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Belle Grove continues archaeological investigations at slave quarter sites

MIDDLETOWN – Archaeology at the slave quarter sites on the property of Belle Grove Plantation will continue throughout the summer under the leadership of returning archaeologist Matthew Greer.

Field research began in late May and is scheduled to continue through Aug. 10. Work will include excavating previously identified burned house sites, areas surrounding the dwelling and the locations of several more possible house sites, trash deposits and pit features.

Kristen Laise, executive director, said that field research is integral in learning, understanding and talking about the  individuals who were enslaved at Belle Grove in the late 18th to early 19th century. To date, Laise said everything they have learned about the day-to-day life on the plantation has come from the white perspective. This is their opportunity to uncover the truths below the soil and share the story of those enslaved on the property. 

“I like to talk about the research we’re doing and the three components that really make up this project: contextual, physical research and archaeology,” Laise said. “Contextual helps us understand the underlying story that we may or may not understand. The physical landscape tells us the things we can see but we’re limited to what’s above the soil. Archaeology allows us to bring it full circle.”

Archaeological research shows that from 1783 to 1851, the Hite family at Belle Grove Plantation enslaved 276 Africans to labor raising grains and livestock, doing various household tasks and operating a grist mill, sawmill, distillery, lime kiln, quarry and blacksmith shop.

“font-weight: 400;”>”For the last two years we’ve essentially been playing battleship with this site,” Greer said. “We’ve gathered enough rough and photographic evidence that shows us this area was occupied by Hite’s slaves. Now we’re trying to discern how they lived and what ultimately happened to them through the artifacts that we discover below the soil.”

Greer is a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University and for the last three years has conducted methodical testing of this site located across from Belle Grove Road.  He is joined by archaeologist Erica Moses and five undergraduate students from Hood College and Frederick Community College.

Greer said he has confirmed that it was inhabited between 1800 and 1850. More than 10,000 artifacts have already been discovered, providing evidence on the architectural styles, landscape and consumption practices of the enslaved at Belle Grove Plantation.

“The objective of my work is to develop a better understanding of what the enslaved endured on the Belle Grove Plantation site,” Greer said.

Greer said the project has grown in size as he and his team have uncovered evidence that shows the enslaved in a wider radius than what was first depicted.

“That’s very common for a site like this working plantation,” Greer said. “We’ve barely scratched the surface. But we continue to dig and mark off grids as we find them.”

Funding for this research was made possible by a grant from the James R. Wilkins Charitable Trust based in Winchester. The project also received funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Battlefield Preservation Fund.

Excavations will take place primarily throughout the week between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Laise said visitors are welcome to visit during those hours to see the work in progress.

There will also be two Saturdays when fieldwork will take place, and visitors are welcome this Saturday, Sunday and Thursday. Greer will provide a walking tour and talk at 4 p.m. July 17 and at 11 a.m. July 25.

Belle Grove is seeking volunteers to help wash artifacts on weekdays during the field season and will provide training. Artifacts include pieces of pottery and clay, ceramics and bone. Those interested are asked to contact Belle Grove at info@bellegrove.org or 540-869-2028

Updates on the project can be found at www.facebook.com/BelleGrove and Instagram at www.instagram.com/bellegrove1797.

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