“An Archaeology of Enslaved Bermudians,” first post

I am ECSTATIC about the opportunity the Charles Center has afforded me to pursue my research this summer. This is my first time blogging as a Charles Center Summer Research Grant recipient and I am very much looking forward to sharing my work this summer with others, as well as following the fantastic research projects of the other bloggers. Judging from the titles and introductory posts, it promises to be an exciting summer for William and Mary undergraduate research!

My research critically examines the previously excavated archaeological collection of Stewart Hall, an 18th century urban site in St. George’s, Bermuda. This project attempts to answer questions pertaining to resistance through the adaptive reuse of European ceramics. How did the enslaved peoples of Stewart Hall employ European ceramics to resist the political economy of the island in the 18th century? How does the adaptive reuse of European ceramics speak to the lives of enslaved Bermudians in the 18th century, both at Stewart Hall and at other sites on Bermuda?

Due to the fact that Bermuda has limited natural clay sources, the production and sale of the low-fired earthenware ceramics typically associated with enslaved populations in the Atlantic world did not develop on the island. Instead, enslaved Bermudians were consuming European wares. In this vein, the use of European vessels and forms by enslaved individuals can be expected to show signs of use differing from European intention, termed adaptive reuse. European ceramics used by enslaved Bermudians are also expected to show signs of non-European symbolism and redesign. One example of this, as seen on archaeological sites of enslaved populations throughout the Atlantic world, is the incision of African religious symbols on the bottom of European ceramic vessels. I assert that enslaved Bermudians were active participants in the political economy of the 18th century rather than passive receptors, and that the adaptive reuse and repurposing of European ceramics is evidence of their resistance to the 18th century European precedent.

To complete my project, I will spend two months in the Bermuda National Trust Archaeology Lab in St. George’s, Bermuda identifying and cataloging artifacts stored there from the 1989–1990 excavation of Stewart Hall. I will catalog artifacts using the St. George’s Archaeological Research Project’s database, which is being developed from the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery and from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s artifact database. I will also spend time in the Bermuda National Archives researching the written record of Stewart Hall and enslaved peoples on the island. My research will draw largely from the writing of archaeologists studying enslaved experience on urban sites. The final product of this project will be a comprehensive paper on my research, to be presented at the Society of Historical Archaeology conference in November and to be published in the Bermuda Journal of Maritime Archaeology.

I have already purchased my plane tickets to Bermuda for the summer and will be receiving my immigration letter from the Bermuda National Trust this weekend. Only the next week of classes and five final papers stand between me and the beginning of my summer research – I depart for the island on the 17th of May and will return to the United States on the 7th of July. I’m counting the days!

Comments

  1. Meg! I thought that I had commented back on your original post but I guess I didn’t (or it didn’t go through??)! Your project sounds incredibly interesting – and what a place to do your research!!! I know that I will be learning a lot about the beginnings of the slave trade myself in Senegal because on Goree Island (right off the coast) is located the “Porte sans Retour” (I know you know the translation :D) which is the last place in Africa that slaves saw before being shipped off to sea. It’s going to be an incredibly sobering day when I finally get to see it.