African Americans resisted the dehumanization of slavery in everyday ways, creating and maintaining private lives and shared cultures in diaspora. Small artifacts like these quartz crystals, point, and galena stone hint at subtle practices of cultural survival that people carried from slavery into freedom.
Archeologists found these objects near the foot of the chimney in the remains of a structure at Manassas National Battlefield that was home to the African American Nash family in the decades immediately following the Civil War. Similar caches of quartz crystals were found in two structures associated with Brownsville, the site of a nearby antebellum plantation also within Manassas National Battlefield, where twenty-two people were enslaved in 1860.
These quartz crystals show how African American culture thrived at Manassas beyond the view of whites, whether in the context of slavery at Brownsville, or freedom at the Nash’s home. On their own, the crystals are mysterious, but they fit into a larger pattern: groups of crystals, beads, buttons, and shells have been found near hearths, in doorways, and in walls in sites where both free and enslaved African Americans lived in Virginia, Maryland, Texas, and beyond. Archeologists and folklorists believe that they relate to West African spiritual beliefs and practices that spread into the Caribbean and American south, blending cultural continuity with the evolution of African American ethnic identities in new locations.