Barbara J. Little (2007) relates the story of a runaway people

Recently I’ve been reading Historical Archaeology: Why the Past Matters (2007) by Barbara J. Little. I began by reading the second paragraph on p. 111 which notes that Charles Orser and Pedro Funari have identified and investigated several historical sites where fugitive communities used to live in the capital of Macaco, also known as Serra da Barriga (Potbelly Hill), in Brazil.

Little notes that the continuous state of warfare that fugitive settlements lived under “affected the location of the settlements and daily life. For example, all of the sites are located strategically in relation to the River Mundau [in northeastern Brazil], which colonial troops traveled on when they attacked, as they did frequently.” The paragraph that follows describes archaeological evidence, including three categories of ceramics, that Orser and Funari have investigated in their study of the communities.

I next read the opening of Chapter 20, “African American Life,” where the Macaco passage (p. 111) appears. The author notes that since the 1970s the archaeology of African American life has become an essential and prominent part of historical archaeology in the United States. She notes as well that slavery was part of everyday life in the northern United States as well as in the South.

Much archaeological research on African American history focuses on the context of enslavement. Chapter 20, however, focuses on enslaved people who gained their freedom. People in this category made their way to fugitive Maroon communities (settlements established by fugitives) or to free states or other countries.

The large and long-lived (1605 to 1694) kingdom of Palmares (the name means “palm groves” in Portuguese) in Brazil is described in this chapter as an extraordinary example of a Maroon settlement, which emerged as a strong threat to Portuguese and Dutch colonial powers. The Portuguese attacked Palmares for decades, finally destroying it and executing its leaders.

Other fugitive settlements are also mentioned including Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, created in 1738, “the first legally sanctioned free black town in the United States,” and Fort Mose north of St. Augustine, Florida, established by the Spanish for those fleeing British slavery. The latter African-Spanish settlement ended in 1763 when blacks evacuated with the Spanish to Cuba.

Initial investigations of Fort Mose – by a historian and an archaeologist – served to verify the site and its physical setting. The idea that free African Americans contributed to the defense and culture of St. Augustine is for some “an unfamiliar and difficult concept.” Such difficulty can be accounted for by the fact that “traces on the landscape – whole towns – have been erased from memory.”

The author describes four different places in the United States to illustrate a concerted effort to regain the history of free black life. Among the events described, with regard to these places, is the displacement of an African American community in the 1960s in Indiana during expansion of a university. “Much of the cleared land simply became parking lots,” Little notes, “a fate that preserved much of the extensive archaeological record.” A project combining oral history and archaeology has reclaimed the history of this erased neighbourhood.

In the concluding chapter Barbara J. Little notes that questions and questioning as a path of discovery can involve learning from the past, and from the ideas we may have accepted about the past, “so that we might build a compassionate present.” She also seeks to leave the book “somewhat open-ended and resist the urge to wrap the threads too neatly.” She closes with quotations from the final panels at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa which she visited in August 2005. Among the quotes: “History is not just the story you read. It is the one you write. It is the one you remember or denounce or relate to others.”

Updates

A Feb. 11, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Eric Foner Wins Historical Society Book Prize.”

The opening paragraphs read:

Eric Foner, the much-decorated Columbia University historian, will take on the title American Historian Laureate in April when the New-York Historical Society presents him with its annual American History Book Prize for “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.”

The book, published by W.W. Norton, reconstructs the clandestine efforts by black and white abolitionists to help fugitive slaves passing through New York, a city with deep connections to the Southern cotton trade and the textile industry. The book also takes a broader view, exploring how these slaves and their allies in the Underground Railroad, while small in number, powerfully shaped national politics, playing a major role in sectional conflict and the coming of the Civil War.

“Eric Foner’s riveting, inspiring story of fugitive slaves and the individuals who helped them to reach freedom contributes to our understanding of the history of Amercian slavery,” Louise Mirrer, the society’s president and chief executive said in a statement. The book’s emphasis on New York and the North as centers both of abolitionist activity and pro-slavery sympathies, she added, also “echoes our institution’s rich museum and library collections and programming,” including its major 2005 exhibition “Slavery in New York.”

[End of excerpt]

An Aug. 14, 2019n Guardian article is entitled: “Point Comfort: where slavery in America began 400 years ago.”

 

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