Archeologists have developed tours of Sukeek's Cabin.
Map of Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. Sukeek's Cabin Site is located on the southeast side of the park in the trees. (JPPM)
Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum is a 560-acre archeological preserve and working farm on the Patuxent River in Calvert County, Maryland. Sukeek's Cabin Site is a 19th to 20th century African American domestic site located on the park. The site was named Sukeek's Cabin in 1996, when archeologists began working with Sukeek's descendants to learn the family story and how it relates to life in the 19th to 20th centuries. It is named for a woman who, according to her family tradition, was enslaved and brought to the United States in the early 1800's.
Sukeek’s Cabin had been virtually undisturbed since it was abandoned as a dwelling, some time around 1920. Sukeek's descendants, archeologists, and volunteers are working to learn about the site. Together they study family and local history to understand how people's lives were affected by the change from slavery to freedom. Excavations provide information about the building and the surrounding yard. The work also yields artifacts that give clues about the everyday lives of the people who lived there that are otherwise lost.
The park has an active Public Archeology Program that interprets the history of the cabin through themes that make it relevant to modern visitors. Sukeek’s Cabin is set on the margins of the farm. Archeologists lead groups of visitors along a special path to the cabin and point out details along the trail. They talk on the way about the family, the site, and the setting. Upon reaching the site on a clearing on the ridge, volunteers and visitors are asked to imagine daily life for the Gross family ancestors who after a day of work in the fields or in the main house walked up the hill, as they just have. Visitors are directed to “see” an intact house on the ruined foundation and to imagine a yard filled with family on a summer day. They are asked to envision the main house, the other slave cabins, and other structural features that shaped the setting in the past.
The participation of the family in the archeological interpretation of Sukeek’s Cabin tells visitors that real people find the past personally significant and relevant to who they are today. Archeologists use personal interaction, imagination, speech, and experiential learning to help people connect with the resource. Visitors—be they volunteers, the public, or schools—find out about the social history of African Americans in the county. They learn to think about the past in juxtaposition to what they see today in the rapidly changing landscape and demographics of the region. Significantly, archeologists who interpret Sukeek’s Cabin find that interpretation encourages interaction amongst people of different backgrounds to communicate in new ways.
The population of Calvert County is demographically very different from its 19th-century self. Heritage education programs at this state park illuminate for visitors the value and historical context of the local landscapes that accommodate the rapid population growth threatening their survival. Interpretation helps the public to understand that they have moved into an area with a real history and a distinct identity.
- Uunila, Kirsti
- 2003 Sukeek’s Cabin: Archaeology, A Family’s Story, and Building Community, in Archaeologists and Local Communities: Partners in Exploring the Past, edited by Linda Derry and Maureen Malloy, Society for American Archaeology, 2003. pp.31-44.