12 September 2008

Charles Carroll House Cache

One of the most popular and intriguing portions of the Seeking Liberty exhibit is the Brice House material which includes a model of the East wing of the house that was excavated by Archaeology in Annapolis in 1998. In the basement of the east wing archaeologists discovered a series of caches or distinct, intentional deposits of material placed there by African Americans in order to control spirits which is a common practice in West African cultures. What many may not know is that Archaeology in Annapolis discovered a similar cache at the Charles Carroll House in 1991.

Dr. Robert Worden was a volunteer excavator at the site when he discovered a white ceramic bowl with a blue asterisk placed upside down approximately 18 inches beneath the modern dirt floor of the East wing of the Carroll House. When he removed the broken ceramic bowl he found that it had been placed over a whole array of other artifacts including 14 rock crystals, a half-dozen white bone discs, a smooth black pebble, two coins (one dated 1790 and the other 1810) and a number of straight pins.

This being the first deposit of its kind found in Annapolis, archaeologists were unaware of the meaning and significance of these materials. They did however know that the artifacts had been intentionally deposited in the room, and that they had most likely been associated with the African and African American slaves who worked in this area of the Carroll House.

The finds were published in an article in the Sunday Times on September 15, 1991. That Monday Dr. Frederick Lamp, Curator of African Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art telephoned to suggest that the materials were a spirit bundle associated with West African culture. Lamp further explained that within this tradition crystals were used to contain spirits and that the four holes on the buttons most likely represented a cosmogram. A cosmogram is a symbol of the vertical world axis and the horizon showing a divide between the worlds of the living and the dead. These items were most likely placed in the ground by spiritual practitioners to control spirits for various purposes, especially to protect inhabitants. No one in Annapolis had ever found anything tied so clearly to African culture.

Before these discoveries many thought that African cultural traditions did not survive the Middle Passage. The cache at the Carroll House provided compelling evidence that Africans did retain religious practices in the New World well into the 19th century. Thus, the history of Annapolis was no longer strictly European it also contains clear African influence as well.

The cache of materials from the Carroll House are currently on display at the History Quest Welcome Center in Annapolis located at 99 Main Street right near the city dock. For details see their website: http://www.annapolis.org/index.asp?pageid=44

For more on the Carroll House finds see Dr. Mark Leone's book "The Archaeology of Liberty in An American Capital: Excavations in Annapolis" (2005).

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