial ground dating to before the Lloyd plantation has also been found there.
Other buildings were used as either housing or workspace by the slaves, many of whom had backgrounds in fields such as carpentry, blacksmithing and barrel-making, said Lisa Kraus, a doctoral student who used Douglass' autobiography and old maps to decide where to dig.
Many slaves at Wye House "were actually purchased and brought there specifically because they had skills the Lloyds needed in order for the plantation to function," Kraus said. "They were producing material that was used by the plantation but also producing things that were shipped out, which was totally different than most other plantation slaves."
Mark Leone, an anthropologist supervising the project, said the plantation did not just provide for the owners' needs: Wye House was the head of a large commercial enterprise.
"How do you turn farm products into international trade for a profit? That's what these places are really all about and that's what this Long Green is--it is the labor base for a very big set of diversified industries," Leone said.
Before digging began, Leone said archaeologists contacted descendants of slaves who worked on the property, many of whom still live in nearby Unionville and Copperville, and asked what questions they had. The descendants were most interested in slave spirituality and the role the Wye House slaves had in blacks' fight for freedom, Leone said.
Items relating to those questions have not yet been found, although some items believed to have had spiritual significance were previously discovered in buildings on the estate, he said.
The excavation is being done with the permission of Mary S. Tilghman, who inherited the property in 1993 and is an 11th-generation descendent of Edward Lloyd, who first settled the property.
"The history here is of intense personal interest to me, and I'm dedicated to its preservation," she said. "This land has been part of my life for so long that I feel a duty to preserve the heritage it holds."
A third and final year of excavation is planned for next summer.