Monumental Decisions

 

Some Timely Thoughts for August 18, 2017

In 1996, I was asked to participate in a panel of scholars and prominent citizens in an open forum as the Commonwealth of Virginia struggled to decide whether the time had come to ditch its official state song, a slightly modernized version of Carry Me Back to Old Virginny, composed by African American songsmith, James Bland in 1878. Many found the song to be offensive due to its romanticization of slavery and its lyrics that used minstrel-like parodies of of African American speech. On the other hand, it was at that time the only state song in the country that had been written by an African American. My advice at the time was that a work of art that offends a substantial portion of the population should be somehow honored for what it is, but demoted from its public pedestal. It could not properly represent all the people of Virginia. Virginia decided to designate the song as “state song emeritus,” retired it, and went on to seek a new state song more suitable to Virginia at the turn of a new millennium.

One and a half centuries after the end of the Civil War, much of the South—the former Confederacy—struggles to decide what to do with symbols that trouble many citizens. One of these is the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. This so-called “Confederate Flag” was never used as an official flag of the Confederacy, but it has nonetheless come to be viewed as symbolic of the South as a distinct “nation” within the larger United States rather than as a bottle flag of an Army that raised arms against the United States.

Similar symbols of the South are the numerous statues of leading generals and statesmen of the Confederate States of America that are found throughout the South. Like the old battle flag, they too have become bones of contention between folks who find them to be offensive reminders of a not-so-grand historic era of White supremacy, slavery and racism versus those for whom they are romantic and honorable memorabilia of a time and culture that formed the South into a distinctive cultural region of the nation.

Today the South deals with this question: Is it time to “retire” the monuments and symbols of the Confederacy? Nowhere is this question more important than here in Richmond, Virginia, the former Confederate capital, and no other display of public art and artifact in Richmond can begin to compete with the grandeur, beauty and intensity of feelings generated by Monument Avenue. Depending on who you are and what you know about the grand avenue and its monuments, you may view them as commemoratives to honor Confederate leaders, especially military leaders, or you may view them as disgusting and reprehensible reminders of the evils of racism. Perhaps you have never really thought about them in depth and they are simply the decorative artifacts of Richmond’s grandest public avenue.

It helps to understand what they were built for, and at this point I believe most knowledgable scholars would argue that they are clearly the product of the so-called “Lost Cause,” a massive cultural mythos evolved in the hope to have the South “rise again” after the period of Union occupation and Reconstruction. Southerners had it found humiliating and degrading to be forced to permit African Americans to vote, to own property, to get education, and to hold public office. No sooner had the occupation ended than the South immediately launched the oppressive Jim Crow era which aimed to undo the progressive actions of Reconstruction and to institute laws and extra-legal sanctions against African American (and other non-White) citizens. Thus began the long ugly rein of lynch mobs, the Klan, and segregation.

Richmond’s mayor, Levar Stoney has created a commission of scholars and prominent citizens of the city to address the possibility of finding acceptable ways to “contextualize” the monuments on Monument Avenue and, perhaps, elsewhere in the city as well. The mayor’s vision was to seek a solution that would teach the actual history of the monuments, warts and all, without having to take the extraordinary move of decimating an enormously important historic district and its unparalleled artifacts of both the beauty and the beastliness of Gilded-Age Richmond.

I was personally glad to hear about Mayor Stoney’s commission, because as an archaeologist-historian I am a firm believer in preserving our cultural artifacts precisely so that different communities and different eras have their opportunities to appreciate, interpret, loath, and/or love the manifold meanings such artifacts can elicit. I was equally glad to hear that the mayor extended the mission to include gathering public comment and input on the possibility of removing the monuments, especially because he added that he finds them personally offensive. He is African American and does understand what they meant to those who erected them and what they mean to many Richmonders and other Virginians today. Like that old state song, how can a landscape that is so public be permitted to stand when it is offensive to so many citizens.

So to return to my original question: who owns these artifacts of history and culture? Legally they belong to the City of Richmond, I suppose, but I question whether or not the Mayor or City Counsel have the ethical right to remove these monuments without some sort of city-wide, and perhaps even state-wide or nation-wide referendum. At the very least we need a long, ongoing, serious public discussion. As the Mayor’s commission discovered in its first public meeting, this will be a loud, emotional, not always rational discussion. There will be lots of heat before there is any clear light to light the way to a decision that can be broadly supported.

I find the so-called Confederate Flag offensive because it represents institutionalized racism. It always has done and it always will do, ever since it was taken up by the KKK and then again by post-1964 redneck racists opposing integration and civil rights enforcement. My thought about the flag is that if you view it primarily as a romantic icon of the South and Southern culture, then hang it on your living room wall and enjoy it. But keep it out of my face in public places.

I find the question of monuments to be a much thornier thicket, especially the monuments of the Confederacy on Monument Avenue. There is no question that these are major elements of the city’s architecture, landscape and history. They define a major central neighborhood—a neighborhood designated as historic and significant by the national, state and city governments. The monuments have stood for nearly a century and have, therefore, played a very significant role in the spirit and culture of Virginia’s capital. Most Richmonders, I suspect, can barely imagine what a loss they would feel if the city were to have them removed.

Nonetheless, it cannot be denied, that they, like that battle flag, came into being through the post-Reconstruction institutionalization of White supremacy in Virginia. It should not surprise anyone that some of our city’s citizens and visitors who understand that truth find them as offensive as I find the “Confederate” flag to be. Nothing could be more “in your face” than these huge bronzes of generals, an admiral and a president of the rogue nation Confederate States of America parading endlessly down the grandest boulevard in town.

My recommendation to the Mayor and his commission is this. Recent history reminds us pointedly that we have not outgrown the hunger by some to keep alive a state of White supremacy in Virginia and elsewhere in this country. Richmond has been making some very fine progress in conquering that evil in recent years. I am proud of my city, my home and its people for that reason. Let’s not make any rash decisions in the current environment of political rancor, the rise of the “alt-right” and the beyond-the-fringe element of White supremacists currently stirring their long-simmering pot in the Federal government. If the City feels a need to take some action sooner rather than later, then please don’t make it an irreversible one.

Let’s try something like this first. The City could seek help—financial help and planning help—from both the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service which has designated the district as a National Historic Landmark. The effort would be to continue considerably extend the mayor’s original plan of seeking the best practices for contextualizing the monuments. I would personally love to see fairly prominent signage at the major entries to the district on and adjacent to the Avenue. Such signage would state unequivocally that the district began shortly after the Civil War as a search to erect a monument to General Lee upon his death. That initial idea lay mostly dormant until after Reconstruction when it became perhaps the most prominent urban-art expression of The Lost Cause. Further signage at each statue could address both appropriate histories of the persons represented there, but they should also detail the complex meanings of the Lost Cause, the rise of the myth of Southern honor and chivalry as well as the unambiguous effort to subjugate African Americans and codify White supremacy in the South.

Perhaps the messages of such signage could be more extensively interpreted through a Monument Avenue museum: a small but purpose-driven institution perhaps run or advised by the Virginia Historical Society, the Valentine or the City, funded, one would hope by both private benefactors and public governments up to and including the National Park Service or other appropriate Interior Department entity. The mayor’s current commission might best give way to a permanent entity responsible to the city’s public for the ongoing interpretation of Monument Avenue.

This is just one citizen’s ideas, not even fully formed. That said, they are the ideas of someone who devoted most of his adult professional life to discovering, conserving and interpreting the history and culture of Richmond and its surrounding region of Central Virginia. I have probably given as much thought as anybody to the meaning of our material artifacts and how they can be used to help our communities progress towards an ever more enlightened understanding of our shared histories and destinies.

A True Story of the Ancient Planter and Adventurer in Virginia, Captaine Thomas Harris, Gent., as Related by his Second Sonne

Published as  “Archaeology Through Narrative: Captaine Thomas Harris, Gent,” in Historical Archaeology, Volume 32, Spring 1998. Tucson: Society for Historical Archaeology.

The day before he was to die at the hands of Chickahominy Indians in the Summer of 1678, Major William Harris visited the widow of the rebel General Bacon at Curles, once his father’s plantation and the place of William’s childhood. The ancient seat was now nearly destroyed by the depredations of the Governor’s men in retaliation for the late uprising, but the home he best remembered–his father’s greatest pride–had been levelled by fire twenty years earlier. More than a year had passed of her widowhood, but Elizabeth Bacon, with her Black, Indian and German servants lived on in the mud and ashes of the Curles estate. His recollections jarred by the visit, and by a dread premonition of his coming expedition, Major Harris sat in the Indian’s house and told the boy servants his father’s life story, which comes to us in the form of a petition from Harris to the acting governor of Virginia. I have taken some care to transcribe the document using modern usages and spelling only where needed for clarity. I have likewise spelled out some words abbreviated in the original, and these instances are marked with brackets ({}). In a very few instances I have extrapolated a likely word or phrase which was illegible in the original, and these are denoted by square brackets ([]).

THE PETITION OF WILLIAM HARRIS

To His Excellency The Hon’ble Acting Governor and High {Commissioner} of His {Majesty’s Plantation} of Virginia, Colonel William Jeffreys from your most obdnt Servant, Will: Harris, Major and Deputy of the Combined Militias of Henrico and Charles City pray permit me through whatever intermediary this comes to you to petition your exlcy on behalf of an Indian Boy named Tom, of 18 yrs of age, presently a Servant in the estate of the former Rebel and Scourge of our country, Nat’l Bacon, Jr. now deceased. This Boy dwells at present with the widowed relict of the sd rebel at his late plantation, known as Curles, in the Coty of Henrico, said estate {presently} in the sizen of your exlcy on behalf of his majesty due to the treason of said Bacon. This Boy is remarkable in these parts even were he Christian, yet he is a Heathen of the Pamunkeys, a nephew, I believe, of the noble Queen of that tribe with whom we have at long last made of late a peace.

The boy is well learned in our ways and language and he is as capable a scribe as any clark or barrister. {With proper nourishment} of his soul, and some further tutoring in Classics, the boy would serve well as an {ambassador} of his people. He will without doubt bring more boys from the Indians to live among us, to hunt and plant, and to take instrucion in true religion and be baptised, {thereafter} to become fine Citizens of this Country. Mrs. Bacon will soon leave here to attend on Mr. Jarvis, to whom she has become betrothd, at his {plantation} in the lower parts of Nansemond. Unless you make some dispensacion for this Boy and his young brother, a Boy about 12 years named Nat’l, they will be sold as slaves, and of late many Indians have been sold to the Carolina Savages who use them poorly. And t’were in my estimacion a strange Oeconomie where we send our Indian’s boys to them and they send their captured Boys to us, and an injustice to Ourselves to so {jeopardize} the peace by sending forth such a one as this who could only by resentment turn his learning to our detrimnt through [treachery.]

I have only met this Boy to=night. I came to lodge at Curles in the hospitality of Mrs Bacon due to a violent Gust and Torrent that has swoln all the creeks of the upper parts of James His River. The night fell early and I feared my horse would mis=step. Knowing the road to Curles was at hand I entered this anciente plantacn, once my father’s own, and the Home of my youth. After a meager meal with the rebel’s Widow (and her having no man at home other than a Dutch servant), she directed me to a quarters house where I should lie the night with her Indian Servants, she having seven of these as well five Negroes from Africa and Brazil. As I entered the small wooden House this young Man arose respectfully and, in the Indian manner, he made no talk, nor did I, but he took a Pipe and {Pouch} from a small trap in the floor filled it with fine sweet=scented tobacco, brought the Ember to it and passed it me. Nor he nor I spoke a Word til all the smoke was extinguisht from his Pipe. Then he spoke first saying he knew me, and welcomed I should take his Bed and bolster.

He asked if I had fought against his great grandfather, the old divil King Opechancanough wherein I told him I was then too young, but that my father had done so, {notwithstanding} I had seen the great Chief before he was murthered in James City. This boy then asked where my father’s House was, and I near was brought to tears, for it had once stood not a stone’s throw from the servant hut where we spoke and these words are written. He asked I tell him about my Father which I did to pass the time and to educate these boys–though I know not the younger understood a word–about the history of our time in this Country. As I spoke he wrote near every word, and this, his writing of my words, I have placed with this letter that you may read it. I do not presume to entertain you with my story=telling as I have done this night to educate these Heathens, but only to shew the Cleverness of this servant who I pray you to save from slavery so that he might serve his people and ours in an adventure of a peaceful Communion. What follows are my words true as spake to the Indian lads.

THOMAS HARRIS HIS STORY

My father, Captaine Thomas Harris come hither aboard the Prosperus from England, a land I know not, in the year of sixteen hundred and eleven to serve with Sir Thomas Dale his Government. He told me in my youth that he had no estate in England and that his only hope was as a soldier of fortune in the plantacions or as a soldier to fodder the Canons in Holland. He chose then to be a Planter rather than himself to be planted in the ground at so young an age, and he came to decide between signing for Ireland or Virginia, and he swore he would not go among the savage Irish or ever live in a Hovel of mud and sticks, for that is how he dreamed of the Irish plantation. And he reasoned that should he have to die at the hands of Salvages, better it would be of a heathen Indian than an uncivilized Christian who knows no King, but only a cardinal Bishop. And so he purchased his stock as an Adventurer in the Company and came hither after a terrible voyage wch near killed all in a Tempest or Hurricano.

The year he came to this plantation twas the Starving Time for English and Indian alike, and there was no house in useful repair in James City, and the walls of the Ffort were nearly tumbled in the dust. Governor Dale made mends to James Fforte and then, seeking a safer and more healthful seat up the main River, he took near all the Companie to build the City of Henrico, and having barely laid the plan of the towne and paled it in he took them all again to build a city called the New Bermudas, wherein he commissioned my father {Lieutenant} of Digges His Hundred in that City. Here my father and my mother came to live in an old Indian house long since abandoned, blackened by smoke, a Hovel of sticks, but at least not an Irish Hovel. At the end of the first year he builded him the House in which I was born at the foot of this neck of land along the main river. The House had one room, no windows and a chimney of sticks plastered with mud. Here we lived when Opechancanough and all the Indians rose against us and slaughtered near 400 in one day of 1622. In my father’s charge three were lost to the Indian treachery, and that House was burned to the Ground. For many years we lived as tenants on the lands of others, in one of the fortified settlements. We had another small wood House to ourselves and our servants, but the {Tobacco} we made on a landlord’s field, and it were no Benefit to us. The year 1630 the Governor released us from the Indian-imposed bondage to return to our ruined {plantations} and tenancies and we come back then to Curles Neck where, finally, my Father said we should have a proper English house, near twenty years after he come to this country.

My Mother had died and now with a new wife my Father and Brother and I began to build the finest House in Henrico wch was the among the first shires ands courts of the country. We labored terribly in the Summer of that year to dig a Cellar 18 feet by 24 feet and full 5 feet below the earth but rising eight to the plaistered silling overhead. On the side walls we erected stout posts, nogged between with bricks fired by the house, and on the chimney wall we builded only of brick. The House raised a full room and a garret above the lowroom Cellar, where stood the Kitchen which served also as a Brewhouse, Buttery, and Bakehouse as well our Magazine and Armory. The house was covered with cypress shingles and on one end rose a [massive brick chimney,] the finest of its kind in the upper parts. Nestled against the hearth, half within and half without the house, was a large stone oven for my new mother to bake fine bread for all those of the {neighborhood} who would answer the perfume of its baking. This fine Hall, my father would say, was no Irish Hovel.

The Greate Room was plaistered of mud and lime and washed with ochre, and the walls were hung heavy with French clothes to keep the warmth of the hearths within. My new mother would cook on the great hearth of the lowroom with the help of my sister. We had then but two servants who worked the fields, made and mended all our tools. as well serviced our Meate, Meale and Beer within the hall. Mother, father, sister, brother and I all stooped over the hoe in the fields beside the servants to bring in the crop each year and to plant the next, except when my father was about his Business of soldiering, for he was above all, before a Farmer or a Father, a Soldier. His great pride, beside his brick house, was his rank of Captaine which they {commissioned} him at the time I speak of. I remember how, as a youth, it struck me with great dread to see him transformed in his armor gorget and tassets, a great steel helm on his head, a broadsword in his sash and rapier to hand, his legs and feet bound in Indian clothes and moccasins of coarse deerskin.

We lived well in that single Hall, low room and Garett for many years, and we builded more buildings, in the manner of the co’try, in our yarde. A tobacco house was the first, and then a small barn for the Cattle, a Granary and a dovecote. About the year 1640, my father resolved to enlarge the house. Another year we dug a long passage to serve as a Buttery beside and beyond the great hearth and opened it to another room as large as the Lowroom below the hall. Above ground were new chambers for he and my mother, one for my brother and I, and another for our Sister. In the gartt dwelt a maidserv’t from France and a Negro girl, not a slave, for my father would have no truck with the selling of flesh into perpetual servitude. When her time was passed, and she had been brought to the Church, she married a baptized Indian and they raised their plantacion on fifty acres a Gifte from my father.

And we builded this little wood house wherein we now huddle as this be spoke and written. Here lived the men and boy servants. I befriended one Indian named Dick. He was my age and he made smoking pipes, beautifully cut out and polished, decorated with Deer and the compass=rose. He made Pipes for all our neighborhood. for men and women, some with their Ciphers emblazoned in fine dentacions made by the artfull cut of a great shark’s tooth. He would roll out claye dug from the white Marl in the riverbank into tubes and bury it for many days to season. To this he would add small measure of quicklime. He burned them in the bread oven, and Mother–for I came to know her as my mother– was much put off until he gave her pipes with her own cipher, which she showed to all, smoking proudly with great billows at the Court or Churchyard.

In the year 1644, the old King of Pamunkey, Opechanough, raised another warre against us. That day near 700 men women and children were delivered by sauvages to their maker’s judgment. The old Indian was blind and more than 100 years old, and he was soon captured. I can remember well the militia with my father at its Head brought him before the parade at Henrico for all to see. It was no more than a few weeks after he was imprisnd in James Cittie that a knavish rogue among the guard shot the anciente enemie in the Back, ending his fearful reign. Though Pamunkey served the work of the divil, he knew no better, for he had not been instructed in the ways of our Lord; it were a treachery worthy of the Salvage himself to have been murthered so infamously.

They burned three plantacions in these partes and killed nearly fourscore in Henrico, but by God’s will, we were saved and our houses were unmolested. But then the government resolved to stop the fearsome ravages once and for all, and we had a long revenge upon yr people. I saw my father very little for nearly two yeares as he led rangers against the Appomattox, the Arrahatox, the Weyanokes, and the Manahoax. He was busy too in the work of building new fortes at the Falls and at {Chickahominy,} and commaunding them and their garrisons. My brother being gonne from the country for his learning, the management of this plantation fell to me.

In the year 1654, in the 69th year of his Life, my Father fell ill of the Ague and Fever. Of all he was the most seasoned of the ancient plaunters, yet the agues laid even him low. In those evenings of his last days we would talk when the fever permitted. He told me again his stories of coming hither, and how glad he was he had done so. He was never a rich man, though our lives were {commodious} and we wanted for naught. I had already builded my own house across the neck in Charles City, but I never failed to think of Curles as my home. He reminded me in his dying of what to him was important: that he hoped he had pleased God and served his King and his fellow men: that he had provided some small portion of an Estate for me and my brother and a Dowrie to secure my Sister an honorable husband: And he had lived to see the plantation of Virginia survive, even flourish: not the home of dandies the likes of which inhabit the Isle of Barbados, but rather as a place where a man’s hands with Will and Fortune and Blessing could raise a living. And he gestured weakly to the brick walls surrounding us, and said

“At least I did not die in a Netherlandish Myre or an Irish Hovel.”

OUR COUNTRY SPOIL’D

This your exllncy can see is the scribework of a talented young man. It breaks my heart to see this plantacion, long since deprived of my Father’s brick House by the act of God and the Neglect of Tenants, now ruined further by the rebellion of Bacon and the retribution of our former govnr on his estates. The neighbors hereabouts daily plunder this place and the Widow is helpless to defend it. The destruction and thievery has so far been of the Crop and the buildings and their furnishings: but soon they must spoil as well the cattle and servants for these are nearly all of value that remain on the plantacn, save the bricks from Mrs. Bacon’s own house and many timbers yet standing of the Rebel’s great Ffort. For this reason I beseech you take this Indian boy as your servant and godson, have him instructed in Faith and in the artes he might learn of a cultured Tutor. He, or someone like him, may yet serve as the emissary to bring forever a lasting peaceful co=habitacion between the Indians and ourselves.

I would deliver this request and my Compliments in person save I am to muster our county troop on the Morrow at Henrico Court to ride out with Col. Eppes to the plantation of Rowland Pace where several Indians have of late been marauding and it is reported they have stole a Pig and killed some chickens. These sauvages tolerate not the encroaching upon their champion and meadows by the Planters in these parts who have late drained the marishes wherein the Indians are used to hunt. Nor do our own Citizens take lightly theft of Swine whereon so many of the desperate ones might feed a familie for a season or two. I would it were not too late to avoid the letting of more human bloode.

God protect our country and God save the King.

yr most humble etc.

(signed) Wm Harris

Given at Curles this day, 23rd Augst 1678

Telling Captain Harris’s Story

The assignment Mary Praetzellis gave to those who participated in the “Archaeologists as Storytellers” session at the 1997 SHA meeting was to tell a story about a person, a family, or a place using “data” from an archaeological excavation as source material. Discussion of archival or archaeological research was not to impose itself upon the story. When constrained by the “rules” of narrative (and, in the case of the live delivery at a conference, the rules of performance), I found, not surprisingly, that competence in archaeology’s language and styles is no guarantee one can be a decent story-teller in the strict sense. But the experiment was instructive. In seeking a “voice” and a “face” to present the story, I realized how little we know of language, costume, gesture, or other aspects of daily social life on late 17th-century Virginia’s frontier. It made the detailed groundedness of archaeological insight seem, somehow, all the more important.

From the beginning, even before choosing a character or plot, I knew I wanted to set my story at Curles Plantation, a site I have worked on annually since 1984 (Figures 1 and 2). The Curles Plantation Site, in Henrico County, Virginia, was settled about 1630, although earlier colonial settlement as part of Digges’s Hundred is suggested by documents but not yet confirmed by archaeology. Thomas Harris lived at Curles until his death in the middle of the century, after which the plantation became a tenanted quarter of merchant Thomas Ballard. In 1674, Ballard sold the plantation to Nathaniel Bacon, Jr. who, in the three years he resided in Virginia (the last three of his life) led a war with the Indians and a revolution against the colonial government. By the time the dust settled, a long-time governor had been unseated, colonial laws had been rewritten, and the local Native American societies had been reduced to subjugation to English and Virginian authority. The plantation was seized in 1677 by Bacon’s nemesis, Governor William Berkeley, and it remained abandoned and wasted as a government holding until 1699. For the next century, Curles enjoyed a rebirth and flourished as the seat of one of the most powerful families in Virginia. The plantation entered a long period of decline beginning about 1810, and the last of the remaining buildings were dismantled by Federal troops during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.

Curles brick house-overhead.jpg

Figure 1. Excavations of Nathaniel Bacon’s “little brick house” and fortifications at the end of the 1989 season. The fragmentary foundation in the upper center of the picture is the 18th-century Randolph kitchen. This structure was added to the “Old Hall,” constructed by Thomas Harris in The 1630s.

 

Curles Plantation 1996 season.jpg

Figure 2. Excavations in 1995 of the Thomas Harris house underlying the 18th-century Randolph kitchen. Students in the upper left and upper center portion of the picture are excavating portions of what I believe to be Nathaniel Bacon’s fort.

WmHarris_Pipestem.jpg

Figure 3. A typical 17th-c “Chesapeake” pipestem decorated with the rouletted cipher “WH;” presumably for William Harris. Among the hundreds of Chesapeake pipes and fragments from Curles are two with initials of William Harris and one marked “JH,” probably for Joan Harris, William’s stepmother.

 

With assistance from a grant from the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, I located and surveyed the site of the manor house complex in 1984. Each year since then my students and I have conducted excavations at Curles through the summer Field Archaeology program at Virginia Commonwealth University. The Curles project is “unfunded” in any traditional sense; the hard work (and ample tuition) of students has been the main source of sponsorship. Enormous support has been offered by VCU’s Archaeological Research Center (VCU-ARC), which has provided much staff assistance and virtually all of the field and laboratory supplies needed for this enormous, on-going project. We have periodically had generous assistance in the field from the owner of Curles Neck Farm, Mr. Richard Watkins, as well as from Virginia Power Company and TARMAC, an international construction-materials firm.

The first couple of years of full-scale excavation work were dedicated to digging the 18th-century Randolph mansion and some associated structures and features. In 1987 we discovered the small brick house Nathaniel Bacon had constructed at Curles in 1674. We excavated the house in 1988, and, the following year, we began to uncover the remains of what appears to have been a huge fortification complex Bacon had constructed around his home. By 1990, while excavating the 18th-century plantation kitchen, we had stumbled upon the extensive remains of the Thomas Harris house. These four structures–the Randolph kitchen, the two 17th-century houses, and Bacon’s fort–have taken most of the efforts of the field school over the past decade, although we have also excavated 18th-century gardens, 18th-century slave quarters, a 17th-century brick clamp, and an assortment of drains, ditches, wells, and other typical (and some not-so-typical) plantation features.

Over the years a great many students have undertaken independent-study projects and internships that have contributed extensive documentation about the site’s history, as well as bringing order to the vast collections. While my debts are too many to mention, I must take special notice of the tremendous contributions to this project by Beverly Binns, VCU-ARC’s Laboratory Director and the field director at Curles for most of recent history. I also want to acknowledge the tremendous trove of documentary source material recovered from around the world and transcribed by Katherine Harbury during her years as staff historian at the Center.

While I have presented findings from Curles regularly in papers delivered at local, regional and national meetings (Mouer 1993b; 1992a; 1991b, c; 1990a, b; 1989a, b; 1988b; 1987; 1985; Mouer, Wooley and Gleach 1986), little has been published, largely because it is an on-going project. Articles about Bacon’s house at Curles have appeared in Archaeology (Mouer 1991a) and in the Henrico County Historical Magazine (Mouer 1988a), and I have included chapters related to the Harris, Bacon and Randolph occupations at Curles in my forthcoming book for Plenum (Mouer 1998).

My views of the 17th century in the upper reaches of the tidal parts of the James have also been influenced by my work (with Douglas McLearen) over three seasons of excavation at a complex of sites on Jordan’s Point. These represented the fortified master compound and some tenancies associated with the early-17th-century settlement known as Jordan’s Journey (Mouer and McLearen 1991, 1992; McLearen and Mouer 1993, 1994; Mouer 1994). I have also researched the 17th-century history of the Fall-Line area for my projects at Rocketts (Mouer 1992, 1993c) and Falls Plantation (Mouer and Kiser 1993). Certainly I owe a considerable debt to all my colleagues who have devoted so much time to digging and interpreting 17th-century Virginia. A few outstanding works require special mention: William Kelso’s (1984) Kingsmill Plantations, Ivor Noel Hume’s (1979) Martin’s Hundred, and James Deetz’s (1993) Flowerdew Hundred.

Thomas Harris is someone we know primarily from official documents, which reveal quite a bit, because he left a pretty good paper trail thanks to his various land dealings and military activities. Still, much remains unknown about Thomas Harris, although genealogists have contributed considerably to the facts–as well as some fiction and confusion–surrounding Harris’s life in England and Virginia. He and his two wives were officially designated with the status “ancient planter” due to their having been in Virginia during the tenure of Sir Thomas Dale. That gave him access to an additional 150 acres of land over and above the 50-acre headrights they each earned for themselves, and any additional headrights for servants imported to the colony.

We know that Dale assigned Harris Lieutenant of Digges’s Hundred, and that he was living on the “Neck of Land” during the 1622 massacre. His patents place him at Curles Neck by 1630, the year that many who had moved into Jamestown or one of the large fortified villages erected after the massacre returned to earlier habitations. He held a number of militia posts and commissions and was, for much of his adult life, the senior military official in what was then known as “the upper parts” of the colony. While the evidence isn’t conclusive, it appears he never owned slaves. He was certainly one of the longest-lived of the “ancient planters” in Virginia.

While the historical literature on the 17th-century Chesapeake is huge, and there is an especially good basis of recent scholarship in social history and archaeology, there are few works that, on their own, stimulate for me the “historical imagination” needed to reach into that distant culture. One of the best such pieces, in my opinion, is still Morgan’s (1975) American Slavery, American Freedom. While Morgan sketched out a broader thesis, he drew on the emerging literature in archaeology and social history to elicit at least some sense of everyday life.

Another work I have long admired is the Rutmans’ (1984) experiment in creating an evocative historical ethnography: A Place in Time. The Rutmans draw a convincing picture of colonial Middlesex County, but their account of this lower Tidewater area does not square with what I have come to sense about the Fall-Line frontier up river. Many years of archaeological work have driven home to me the fact that the Fall Line was different from the tobacco-raising heartland of the early colony in many important ways. Throughout the 17th century this area was the center of the Indian trade. Many of the settlers here were not typical English planters; there were also French sheepherders and Irish millers. They depended on industry, commerce or military positions as much as or more than they did on agriculture. Servants were as likely to include Native Americans as Africans or English. Cultural and economic interactions among colonists and Indians were far greater here, and when wars and skirmishes broke out they were likely to be within these precincts. It was in Henrico County that Bacon’s Rebellion was fomented. It was in this cauldron of peripheral “multiculturalism” that many of the important historical events and cultural developments of early Virginia were centered. This intensive variety and interaction created creolized cultural forms which I have discussed at some length elsewhere (Mouer 1987, 1993a, in press).

William Harris, the narrator of the story, was probably as typical as anyone in these parts in the later 17th century, which means he was neither extraordinarily rich, nor poor; neither very powerful, nor by any means without his own sphere of influence (Figure 3). The son of an “ancient planter,” he had a small tobacco farm that was worked by his family and, occasionally, one or two servants. So far as I can tell, like most second-generation Virginians, he probably never saw England. He was a creole colonial. He was a landowner, but his holdings were modest. He rose to the rank of major as second-in-command of the combined militias of Charles City and Henrico Counties. He was what I once called a “local elite:” one of the peasantry living in the colonial periphery that rose to a modicum of local power, but whose wealth and influence did not extend to the colonial core, nor were they nearly as great as the colony’s core elites (Mouer 1987).

In 1670 he ventured west beyond the Fall Line with a troop of mounted rangers accompanying John Lederer (1966 [1671]), a Swiss explorer with a governor’s commission. His fear of Indians and of going beyond what had been the boundary of the Virginia colony for 70-some years led him into a conflict with Lederer. He finally abandoned the explorer just 50 miles from the Fall Line and returned home with his troop and announced that Lederer had been killed by Indians. A year later, John Lederer returned to Virginia having mapped and documented his travels throughout a huge section of the American Southeast. Harris was shamed. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, he died impoverished. His probate inventory include a lump of melted pewter, a bedstead, and an old mare considered to have no value.

My principal documentary and secondary sources for William Harris’s era are those dealing with Bacon’s Rebellion. The central published works include Wertenbacker (1940), Washburn (1957), and Webb (1984), as well as a very useful and extensive compilation of documents and abstracts concerning the rebellion compiled by Neville (1976). We have few primary sources for Curles Plantation in this period other than deeds, wills, and some other court papers. The cream of the crop is an extensive room-by-room inventory made under the commissioners sent to investigate the rebellion (Anon. 1677). They charged surveyors to inventory rebels’ plantations that had been seized by Governor William Berkeley. From this document we get a very good picture of the estate as it existed right at the end of the rebellion in May of 1677, including a detailed list of Bacon’s Indian, Black, and European servants.

I chose Harris, and his story about his father’s life, because I wanted to present a chronicle of events at Curles that could embrace more than a single lifespan. William Harris lived through the period of the 17th-century occupation at Curles, and he is a credible first-hand observer of events on, and surrounding, the plantation. I wanted to contrast the physical world the Harris’s built at Curles with what we have come to know about the preceding period of the 1610s and 1620s, and William Harris was a subject who might have had reliable second-hand knowledge of that time from his father.

I chose the device of a written document primarily because we have very few sources that permit us to infer the speaking manner of a frontier-dwelling, native-born Virginian of the later 17th century. We have writings of men like Nathaniel Bacon and William Bird, but these were much more powerful elites, raised and educated in England, whose lives revolved around Jamestown and London, despite their geographic locations at the Falls of the James. What we do have in plenty are petitions, court papers, etc. Their language is conventional, somewhat formal, and immediately familiar to any who have spent much time reading papers of the period. By “reading” a fictitious “document,” I avoided having to act out a character whose clothing and language I can scarcely imagine. For the written version presented here, the reader’s suspension of disbelief is aided by the use of approximations of 17th-century spelling, orthography, capitalization, abbreviation, and all the usual inconsistencies in each of these found in period documents.

References Cited

Anonymous

1677 An Account of the Estate of Nathaniel Bacon, Jr., Dec’d. C.O.5/1371, Pt.II, 227vo-230, May 11, 1677. Colonial Records, London.

Deetz, James

1993. Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation, 1619-1864. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Kelso, William M.

1984 Kingsmill Plantations, 1619-1800: Archaeology of Country Life in Colonial Virginia. Academic Press.

Lederer, John

1966 [1671] The Discoveries of John Lederer. Readex Microprint.

McLearen, Douglas C., and L. Daniel Mouer

1993 Jordan’s Journey, Volume II: Report on the 1992 Excavations at Archaeological Sites 44PG302, 44PG303, and 44PG307. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society.

1994 Jordan’s Journey, Volume III: Report on the 1992-1993 Excavations at Archaeological Site 44PG307. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society.

Morgan, Edmund S.

1975 American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

Mouer, L. Daniel

1998 Digging Sites and telling Stories: Essays in Interpretive Historical Archaeology. Studies in Global Historical Archaeology series, edited by Charles Orser. Plenum Publishing, New York.

1994 “…we are not the veriest beggars in the world:” The People of Jordan’s Journey. Presented at the Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Vancouver, B.C.

1993a Chesapeake Creoles: An Approach to Colonial Folk Culture. In The Archaeology of Seventeenth-Century Virginia, edited by Dennis J. Pogue and Carter Hudgins. Special Publication of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Richmond, pp.

1993b An Update on the Curles Plantation and Jordan’s Journey Projects. Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Jamestown.

1993c Telling Stories About Rocketts: Community and Diversity on Richmond’s Early Waterfront. Paper presented at the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Kansas City.

1992a Curles, Rocketts, and Jordan’s Journey: A progress report on three major excavations. Paper presented to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Fredericksburg.

1992b Rocketts: The Archaeology of the Rocketts #1 Site, Technical Report. Report in 3 volumes prepared by the VCU Archaeological Research Center for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

1991a Digging a Rebel’s Homestead: Nathaniel Bacon’s fortified plantation called “Curles” Archaeology magazine, July/August, pp: 54-57.

1991b Three Centuries on the James: Archaeology at Rocketts, Curles, and Jordan’s Journey. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Roanoke.

1991c Jordan’s Journey and Curles: the 1991 Season’s Finds. Paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Washington’s Birthplace National Landmark.

1990a Progress Reports: Jordan’s Journey, Rocketts Port, and Curles Plantation Excavations. Paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeology Fall Conference.

1990b “An Ancient Seat Called Curles”: The Archaeology of a James River Plantation: 1984-1989. Paper presented to the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Tucson.

1989a The Rebel and the Renaissance: Nathaniel Bacon at Curles Plantation. Paper delivered to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware.

1989b The Curles Plantation Project at the Five Year Mark: Retrospect and Prospect. Paper delivered to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Jamestown.

1988a The Excavation of Nathaniel Bacon’s Curles Plantation. In The Henrico County Historical Society Magazine, Vol. 12, pp: 3-20.

1988b Nathaniel Bacon’s Brick House and Associated Structures, Curles Plantation, Henrico County, Virginia. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Hampton.

1987 Everything in Its Place: Locational Models and Distributions of Elites in Colonial Virginia. Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Savannah, Georgia.

1985 What are you looking for? What have you found? What will you do with it now? Paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeological Conference, sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Jamestown.

Mouer, L. Daniel, and R. Taft Kiser

1993 Falls Plantation and the Confederate Navy Yard: An Archaeological Assessment of Richmond’s Eastern Waterfront. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for the William Byrd Branch, Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

Mouer, L. Daniel, and Douglas C. McLearen

1991 “Jordan’s Journey”: an Interim Report on the Excavation of a Protohistoric Indian and Early 17th Century Colonial Occupation in Prince George County, Virginia. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

1992 Jordan’s Journey: A Report on Archaeology at Site 44Pg302, Prince George County, Virginia, 1990-1991. Report prepared by VCU Archaeological Research Center for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society.

Mouer, L. Daniel, Jill C. Wooley, and Frederic W. Gleach

1986 Town and Country in the Curles of the James: Geographic and Social Place in the Evolution of James River Society. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware.

Neville, John Davenport

1976 Bacon’s Rebellion: Abstracts of Materials in the Colonial Records Project. The Jamestown Foundation.

Noël Hume, Ivor

1979Martin’s Hundred. Alfred Knopf, New York.

Rutman, Darrett B., and Anita H. Rutman

1984 A Place in Time: Middlesex County, Virginia, 1650-1750. Norton, New York.

Washburn, Wilcomb

1957The Governor and the Rebel. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Webb, Stephen Saunders

1984 1676: The End of American Independence. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Wertenbaker, T. J.

1940Torchbearer of the Revolution: The Story of Bacon’s Rebellion and its Leader. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

 

Archaeology of the Rocketts #1 Site

The link, below will take you to the complete Phase III excavation report of from a three-year urban archaeology project in Rocketts, the 18th- and 19th- century port of Richmond, Virginia. For my colleagues and I at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Archaeological Research Center, this was, by far, the largest, most complex, and most satisfying urban excavation we undertook in the 21-year tenure of the Center. Thanks to VDOT archaeologist Mary Ellen Norissey Hodges for providing the .pdf versions of the report.

Rocketts Archaeology (Dan Mouer)

A Pocahontas For All Seasons

A Review of Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend, by William M. S. Rasmussen and Robert S. Tilton. Originally published in 1995. William and Mary Quarterly, Institute of Early American History, Williamsburg. Winter 1995.

By L. Daniel Mouer, Ph. D.

It is ironic that the only image we have of Pocahontas which has any claim to having recorded an “authentic” vision taken from life was made at the end of that short but astonishing life. The engraving by Simon van de Passe, made in 1616, only a year before her death, portrays Pocahontas already transformed into a mythical figure. The Virginia Historical Society exhibit, Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend, and the exhibit catalogue which bears the same title, attempt to counterpose the life, the “reality” of Pocahontas, over against the “legend,” the imagined, culturally charged suite of stories and images which have gained mythical proportions in America’s historical identity. But it is no more possible to separate the life from the legend of Pocahontas than it is to do so for Marilyn Monroe or Attila the Hun. Some lives were lived as legends; none more so than that of Pocahontas.

In his foreword to the exhibit catalogue, Virginia Historical Society Director Charles F. Bryan, Jr. asks, “How accurate is the story [of Pocahontas]? Is more myth than reality?” From my perspective–that of an anthropologist–the contrasting of “myth” with “reality” is a peculiar one. All human worlds have their myths: the stories known to some degree by all members of a culture, whether they are believed to represent real persons and events or not. Myths are quite as real as anything created by the human imagination, and their power to influence, direct, and inspire collective identity and action is immense.

Historian Calvin Martin once noted:

Indians of course have a long and distinguished career in the service of European and American causes… In each instance, Indians are pulled and twisted into a grotesque shape, a caricature of the genuine article, by those purporting to speak for or about them, or using them for this or that cause. We tend to invent Indians for all seasons; it’s one of the interesting quirks of our culture. (Martin 1987: 24).

There are few Indians who have been invented and re-invented as frequently, and to such varied effects, as Pocahontas. Her image was well under construction by the time William Strachey wrote of the naked youth turning handsprings in Jamestown fort at the age of 11. Certainly, Captain John Smith’s accounts of her life–including the mythically proportioned epic of her saving his life at Werowocomico–were written many years after her death and, most scholars agree, with Smith’s concerns reaching beyond the recording of unvarnished “reality.”

Her portrait from life depicts her in all probability as she appeared at the court of James I when taken for a meeting between Virginian and British royal houses. Wearing her high stiff lace collar and sitting for what must have seemed an interminable time for her portrait, it is little wonder she projected and, through the artist, we detect more than a little discomfort in her eyes. Interestingly, “Pocahontas” is not one of the names that appears on the engraving. Instead her adult name, Matoaca, is given, along with her Christian name, for she was baptized Rebecca. The Lady Rebecca was within her own lifetime a creation of myth-makers including, in no small part I suspect, her own manipulations of the legend. Nobody can separate the life from the legend: not I, and not the authors of this fine catalogue and curators of the wonderful exhibit it refers to.

The authors/curators should be commended for bringing together a very fine series of representations–in historical documents, literature and, especially, in visual arts–of both European and American re-inventions of Pocahontas, “for all seasons,” from the 17th century to the present. The images run the temporal gamut from John White’s sumptuous watercolors of late 16th-century Carolina natives to the picture which, undoubtedly, will form the persistent archetypal image of the Powhatan “princess” for the rising generation: the ochre-skinned, olive-eyed, two-dimensional beauty swept in a blue wind-blown mist, the animation frame which served as the PR advance of Disney’s 1995 movie version of the Pocahontas story.

Many of the images are unabashedly romantic; particularly, but not exclusively, some of those of the 19th century. In some of these works Pocahontas looks not so much like a willing pawn in games of 17th-century colonial politics, but like the Land-o’-Lakes Butter lady, or Howdy Doody’s Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring. Many artists have taken to heart the apparent meaning of Pocahontas’s childhood name, and have depicted her as something of a “wanton,” with clinging deerskin shifts falling from her shoulders, often with a single breast exposed. Others, seeking genealogical authentication from ancestral portraits have pictured Pocahontas as the perfect, if perfectly exotic, English lady. Many of these works, we learn from the text, were made by artists consumed with a passion to recover the “authentic” Pocahontas. Pocahontas has been used to symbolize and defend the South, to lay claims to lofty family status, and to sell tobacco. Each of these, and many, many more “grotesque shapes” into which we have twisted Pocahontas and her legend lay equally eloquent claims to “authenticity.”

The authors tell us, for example, of the quest of painter John Gadsby Chapman, through Britain and America, for portraits, artifacts, and documents which would permit him to bring a detailed authenticity to his 1830s work, “The Baptism of Pocohontas,” which presently hangs in the U. S. Capitol rotunda. Despite this intense will to represent the real, the resulting image is a monumental romance of post-classical space and gesture, mingled with a mock-Renaissance light and palette. The effect to modern eyes is impossibly dreamed-up. Perhaps the most recent attempt to re-interpret the van de Passe portrait is Mary Ellen Howe’s “Pocahontas,” completed in 1994 and shown, I believe, for the first time in this exhibit. Ms. Howe, too, brought a nearly manic intensity to her search for an image of the “real” Pocahontas. She examined the facial structures of a contemporary Rappahannock woman, and studied details of early 17th-century embroidery and beadwork. The result, the authors tell us, “is probably the most accurate portrait of Pocahontas that has been or can be painted” (p. 49). This quest for accuracy, for reality, for authenticity defines the construction of legends, and this book and exhibit are no more, and no less, than a recent and important re-invention of a grand American myth. It is, nonetheless, a smart telling of the story, and one which offers a refreshingly insightful alternative to Disney’s visions.

The authors end their exploration of the life and legend “confident that artists from different eras and cultures will continue to invoke for their own purposes the woman whom poet Vachel Linsey respectfully called ‘our Mother, Pocahontas’.” (p. 51). Artists, more than historians, have reminded us of the many names of Pocahontas: her childhood moniker by which we know her best; her adult name, Matoaca; and her Christian name, Rebecca; and her married name, Mrs. John Rolfe. To me, this fine collection of contributions to the myth underscores that we are all Rebecca’s children. Not Pocahontas, the mythical princess; or Matoaca, the adult Indian who never had a chance to exist as such; but Rebecca, the real woman whose life bridged the divide between two worlds and changed all of our histories forever.

Reference:

Martin, Calvin

1987 In The American Indian and the Problem of History, edited by Calvin Martin, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

The Pisspot in the Museum or What are you looking for? What have you found? What will you do with it now?

This is a mid-late 1990s update of a 1985 presentation.

I have written much about interpretation and critical narrative largely as they apply to method or epistemology. The word “interpretation” has another common meaning in our profession, however: one tied inextricably to story-telling. I am speaking of interpretation as the translation of archaeological findings to the public through museum exhibits, living-history programs, films, magazine articles and popular books. In 1985 Bill Kelso asked me to address colleagues at the Jamestown Archaeology Conference on the subject of “Public Interpretation in Historical Archaeology.” I looked around and found a gaping void. Oh, there were some programs, but, by and large, they were few and far between. My lecture was critical of our profession for failing to understand our broader purpose in society. That lecture, called “The Pisspot in the Museum and Related Tales,” stirred immediate controversy. On the one hand, some colleagues chastised me for advocating that we could dispense with site reports and move straight to producing coffee-table books (which I didn’t do), while others praised me for revealing archaeologists as the blind, incompetent, self-serving dolts we truly are (which I also didn’t do). The lecture was published in the Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, and, after publication, I received even more telephone calls and letters both condemning and applauding my views. I didn’t know then, and do not know now, what all the ruckus was about, but I had obviously touched a nerve.

Today (late 1990s), things have changed quite a bit.. In Virginia and Maryland many—perhaps most—historical archaeologists take considerable pains to tell their stories to the public. Many have made considerable study of the very process of public interpretation, its ethics, styles, and political dimensions. Today, there are many more archaeologists working in domains which lead directly to public interpretation. Our views of history have had some profound effects: particularly, I think, our democratic, inclusive, perspectives have helped illuminate the contributions of a vast diversity of real people to our cultural and national heritage. Perhaps this is one reason why archaeology has managed to survive, and even thrive, in an era of continually decreasing public funding for such “non-essential” pursuits.

Nonetheless, my appraisal remains largely unchanged. We, as a profession, are so caught up in our own concerns and language that, with some prominent exceptions, we don’t know how to talk to the public. It is something we try often to avoid, or to squeeze into our busy schedules and limited budgets. We still don’t understand our purpose in life. We are not contributors of factual knowledge so much as we are collaborators in public discourse. We are not actually solving problems about how human life actually works so much as we are contributing observations about how it can work. We still, for the most part, think that site reports are more important than news releases. We still appear in documentary films dressed in lab coats sitting in front of computers, rather than whooping it up on a site because we found something nifty. We still tend to talk to the public about how we are trying to figure out what life was really like rather than telling fascinating stories about our sites and their occupants which reveal in meaningful ways what life was really like.

People don’t travel hundreds of miles and spend thousands of dollars visiting Williamsburg or Shirley Plantation so they can improve their test scores or predict their neighbor’s behavior. They do it to have fun, to be enriched, to collect memories, to take pictures, to touch something old, to feel rooted. They don’t go to history museums to gather facts. They go to have a good time, to learn something, to reflect, to feel their own humanity, warts and all. We still think of our profession as a social science while the rest of the world looks towards us as part of the entertainment industry. Worse yet, by ignoring or denying the magic we sense in archaeology and stressing instead the fact-finding, calculating, truth-seeking image, we are opting out of our chance—our responsibility—to tell stories that challenge us all to change, that critique our own world’s shortcomings. Nearly any artifact we find on nearly any site could be used, creatively and intelligently, as a nexus drawing our fractured communities together in the bonds of our common experience.

What follows is excerpted and adapted from that old lecture. We’ve come a long way, but we still can use some prodding.

***

As a professor of archaeology I find myself each semester droning liturgically as I repeat the clever aphorisms of modern archaeological truth over and again to students. You’ve heard them before. “It’s not what you find; it’s what you find out.” Or, “archaeologists seek facts, not artifacts.” Of course, we repeat such profundities not only to students, but also to the seemingly endless hordes of fascinated masses who embarrass us with unsophisticated questions about our work, such as, “What are you looking for?” “What have you found?,” and “What will do with it now?.”

Whether our backgrounds and orientations come from history, anthropology, architectural history, art history, or cultural resource management, we archaeologists project our role to be one of lofty scholarly purpose and we often feel, somehow, that we are misunderstood high priests and priestesses trained in an arcane discipline to be keepers of knowledge which cannot fully be appreciated by mere mortals. We work desperately hard at convincing ourselves and others that we float in an ethereal plane far removed from base concerns with artifacts as artifacts. Rather, we insist, it is culture that interests us, that artifacts are only an avenue into comprehension of the complexities of socio-cultural systems, their feedback loops, evolutionary leaps, and normative patterns. We dissociate ourselves as best we can from the stigma of the treasure hunter and relic collector, and it rankles deeply that those who freely indulge themselves in such activities often call themselves archaeologists.

Real archaeologists perform rituals called “digs” in which they unearth relics of the society’s ancestors. These relics, even the most humble of them, are fawned over through a series of dances, incantations, and gestures imbued with great symbolic value. Nearly every scrap of brick and bone and broken dish is thoroughly cleansed. These magically charged objects are then written on in a language understood only by the practitioners themselves— a practice probably derived from Shang Dynasty Oracles or Mesopotamian Scribes. The relics are sorted into special reliquaries which a laymen would, in his ignorance, mistake for Dixie Cups, cigar boxes, and plastic zipper bags. Some are singled out for exceptional treatment by a specialist practitioner known as the Conservator. These objects are electrolyzed, vacuum impregnated, coated, and stabilized. The ritual relics always have the inscrutable black ink inscriptions. Each of these inscriptions is recorded in a catalog which is either a large book understandable only to the initiated or it is a string of electronic digits fed to a nearly ubiquitous idol called The Computer.

Another specialist practitioner is known as the Drafter and he or she spends endless hours making large numbers of mandalas known to the profession as section profiles, site plans, renderings and distribution maps. Archaeologists reproduce these mandalas and write pages of mystical wisdoms about them to be circulated among initiates in secret, limited-circulation journals, or they project them on screens while reciting jargon-laden incantations to gatherings of other archaeological practitioners.

The public knows little or nothing about these goings on, although they readily admit that archaeologists do magical things with relics that no one else really understands. However, the typical lay person believes that archaeologists recover relics because relics have intrinsic magical value. These relics, they suppose, are cleaned and reassembled as necessary, so that they can be placed in public display spaces known as museums. The lay public then goes to these museums on sunny Sunday afternoons, looks at displays of relics, and believes that the arcane knowledge of the archaeologist is transferred to them through a variety of insights gained by a mystical process called interpretation.

It is quite clear that the main reason archaeologists are supported by the public is because of the high value placed on the entertainment, insights and information received from interpretations of displays of artifacts in museums, schools, books and other such places. Since the public loves artifacts, they continue to pay large tithes of the first fruits of their annual harvests to the archaeological priesthood. Despite this, a great many archaeologists are not primarily concerned with public interpretation, especially that which involves the display of artifacts. They maintain that their function is strictly scientific and that they seek facts rather than artifacts.

That this is nonsense can be witnessed on any dig or at any gathering of practitioners. When unusual artifacts are uncovered at sites, there is a great ooing and ahhing. At conferences there are artifacts on display, slides of artifacts prolifically illustrate the delivery of professional papers. Journal articles are liberally peppered with photographs of artifacts. When archaeologists want to be recognized for their work they call press conferences and lead the photographers and video camera operators directly to tables lined with bottles, plates, swords, arrowheads, locks, keys and other relics. If archaeologists were not interested in artifacts why in the world would they spend so much time and effort dealing with them, talking about them, and showing them off to colleagues?

You might well ask why the public does not demand that more popular books be written and more displays prepared and more museums built so that they, too, may participate in the joy of artifacts through the rituals of interpretation. Some members of the lay public have come to learn a sufficient amount of arcane knowledge so that they can go out and conduct “digs” which are not authorized or supervised by the professional priesthood. They spend sunny Sundays at the digs with their friends in the bottle collecting club, the local historical society, the relic collectors’ fraternity, or the archaeological society chapter. Because these individuals are not “properly” initiated, they are sometimes condemned by professional archaeologists as treasure hunters and looters.

These folks, however, boldly display their artifacts. They place them on mantles. They take them to club meetings. Their children take them to schools and practice a laymen’s version of the interpretation ritual called “show and tell” right in their classrooms. They donate them to the local courthouse or library. Sometimes, they give their entire collections to the state, or to a museum or the local university in the mistaken belief that these objects will somehow be magically transformed and appear in interpreted displays for all to see. They are heartbroken to find that their precious artifacts are stuck in cardboard boxes and unceremoniously stashed with thousands of other artifacts in the basements of public buildings.

Due to the relatively small numbers of public interpretation programs, more and more archaeology is viewed as bad medicine and archaeologists are viewed as menaces to the construction of new shopping malls and highways. Even more important may be the growing tendency towards apathy or indifference towards concerns about the past. The public has even taken to electing officials who have a proven record of cutting through the archaeological red tape and bulldozing away sites which are viewed with increasing frequency as mere impediments to progress or threats to private property rights. To counter this trend archaeologists cry out saying we need to “educate” the public about the importance of our profession when, in fact, what we need to do is to simply provide more, and better, interpretation, for that is what the public pays us to do.

Archaeologists are, for the most part, supported by public institutions and/or public funds in order to dig up sites and their artifacts and to interpret these to the public in entertaining and enlightening ways. This proposition is easily tested. Clearly, the most successful archaeological programs in the Chesapeake region, for example, are those which have from the outset defined their purpose largely as one of public interpretation: e.g., Colonial Williamsburg, Historic St. Mary’s City, Alexandria Archaeology, Mt. Vernon, and Monticello. Even Jamestown, for a long time relatively quiescent as a focus of archaeological activity, continues to flourish as an institution of public interpretation spawned by earlier excavations, and is founding a future of re-interpretation based on new excavations.

Many archaeologists have done an exceptional job of public interpretation and, strangely, these are often singled out for quiet ridicule or skepticism by more “purist” practitioners. Colonial Williamsburg’s excavations at Martin’s Hundred are known and highly considered by millions the world over. Ivor Noel Hume’s book about the site is far more important than any technical site report. He is a brilliant interpreter of archaeology and, as such, he enjoys a tremendous popularity. I suggest that he also has been the object of a certain amount of skepticism and jealousy in the profession. I believe that Noel Hume’s dramatic presentations, masterful story-telling and opinionated style are frequently suspected of being a little too unscientific for a proper scholar. By and large we archaeologists do not seem to have the skills, personalities, budgets or proclivities to tell really good stories of our findings to the public, and we mistrust those who do. We truly believe that we are supposed to provide public interpretation, but we find a million excuses not to.

I propose that there are a number of reasons why we often fall short of what I have claimed to be our primary mission in society. As archaeologists we are trained in a wide variety of skills that help us recover artifacts, interpret stratigraphy, analyze data and draw conclusions. We are not, generally, taught how to present our understandings to the public. That is, we are not trained as writers, film-makers, media manipulators, orators, or museologists. If we, ourselves, do not have the skills or personalities to carry out these roles then it seems that we should certainly have such people on our staffs. But, we argue, we do not have enough staff just for the basics. We may not have budget enough to hire excavators, artifact processors, computer programmers, map-makers, managers, surveyors, conservators, drafters, etc. In fact, archaeologists are often used to working on shoe-string budgets and often pride themselves at being the consummate do-it-yourselfers. In addition to a myriad of technical skills, we expect ourselves to be experts in history, anthropology, geology, geography, soils, seeds, bones, architecture, ceramics, carpentry, joinery, coopery, iron-smelting, data-base management, etc.

In fact, we seem to be willing to gain professional or semi-professional expertise in dozens of technical fields while most of us continue to ignore or underplay the skills, time and costs of site and artifact interpretation. We believe that because we can take adequate slides and black-and-white photos of profiles and features that we don’t really need the tools and expertise of a professional photographer who can wield multi-kilo-watt-second studio flash lighting and a 4×5 camera to convert a lowly wine bottle seal or broken teapot into an image of wonder, a mirror for the imagination. (Use comparative pix here of 19t-c pipes photographed by Henry and 19th-c pipes from a tech report)We feel that we can get by with the basic drafting skills to draw our site maps and don’t reach further for the talents and training of an artist to transcend the sites and objects and breathe life into our data. Because we have mastered the jargon and literature of the profession and can write a paper acceptable to a national or international journal, we feel it is of secondary importance to put our knowledge into the clear, engaging prose of the professional writer and to produce books, magazine articles and teaching materials for the lay public.

Most archaeologists are overworked. We often feel we haven’t the time or resources to produce the site reports and professional papers demanded by our academic or professional positions, let alone to engage in “peripheral” work like public interpretation. I would like to suggest that we have our priorities backwards. We labor under feelings of great obligation and responsibility to turn out survey and excavation reports that will be circulated to few, read by fewer, and comprehended by fewer yet. But we feel these reports and papers are needed in order to receive the professional acclaim we require to keep our positions, be awarded tenure, get a raise, or qualify for the next big grant or contract. We justify this enormous amount of time spent producing arcanity as the necessary guarantee that our site’s “data” will be preserved, as if these reports were, themselves, true reflections of reality rather than our own interpretations. If the public read our reports they would be wise to us in an instant. They might well suspect such efforts as a bunch of in-group, self-serving, boundary-maintaining, career-enhancing, authority-establishing nonsense of no special interest to anyone but a handful of other archaeologists belonging to the same citation circle. We are not only cheating the public that supports our work, we are cheating ourselves of a great opportunity to communicate the joy, the love we have for our work.

Interpretation, make no mistake, is creative work. The messages we convey in an interpretive exhibit or well-written, accessible book are messages that will be carried to thousands, or millions. As with all such creative endeavors, we have great latitude in what we communicate. In case there are any doubts about this, I offer a case study which I often assign to my students.

The site is Curles Plantation, home of a succession of Randolphs between 1699 and 1799. By the time of the Revolution there stood here a mansion nearly 100 feet long, with a fine colonnade, a brick kitchen larger than most peoples’ houses, an ice house, a dairy and loft, a laundry, quarters, a storehouse, stables and dozens of other buildings. In the excavations of the 18th-century Curles mansion we encountered a posthole-and-mold feature beneath the former location of the mansion’s central passage. The post, which had been repaired at least once, appeared to have provided a mid-wall support for a massive sill beam, a stain from which could be seen clearly in aerial photos. Beside the beam stain ran a robbed brick foundation. We believe the brick foundation post-dates the post and signals the expansion of the house from a good-size (ca. 40 feet x 26 feet) hall-parlor plan house to that of a massive central-hall plan house more than twice the original length. Within the later of two post molds was stuffed the remains of fine Rhenish chamber pot with incised, painted, and sprig-molded decoration dating from the 1730s or 40s.

The problem I place before my students is this: how can we interpret the chamber pot to the public? I can report with mixed feelings that students don’t generally suggest preparing a large artist’s reconstruction of the pot showing it in actual use in Colonial times (although, perhaps Mr. Noel Hume could suggest an appropriately tasteful work of a Flemish master that would do the trick). Of course, interpreting the “technomic” function—if you will— of the pot could be useful in conveying to a lay audience something of the nature of life without flush toilets.

Communicating a sense of the everyday to foreign cultural situations is one approach, but we may prefer instead to make a political statement. Given the relatively meager material inventories of an average Virginian of the period, we can produce tangible evidence that, in comparison, the masters of Curles Plantation did indeed have very fine pots to piss in. We may even stretch the evidence to suggest the demeaning barbarity of slavery by illustrating servants emptying a master’s pot. Such an image emblazoned itself on my mind when, at the age of 12 or so, I first visited Monticello and its famous tunnel said to have been used for just such a purpose.

Perhaps your approach might be a technical one, showing the archaeological reasoning behind the reconstruction of the house-building sequence by using the pot to provide a terminus post quem to the filling of the post-mold. Such an approach may involve illustrating very similar dated pots from other sites or museum collections. Another archaeologist may choose to use this pot as a fine example of decorative arts and may illustrate the methods used in its potting and firing. Another may feel that here is tangible evidence of the socio-political and economic relationships between the mother country, the colonies and the Rhineland: the world-system at work. The pot may be augmented by a “scratch blue” copy from later in the 18th century to show the rise of British industry and to illustrate the effects of Colonial trade restrictions which helped lead directly to the Revolution. This same line of reasoning could be expanded to include stoneware pots of local manufacture that are abundant at Curles and other sites in the area in the years immediately following Independence. The Curles property also contains the remains of numerous salt-glazed stoneware kilns and tons of kiln furniture and wasters: potentially excellent illustrations of the rise of post-Revolutionary American industrial independence and the victory of entrepreneurship and capitalism. Of course, we could choose not to use the pot in an interpretive exhibit at all. That, we may decide, would place a vulgar emphasis on artifacts.

However we interpret the “meaning” of that pot, we are communicating directly our experience, our fascination, our own communion with the ancestors. We are completing the responsibilities of our positions and, if we are successful, we are providing incentives to the public to continue to maintain the support of archaeology—or even to increase that support. We might even find that, through exhibits, pamphlets, films, and popular books we are consummating our own desires of archaeology by doing what we love to do, sharing the experience with others, and receiving a certain satisfying modicum of congratulations and glory that it is not possible to achieve by simply publishing another journal article.

We must not continue to excavate sites without providing for public interpretation. We must not continue to look down on those of our colleagues who bring their findings to the public through the press or other means as somehow being unscientific publicity hounds. At the heart of the word “publicity” is the word “public,” and we are not so much shamans and priests as we are entertainers and educators, stewards of the public’s relics and interpreters of the public heritage. The more we appreciate that fact and exercise the responsibilities of interpretation, the more we will continue to witness a true public appreciation of archaeology and archaeologists: an appreciation that will pay real benefits of job security, increased budgets and well-deserved pats on the back.

Looking for My Past

I need some help from old friends and colleagues. When I retired from my position at VCU, it was necessary for me to simply walk away without looking back, without my files, and without my library–for a variety of reasons that don’t matter now. However, that means that I no longer have copies of most of the professional materials I wrote during my 28 years working in archaeology.

I am now trying to track down a large number of publications, conference papers, and project reports because I would like to make my contributions more widely available to current and future generations of archaeologists and historians. I am especially interested in copies of old conference papers, because I know I can usually find published pieces in libraries or online.

The following is a list of my professional works taken from my last C-V, dated 1999. Those marked with an asterisk are ones that I do have. All the rest I am looking for. If you have or know where I might find any of these, please let me know. I’d love to borrow hardcopies or pay for photocopies, etc. I will certainly appreciate your help!

Thanks,

Dan (danmouerATverizonDOTnet)


*Unpublished manuscript : Digging Sites and Telling Stories: Essays in Interpretive Historical Archaeology.

*Unpublished, unfinished manuscript: “In despight of the enemie”: The material culture of Jordan’s Journey. Editor of a collection of 12 papers on a major research project I directed.

Publications

*1999 “Colono” Pottery, Chesapeake Pipes, and “Uncritical Assumptions.” In I, Too, Am America: Recent Studies in African American Archaeology, edited by Theresa Singleton. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville. Senior author with Mary Ellen N. Hodges, Stephen Potter, Susan L. Henry, Ivor Noël Hume, Dennis Pogue, Martha McCartney and Thomas Davidson.

*1998a “The ‘Mansions’ of Curles Plantation, ca. 1630-1860.” Henrico Country Historical Society Journal, Spring.

1998b “The Archaeology of Slavery.” Encyclopedia of Slavery, New York: MacMillan Reference.

*1998c “Archaeology Through Narrative: Captaine Thomas Harris, Gent.” Historical Archaeology, Volume 32, Spring 1998. Tucson: Society for Historical Archaeology.

1995 A Pocahontas for Every Season: Review of the 400th Anniversary Exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society. William and Mary Quarterly, Institute of Early American History, Williamsburg. Winter 1995

1995 “…the place where the pale ran”: Making history in the New Bermudas. Journal of the Chesterfield County Historical Society, Spring-Summer 1995.

1993 “A Parcel of Lumber,” “UFOs,” and “a Lot of Iron, Stone and Earthen”: Archaeology and Kitchen Interpretation. Food History News, Winter 1993.

1993 “Root Cellars” Revisited. African-American Archaeology, Spring 1993.

*1993: Chesapeake Creoles: An Approach to Colonial Folk Culture. In The Archaeology of Seventeenth- Century Virginia. Edited by Dennis J. Pogue and Carter Hudgins. Special Publication of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1992 The Confederate Navy Yard on Richmond’s Waterfront. In The Bulletin of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Volume XI (1), Spring 1992.

1991 Digging a Rebel’s Homestead: Nathaniel Bacon’s fortified plantation called “Curles,” In Archaeology magazine.

1991 New discoveries at Jordan’s Point. In Notes on Virginia, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Richmond.

*1990 The Formative Transition in Virginia. In The Late Archaic and Early Woodland Periods in Virginia Prehistory, edited by J. Mark Wittkofski and Michael Barber. Special Publication of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1990 A Review of Prehistoric Cultures of the Delmarva Peninsula by Jay F. Custer. For the Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology.

1989 The Excavation of Nathaniel Bacon’s Curles Plantation. In The Henrico County Historical Society Magazine.

1989 Beyond Fluted Points: Prospects for Paleoindian Studies in Virginia in the 1990’s. In Paleoindian Research in Virginia, edited by J. Mark Wittkofski and Theodore R. Reinhart. Special Publication 19, Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1986 The Thunderjar in the Museum and Related Tales. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1985 Life on the Swamp: Cultural ecology and exploitation of the Chickahominy in history and prehistory. In Research in Action, Virginia Commonwealth University.

1985 An Excavation of the Point of Fork Site (44Fv19), Fluvanna County, Virginia. Bulletin of the Fluvanna County Virginia Historical Society.

1984 A Review of VCU Archaeology. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1984 A Review of Monacan ethnohistory and archaeology. In Piedmont Archaeology, ed. by Mark Wittkofski, VHLC, Richmond.

1983 Social models: information, organization and exchange in regional research designs. In Upland Archaeology in the East, Barber and Tolley, eds., U.S. Forest Service.

1982 Region, ecosystem and world system: a role for archaeology in development anthropology. Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Problems of Development of the Underprivileged Communities in the Third World Countries. Indian Anthropological Association, New Delhi.

1981 The Elk Island Tradition: an Early Woodland regional society in the James River piedmont. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia (senior author with R.L.Ryder and E.G.Johnson).

1981 Powhatan and Monacan settlement hierarchies. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1981 Down to the river in boats: the Late Archaic/Transitional in the Middle James River Valley. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia (senior author with R.L. Ryder and E.G.Johnson).

1977 Fission tracks: invisible clocks for the archaeologist. Artifacts, Vol.3. American Indian Archaeological Institute.

1976 The direct dating of cultural lithic material. Debitage, the Student Archaeological Society Newsletter, Vancouver.

Selected Monographs and technical reports

1996 An Excavation at the Cary Peyton Armistead House Site, Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Va. Report prepared for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

1996 The Archaeology of Court End, A Neighborhood in the City of Richmond, Virginia. Virginia Commonwealth University Archaeological Research Center.

1995 Jacobs House: Archaeological Evaluations of an Underground Railroad Site. Report prepared for the Office of Planning and Development, Virginia Commonwealth University.

1994 Bermuda Hundred. Nomination report for the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register. Presently under review by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

1994 African Americans in Petersburg, Virginia: Historic Contexts and Resources for Preservation Planning, Research, and Interpretation. Report prepared for The City of Petersburg Department of Planning and Community Development. Project Director and senior author with Mary Ellen Bushey, Ann Creighton-Zollar, Lucious Edwards, Jr. and Robin L. Ryder.

*1994 Jordan’s Journey, Volume III: Preliminary Report on the 1992-1993 Excavations at Archaeological Site 44PG307. Report prepared for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Senior author with Douglas C. McLearen.

1994 Duncan Road: An Evaluation of Archaeological Sites along Route 670 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. Report prepared for the Virginia Department of Transportation. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Senior author with Douglas C. McLearen. R. Taft Kiser, Christopher P. Egghart, and Beverly J. Binns.

*1993 Falls Plantation and the Confederate Navy Yard: An Archaeological Assessment of Richmond’s Eastern Waterfront. Report prepared for the William Byrd Branch, Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Senior author with R. Taft Kiser. VCU Archaeological Research Center.

*1993 Jordan’s Journey, Volume II: A Preliminary Report on the 1992 Excavations at Archaeological Sites 44PG302, 44PG303, and 44PG307. Report prepared for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Co-author with Douglas C. McLearen.

1993 An Archaeological Evaluation of the Hanover County Poor Farm Site. Report prepared for the Virginia Department of Transportation. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Senior author with Christopher P. Egghart.

*1992 Rocketts: The Archaeology of the Rocketts #1 Site, Technical Report. Report in 3 volumes prepared for the Virginia Department of Transportation. Senior author and editor, with contributions by Frederick T. Barker, Beverly Binns, R. Taft Kiser, Leslie Cohen and Duane Carter. VCU Archaeological Research Center.

1992 Jordan’s Journey: A Preliminary Report on Archaeology at Site 44Pg302, Prince GeorgeCounty, Virginia, 1990-1991. Report prepared for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Senior author with Douglas C. McLearen, R. Taft Kiser, Christopher P. Egghart, Beverly J. Binns, and Dane T. Magoon.

*1992 Magnolia Grange: Archaeology of the Courthouse Plantation. Final Report on a Volunteer Archaeological Project, 1988-1990. Chesterfield County Historical Society, Chesterfield, Va.

1991 The Reverend Samuel Davies and the Archaeology of Polegreen Church, Hanover County, Virginia. Nomination report for the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register.

1991 “Jordan’s Journey”: an Interim Report on the Excavation of a Protohistoric Indian and Early 17th Century Colonial Occupation in Prince George County, Virginia. Report presented to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Co-author with Douglas C. McLearen.

1991 A Cultural Resource Survey for a Proposed Electric Power Generating Facility in Cumberland County, Virginia (2 volumes). Report prepared for Virginia Power, Inc. by Virginia Commonwealth University Archaeological Research Center.

1989 Archaeology in Henrico, Volume VI: Archaeology and History at Deep Bottom. Special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

1986 Prehistoric Cultural Occupations at City Point, Hopewell, Virginia. Report prepared for National Park Service Middle Atlantic Region, Philadelphia.

*1986 Archaeology in Henrico, Volume III: Phase 2 and Phase 3 investigations in the Upper Chickahominy and Upham Brook basins. Special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

*1986 Archaeology in Henrico, Volume II: An introduction to Phase 2 and Phase 3 archaeological investigations of the Henrico Regional Wastewater Treatment System. Special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

1986 (Editor and senior author) Archaeology in Henrico, Volume IV: Phase 2 and Phase 3 investigations on the Chickahominy Swamp and Fourmile Creek. Special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

1985 Archaeological Resources of the Richmond Metropolitan Area: Richmond Metropolitan Area Archaeological Survey (Volumes 1 and 2). Senior author with W. Johnson and F. Gleach. Special publication of the Virginia Division of Historic Landmarks and Virginia Commonwealth University.

*1980 Archaeology in Henrico: Investigations by the Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology,Virginia Commonwealth University, Vol. 1. Senior author with R.R. Hunter, E. G.Johnson, L.W. Lindberg, and J.R. Saunders; special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

 

Papers delivered at professional meetings, and selected public addresses

*1999 Revisiting Mapps Cave: Amerindian and Probable Slave Occupations of a Sinkhole and Cavern, St. Philip Parish, Barbados. Paper to be presented to the International Congress for Caribbean Archaeology, Grenada, July 1999. Senior author with Frederick H. Smith

*1998 A Conversation in One Act, Three Scenes and Two Centuries. Paper presented in the symposium “Archaeologists and Storytellers II,” at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Atlanta. Co-author with Ywone Edwards-Ingram

*1997 The True Story of an Ancient Planter, Captaine Thomas Harris, as Related by his Sonne. Paper presented in the symposium “Archaeologists as Storytellers,” at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Corpus Christi

1996 Urban Arrowheads: Virginia Commonwealth University’s Quest for the Prehistory of Central Virginia. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

*1995 Digging Sites and Telling Stories: History, Narrative, and the Culture Problem. Plenary Lecture, Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Washington, D. C.

*1994 Rebecca’s Children: Myths and the Indian in Virginia’s History. Banner Lecture Series, Virginia Historical Society.

*1994 Pink, Beige and Shades of Grey: Categories, Cultures, and the Problem of the Common. Invited keynote lecture for the conference on “Common Culture,” Historic Petersburg Foundation, June 1994.

1994 “…we are not the veriest beggars in the world:” The People of Jordan’s Journey. Presented at the Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Vancouver, B.C., January 1994.

1993 An Update on the Curles Plantation and Jordan’s Journey Projects. Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Jamestown.

1993 Rocketts: Community and Diversity on Richmond’s Early Waterfront. Paper presented to the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Kansas City.

1993 “A Parcel of Lumber,” “UFOs,” and “a Lot of Iron, Stone and Earthen”: Archaeology and Kitchen Interpretation. Paper presented in the colloquium To Have or Have Not: Interpreting Historic Kitchens, sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Virginia, Richmond.

*1993 Bermuda Hundred: Preserving a National Treasure. Oral presentation made to the Chesterfield County Historical Society at Bermuda Hundred.

1993 George Washington’s Indian Clothes: Native Americans and Colonists in 18th-Century Virginia. Presented at the annual meeting of the National Board of Regents, Kenmore Association, Fredericksburg.

1992 Chesapeake Creoles: An Approach to Colonial Folk Culture. Paper presented at the 1992 Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Columbian Quincentennial, Kingston, Jamaica.

1992 Jordan’s Journey: An Early Seventeenth-Century Fortified Plantation Village and Weyanoke Indian Settlement on the James River, Prince George County, Virginia. Paper presented to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Ocean City, Md.

1992 Curles, Rocketts, and Jordan’s Journey: A progress report on three major excavations. Paper presented to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Fredericksburg.

1991 The “Upper Parts” of James River in the Virginia Company Period, 1607-1624: Archaeology at Jordan’s Journey and Bermuda Hundred. Paper presented to the Henries Foundation Conference, Richmond.

1991 Three Centuries on the James: Archaeology at Rocketts, Curles, and Jordan’s Journey. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Roanoke.

*1991 Rebecca’s children: a critique of old and new myths concerning Indians in Virginia’s history and archaeology. Paper presented in the symposium “Is Historical Archaeology White?,” at the Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Richmond.

*1991 Postmodern archaeology: Tacking along a paradigmatic sea change. Plenary Introduction, 1991 Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Richmond.

1991 “My Father Told Me. I Tell My Son”: Native American ethnicity and education in Virginia since 1607. Invited lecture presented in the series “To Lead and to Serve,” sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Humanities and Public Policy and the Jamestown Settlement Museum, Williamsburg.

1991 Jordan’s Journey and Curles: the 1991 season’s finds. Paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Washington’s Birthplace National Landmark.

1991 Historical Archaeology in Hopewell and Prince George. Presented to the Hopewell – Prince George Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

*1991 Chesapeake Creoles: approaches to Colonial folk culture. Paper presented at the Council of Virginia Archaeologists symposium on the Archaeology of 17th Century Virginia (May 1991).

1990 Progress reports: Jordan’s Journey, Rocketts Port, and Curles Plantation excavations. paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeology Fall Conference.

1990 “Jordan’s Journey”: a Progress Report on the Excavation of a Protohistoric and Early 17th Century Colonial Occupation in Prince George County, Virginia. (Co-author with Douglas C. McLearen). Presented at the Annual Conference of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1990 Chesapeake Pipes: another perspective? Paper presented to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference.

1990 “An Ancient Seat Called Curles”: The Archaeology of a James River Plantation:

1984-1989. Paper presented to the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Tucson.

1990 Two centuries of Late Woodland Archaeology in the Virginia Piedmont. Overview paper: Virginia Prehistoric Archaeology Symposium No. 4, Roanoke, Va.

*1989 The Rebel and the Renaissance: Nathaniel Bacon at Curles Plantation. Paper delivered to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware.

1989 The Curles Plantation Project at the Five Year Mark: Retrospect and Prospect. Paper delivered to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Jamestown.

1989 Middle Woodland II Typology and Chronology in the Lower James River Valley of Virginia. Paper presented to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del. (co-author with Douglas C. McLearen).

1988 Nathaniel Bacon’s brick house and associated structures, Curles Plantation, Henrico County, Va.; Presented in the symposium “Varieties of the Virginia House: New Archaeological Perspectives on Domestic Architecture in Late 17th Century Chesapeake.” Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Hampton.

1988 From ‘house’ to ‘home’ in concept and context; opening remarks for the symposium: “Varieties of the Virginia House: New Archaeological Perspectives on Domestic Architecture in Late 17th Century Chesapeake” (symposium organizer). Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Hampton.

1987 The Lullabye of Broadspears: the Archaic-Woodland transition in the James River Valley. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation.

1987 Farming, Foraging and Feasting: Powhatan Foodways and their influences on English Virginia. Presented to the Foodways Research Planning Conference Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, April 1987.

*1987 Everything in its place: Locational models and distributions of elites in colonial Virginia. Paper delivered to the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Savannah, Ga.

1986 Town and country in the Curles of the James: geographic and social place in the evolution of James River society. (Senior author with Jill C. Wooley and Frederic W. Gleach) Paper

presented at the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehoboth Beach, Del.

1985 What are you looking for? What have you found? What will you do with it now? Invited address delivered to the Jamestown Archaeological Conference, sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Jamestown.

1985 The Occaneechee Connection: social networks and ethnic complexity at the Fall Line in the 16th and 17th centuries. Presented to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1985 Beyond exchange: ceramics and the analysis of political and social systems. Delivered in the symposium “Pottery Technology: New Ideas and Approaches,” Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association.

1984 Trading for a newer model. Invited discussion paper for the Symposium “Trade and Exchange in Middle Atlantic Prehistory,” Mid-Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehoboth Beach, Del.

1984 Excavations at Bermuda Hundred: the 1984 season. Presented to the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, Annapolis, Md.

1984 Bermuda Hundred: from frontier fort to planters port (senior author with F.W. Bleach). Presented to the Mid-Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1983 The Henrico Project: 10,000 years in the swamp. Opening remarks and overview presentation for afternoon symposium on “The Henrico Project” (symposium organizer). Annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1983 Floral remains, land-use and subsistence at the Reynolds-Alvis Site (co-author with F. Gleach). Annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1983 Camps on Four Mile Creek: Late Archaic through Late Woodland land-use in a small stream valley (co-author with R.L. Ryder). Annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1982 Region, ecosystem and world system: a role for archaeology in development anthropology. Delivered to the International Symposium on the Problems of Development of the Underprivileged Communities in the Third World Countries, New Delhi.

1982 Patches and plains: optimal foraging and the adoption of sedentism in the Middle Atlantic. Delivered to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1982 Discussion and opening remarks: symposium on “The Early Woodland and the Adoption of Sedentism in the Middle Atlantic” (symposium organizer). Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1981 The Elk Island Tradition: an Early Woodland regional society in the James River piedmont. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Ocean City, Md. (senior author with R.L.Ryder and E.G.Johnson).

1981 Temper! Temper!: Prospects for compositional and materials science approaches to ceramics analysis in the Henrico Project. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Roanoke. (co-author with Gordon J. Bronitsky).

1981 Social models: information, organization and exchange in regional research designs. An invited discussion paper presented to the Conference on Upland Archaeology in the East, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, Council of Virginia Archaeologists, and James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.

1981 Site and society: a polite assault on the “Gardner Method.” Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Ocean City, Md. (co-author with R.L.Ryder).

1980 Regional research designs: a social approach. Invited position paper for the “Regional Research Design” symposium, annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Abingdon, Va.

1980 Down to the river in boats: the Late Archaic/Transitional in the middle James River valley. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Dover, Del.

1980 Barbarians and hillbillies: social perceptions and regional boundaries in the Late Woodland societies of eastern and central Virginia. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, Albany, N.Y.

1979 The James River Survey: research methods and preliminary findings. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Virginia Beach, Va.

1979 The evolution of historic settlement patterns in Henrico County, Virginia. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del. (coauthor with L.W. Lindberg).

1979 Regional ecology and settlement near the falls of the James River, Virginia. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1978 Up Stony Creek without a cord-wrapped paddle: ceramic variation in the James River piedmont and coastal plain. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Arlington, Va.

1977 Temporal, functional and social interpretations of Paleoindian point variation in eastern North America. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, Richmond, Va.

1975 The application of system theory to models of cultural evolution. Presented to the annual meeting of the AKD Sociological Honor Society, Richmond, Va.

1975 Early man in Eastern North America: a regional approach. Delivered in a colloquium, Simon Fraser University Department of Archaeology, Burnaby, B.C.

Can there be a Pragmatic Archaeology?

Comments on Carol McDavid’s  “Archaeology as Cultural Critique: Pragmatism and the Archaeology of a Southern United States Plantation”

Originally published in 1999 in Philosophy and Archaeological Practice, Perspectives for the 21st Century, edited by Cornelius Holtorf and Hakan Karlsson, University of Goteburg Press.

 

The current movement to make the social sciences “hermeneutical” rather than Galilean makes a reasonable, Deweyan point if it is taken as saying: narratives as well as laws, redescriptions as well as predictions, serve a useful purpose in helping us deal with the problems of society. In this sense, the movement is a useful protest against the fetishism of old-fashioned, “Behaviorist” social scientists who worry about whether they are being “scientific.” But the protest goes too far when it waxes philosophical and begins to draw a principled distinction between man and nature, announcing that the ontological difference dictates a methodological difference.

Richard Rorty, The Consequences of Pragmatism, pp. 198-199

In her essay, Carol McDavid has taken on a the very difficult (and paradoxical) task of describing the ways in which a philosophy known for its non-foundationalism can serve as a foundation for archaeological practice. Pragmatism is a peculiarly American philosophy that has many different colorations; however, certain important threads are found through the 19th and 20th century writings of Pragmatists. Some of these threads certainly appeal to present-day sentiments among many humanists and social scientists. These threads tend to be nondualist, anti-foundationalist, and anti-essentialist. Pragmatism bridges so many of the dualities and paradoxes of social sciences, in part by discrediting or ignoring them.

The realist-idealist debate, in the eyes of a Pragmatist, is a kind of fruitless academic pissing contest that cannot be won. The endless worrying about whether our conceptions and models of Reality adequately conform to “real” Reality might be Pragmatically characterized as a kind of mental masturbation that goes nowhere and does nothing, and so is not really worth the energy put into it except as entertainment. To the Pragmatist, “the proof is in the pudding.” As McDavid asserts, language is important to Pragmatists inasmuch as language and meaning are tied to action, and so McDavid finds herself engaged in the test of a true Pragmatist. She has to advance her profession and career, or else she cannot hope to continue to engage in the socially and personally meaningful action she has set out for herself. But advancing her career means writing essays in compilations of essays on archaeological theory…works which (as a class) by their narrowness, their lack of social effect, their mission of self-aggrandizement, are all contrary to, perhaps detracting from, McDavid’s noble goals of enlivening a broader conversation about archaeology and its subjects. Her essay uses words like “praxis,” “Rorty” and “anti-essentialist,” and these are certainly not words in the normal vocabulary of Brazoria, Texas.

This dilemma is exactly the sort of nut the Pragmatic philosopher loves to crack…for it is a false dilemma based on the dualizing of language for “professionals” versus “the public,” and similar dichotomies such as “theory versus practice,” and “data versus interpretation.” We tend to create such contrasting pairs and then cling to the notion that we can value one or the other poles of the duality, but never both…nor can we work fluidly along a dynamic continuum between them. And so we see dilemmas where they needn’t be. How can McDavid be a “scientist” concerned with what is real if she is being a “humanist” concerned with such fuzzy, “subjective” ideas as “voices,” and “conversations?”  The “Realist” shouts “She can’t!!!…either it’s politics or science…it can’t be both!!”  The “Idealist” shouts “Screw science…archaeology for the People!!” The Relativist shouts (or mutters) “Well in this situation it’s like this, but in the other situation, well, then, it’s different, so it all depends…” The Pragmatist doesn’t concern herself. She stays away from such fruitless conversations, and does what she does in order to advance her goals.

While this sounds self-serving, McDavid correctly points out that, for more than a century, Pragmatists have tended to exhibit inclusive and empathetic perspectives and passions. This seeming paradox probably proceeds from non-dualist thinking. Pragmatists are less likely to divide themselves from the rest of the world. A Pragmatist archaeologist, like McDavid, is likely to identify with or care about or feel responsible to communities beyond her own group (whether her “group” at any moment be a racial, educational, class, or professional category). Does this mean that Pragmatism is simply another form of Leftist practice like neo-Marxist Critical Theory? Not at all. While Pragmatists may often seem “liberal,” there is nothing in the philosophy that dictates that this must be the case. Richard Rorty (1993) notes that he has been criticized by the Right for his bleeding-heart liberalism, while Leftists accuse him of being a heartless Neo-Conservative for his refusal to join in the “America Sucks sweepstakes.” Pragmatists, it seems, are bound to be characterized by their politicized colleagues as unprincipled fence-sitters, changelings or opportunists.

In the realm of American politics, for example, Bill Clinton reasonably well exemplifies Pragmatism. What is Clinton’s “philosophy?”  Many would argue he has none, that he is a shameless, poll-watching opportunist. And yet from the beginning he has pursued countless opportunities to break down barriers of race, gender, age, handicap or other categorizations that traditionally lead to exclusion in the halls of power. Clinton does not write, talk or debate the idealized rightness or wrongness of his viewpoint, he simply acts in the best way he can to achieve a goal he believes in with the tools at hand for the moment. As a result he is hated by ideologues on the Left and on the Right. Rorty “enjoys” a similar notoriety among some scholars for his unwillingness to argue about the primary, essential nature of any specific position in morality or politics. To some casual observers, McDavid’s actions and wishes to incorporate a multitude of perspectives into her interpretive frame, and to conceive archaeology more democratically than its elitist origins would once have allowed, may make her appear positively Gramsciian in her approach. But there is a difference. She may hold dear some liberal moral convictions, but she has not elevated them to either a theory or a method that is based upon any particular socio-political assumptions.

One of the most important points McDavid’s essay makes (far more important, I believe, than any statements about Pragmatism) is the critical insight concerning the patronizing arrogance that often accompanies archaeological “presentation” and “education.” I invariably cringe when I hear colleagues speak about “educating the public;” they inevitably mean “indoctrinating the public.” What’s more, McDavid deserves credit for taking this insight beyond some sort of purely academic critique. She is not simply substituting a “conversation” word-game for an “education” word-game. In fact it is her actual experience in trying to hear, work with, and participate in an interpretive community that includes descendents of the people who occupied the Levi-Jordan quarters—or others like them–that provides the insight in the load carried by traditional approaches to “educating the public about archaeology.” It is her action–and the actions of her fellow interpreters–that leads her to glimpse the face of the beast of Relativism…and to stare it down. How, she asks, do we deal with others’ “realities” if they directly contradict our own.  How does she stare down this monster–the one that scares the britches off all the hard-science set? She says she’ll deal with things on a “case-by-case basis.” That is, she’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it. She won’t allow imaginary “logical conclusions” to become practical limitations to reasonable action. Good for her.

Recently, a traditional scholar made a genuine arse of himself at a public lecture. The anthropologist spoke of narratives of African slaves in the “Middle Passage,” and acquitted himself and his long and productive career brilliantly…until the question-and-answer period following the lecture. An African American in the audience asked for the speaker’s opinion about Ivan van Sertima’s (1976) thesis that Africans arrived in the new World long before Europeans, and that they affected the early civilizations of Mesoamerica. Many Afrocentrists are, quite understandably, attracted to van Sertima’s ideas. This lecturer blew off the questioner, and the whole notion of Africans in Precolumbian America. He simply refused to get into a discussion and, in so many words, piled They Came Before Columbus on the trash-heap of fringe-zone archaeological books like Chariots of the Gods (von Daniken 1999). I don’t believe–and the majority of Americanist archaeologists don’t believe–the evidence warrants concluding there were Africans in Pre-Columbian America. I also feel that archaeologists should grasp every opportunity to share their knowledge and insights with others, but it is nothing but arrogant and idiotic to simply cast aside a work or an idea that has such a grip on so many people. It does not help provide a better understanding of the lives of Africans in America–a task to which this scholar has dedicated his life’s work–and it simply reinforces a widespread notion that scholarship is insensitive, irrelevant, elitist tripe. Needless to say, I prefer McDavid’s approach. She is likely to have much greater success evolving a body of interpretation that is meaningful to all of her communities–archaeologists as well as Levi-Jordan neighbors.

As I mentioned early on, the “proof is in the pudding.” I didn’t feel I could comment upon Carol McDavid’s essay without taking time to examine what the essay is about. This is represented, at least in part, by the web site she has created for the interpretation of the Levi-Jordan Plantation project (http://www.webarchaeology.com). I cannot help but wonder how the community she identifies with actually relates to this web site  (or if they do at all), but it is a very good beginning, and I hope others will take a long look at it.

I am fond of the newer flavors of Pragmatism—those of Rorty and Nancy Fraser, especially. They present us with a way of thinking and acting that accommodates postmodernist, poststructuralist, feminist, Marxist, antiracist, and other critiques of the traditional perspectives spawned by the Enlightenment. And yet, this Pragmatism does not require us to subscribe to a party line, or believe in the emptiness of every thought or endeavor, or to embrace the equivalence of all opinions. Can a view of the world that believes in not promoting foundational beliefs serve as a foundation for archaeological practice? Sure it can. Pragmatists don’t worry about such paradoxes.

Richard Rorty

  1. Consquences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  1. “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids,” In Mark Edmundson, ed., Wild Orchids and Trotsky: Messages from American Universities, pp. 289-305. New York: Penguin Books.

Van Sertima

1976 They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America. New York: Random House.

Von Daniken

1999 Chariots of the Gods: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. (reprint edition). New York Berkley Publishing Group.