Archeology is important for discovering African American history, because it captures information that is not recorded in historical documents. Visit archeological places that tell the story of African Americans from colonial times to the recent past.
Some places in this guide are units of the National Park Service. Others are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or are National Historic Landmarks, signifying their importance in telling America's stories. All of them impart the richness of African American archeology and its role in capturing a full picture of American history.
During the Civil War, Camp Nelson was a large training camp for both white and African-American soldiers. It was the largest camp for African- American troops in Kentucky and one of the largest in the United States. The camp also served as a refugee camp for these soldiers' families. The expulsion of these families in 1864 influenced the passing of a law which freed the wives and children of African-American soldiers.
Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Natchitoches, Louisiana
This site encompasses Oakland and Magnolia Plantations. In the 18th- and 19th centuries, these two plantations relied on enslaved peoples' labor to produce cash crops such as tobacco and cotton. Following the Civil War, many of those individuals remained on the sites and became tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and day laborers. Together these sites illustrate the multiple social and economic changes that took place in the American South over time.
Fort Mose (pronounced mo-SAY) is the first free Black settlement in the United States and the only known one in the southern US sponsored by Spain. Occupants fled slavery and received free status as Spanish citizens. In exchange, they helped the Spanish colonial government defend St. Augustine and other territories against British forces.
Kingsley Plantation, Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, Fort George Island, Florida
Kingsley Plantation was owned by Zephaniah Kingsley and his wife Anna Madgigine Jai. Anna was purchased as a slave and eventually became a slave-owner herself after obtaining her freedom. Over 200 slaves worked upon the property, producing cotton, sugar, and other crops. Visitors to the site today can see 25 standing tabby dwellings where these enslaved people lived.
Monticello, near Lynchburg, Virginia
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation was home to hundreds of individuals, both black and white, free and enslaved. Archeology helps illustrate the multitude of experiences these people had while living upon the plantation. The Archeology Department hosts the Digital Archeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS) database which fosters collaborative research between sites all around the world.
President Andrew Jackson's Hermitage plantation is located near modern-day Nashville. From 1804 to 1845, the Jackson family and over 300 enslaved individuals lived and worked upon the plantation.
African Burial Ground National Monument, Manhattan, New York
In 1991, archeologists in downtown Manhattan discovered the earliest and largest African-American cemetery known today. An estimated 15,000 people were buried here between the mid 1630's and 1795. These individuals were some of the earliest African Americans living and working in New York City.
Jamestown colonists are famous in historical literature. Less known are the earliest enslaved individuals who lived beside them. In 1625, historical documents list a woman named Angela, a slave at Captain William Pierce's household in New Towne. In 2017, Jamestown Rediscovery archeologists began excavating the "Angela site" with the goal of understanding more about how she lived.
Benjamin Banneker has been called the "first African-American man of science." Mostly self-taught, he became a well-known writer, astronomer, and mathematician. He spoke out against slavery and was part of the team that designed and surveyed land for the future capital of Washington, D.C. Archeology tells about the life and material culture of Banneker and details about the lifestyles of free African Americans living in Maryland during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Booker T. Washington believed that African Americans could use education and self-sufficiency to improve their post-Emancipation economic and social positions. To this end, he founded the Tuskegee Institute which trained African Americans in technical skills such as industry and agriculture. Archeologists have located his birthplace.
Historic Annapolis; Brice, Banneker-Douglass, and Carroll Houses, Annapolis, Maryland
From its founding in 1649 onwards, the Maryland capital Annapolis has been home to a diverse group of individuals. The Archeology in Annapolis project has excavated many sites to uncover past narratives, include the Brice House, the Calvert House, and the Carroll House. Together these sites illustrate the varied daily experiences of both free and enslaved African-Americans within the city.
James Dexter Site, Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
James Dexter was a well-known leader of the African-American community within 18th-century Philadelphia. He was one of the founding members of the Free African Society which provided members with an early form of health and life insurance. He also helped found the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first African Episcopal church within the nation, that still operates today. Visitors to the Independence National Historic Park can see a plaque where his home once stood and an excavation took place.
During the 1800's, Catherine "Kitty" Foster worked as a seamstress for the University of Virginia white staff and students. She and other free African-American individuals lived on a nearby lot known as the Venable Lane Community. Her home was demolished in the early 20th century. In 2011, an archeological team investigated the Foster site and nearby cemetery that held some of its occupants. Today, visitors can explore the small park and see some of the archeological remnants of this community.
The Robinson House, Manassas National Battlefield, Manassas, Virginia
James Robinson, a black man born free, turned his property into one of the wealthiest farms in the Manassas area with the help of his family. Archeologists learned about the Robinsons' choices as consumers and the ways they expressed cultural identity.
Sukeek's Cabin, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard, Maryland
Sukeek was brought to the United States in the early 1800s. Archeologists working with some of her descendants - who continue to live in southern Maryland - uncovered evidence for the compelling story of her life. Visit Sukeek's Cabin to learn about her and her family's stories. Explore the park to learn more about African Americans who used to live on the property.
Seneca Village, Manhattan, New York
Between 1825 and 1857, African Americans and Irish and German immigrants lived at Seneca Village in modern-day Central Park. The site was extraordinary in the number of African-American individuals who were able to legally own land. In 1856, the New York state legislature exercised imminent domain to build Central Park. In 2011, the Media Center for Art History at Columbia University excavated this site to learn more about the everyday lives of its original occupants.
W.E.B. DuBois was a powerful social activist who fought against racial discrimination. He wrote several books and essays on social issues, including segregation and housing conditions, and was a founding member of the N.A.A.C.P. The University of Massachusetts Amherst archeological project analyzed his boyhood home. While this structure no longer stands, the site offers an opportunity to learn more about DuBois' life and legacy.
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Topeka, Kansas
Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark Supreme Court case that ruled racial segregation of public schools illegal. The Monroe Elementary School was one powerful case study utilized within the case. Archeologists have attempted to recreate the 19th-century, working-class neighborhood surrounding the school.
New Philadelphia, Pike County, Illinois
In 1836, Frank McWorter, a formerly enslaved man who had purchased his own freedom, bought a large tract of land near the Mississippi River. He sold this land off in plots to other African-American individuals. Eventually, this town became known as New Philadelphia. Today the site stands as a reminder of the contributions African-American individuals made to western expansion and urban development. Because of its proximity to slave trade routes, it is also a solemn reminder of the constant prejudice and danger these individuals faced.
Nicodemus is the only remaining 19th-century settlement west of the Mississippi River established by former slaves. Founded in 1877, the frontier town became famous as a symbol of African-American community and freedom.
Allen Allensworth, born a slave, gained freedom by serving as a Union soldier. After the war, he and four other African-American men founded the community of Allensworth in Tulare County, California. This settlement was meant as a place for African Americans to escape discrimination. Today the village contains both restored and reconstructed buildings, including Colonel Allensworth's home, a library, and county store. Archeology has been conducted at Frank Milner's barbershop.
From the 1860's to 1890's, as part of Western Expansion, African-American troops in the U.S. Army were posted in the Great Plains and Southwest. These "Buffalo Soldiers" clashed frequently with Native American tribes, specifically the Mescaleo Apaches. Pine Springs Camp offers an opportunity to learn more about the experiences of all of these men during this time of conflict.