Final resting place
Archaeologists search for historic Port Deposit cemetery
— On an overgrown hill overlooking Schoolhouse Apartments is a patch of ground that one man believes is a cemetery plot where slaves were buried.
Albert Owens led a group from The Archaeo-
logical Society of the Northern Chesapeake Inc. on a hike Monday to locate the 20-by-20-foot plot. With a walking stick in hand, Owens, a Port Deposit resident, maneuvered the group through heavy brush, vines and weeds to the crest of the hill. Along the way, he pointed out decades of debris dumped there by people unaware of the sacred ground.
He also pointed out the stacked stone wall, which
his research indicates was built by slaves.
“The slaves that built that wall were buried here,” he said.
Several hundred yards away is another 20-by-20 family plot, but it is surrounded with a wrought iron fence and features carved headstones. Not so in the slaves’ resting place.
“The only marker was a stone as common as the ones in the field,” Owens said.
He added that the only marks that would have been made would come from scratching on the surface with a piece of metal.
“The stones we are looking for are pretty nondescript,” said Dan Coates, president of the society.
During the hike, Coates, Chris Schlehr, member secretary, and Ed O’Neill, another society member, discussed the terrain, noticing such things as outcroppings of ferns, which they said meant the presence of a spring.
“We saw some cultural evidence of a homestead,” Coates said. “There’s also a possible house area up the hill.”
“And one of the things normally associated with a homestead is a family cemetery,” he added.
Owens told the men that the decaying house still on the property was built by his grandfather. The materials he used were remnants of construction at the burgeoning Bainbridge Naval Training Center.
According to Schlehr, the land itself was “pretty poor farmland,” which would be the kind given to a newly freed slave after the Civil War.
While searching, the men found several decaying fence posts amongst the brambles. One of the locust wood posts was still holding onto a rusting section of barbed wire fence, which had been rolled rather than nailed to the post. Several large stones were also pointed out by Owens and marked for future investigation.
Coates said he would talk with the membership and board of directors about taking on what he classified as a manageable project.
“It’s 20-by-20. We could clear the space and put a low stone fence around it,” Coates said. “We would have to clear all that vine and briars and look for the stones that might have some kind of pattern.”
It’s unlikely there would be any effort to determine the number of graves on the site, he added.
“You could go in with a metal detector and you could find some shroud pins,” Coates said.
Coates explained that burial for those with limited means meant being wrapped in fabric closed with pins.
Because it is on private land, he said, any interpretive materials would likely be held and displayed by a local historical group such as the Paw Paw Museum and the Port Deposit Heritage Corporation.
Chris Schlehr and Dan Coates from the Archaeological Society of the Northern Chesapeake Inc. debate the markings of a plat of land where Albert Owens, right, believes a slave cemetery is located in Port Deposit. Owens led a group to the site Monday.
Ed O’Neill, of the Archaeological Society of the Northern Chesapeake Inc., searches for remains of a possible slave cemetery in Port Deposit.
Albert Owens marks one of the former fence posts remaining on the old homestead property off Schoolhouse Drive in Port Deposit. It’s one of several discovered during a Monday tour of the land in search of evidence of a slave burial ground.
Albert Owens, right, takes a closer look at a locust fence post, one of a handful still remaining on a property off Schoolhouse Drive in Port Deposit. Owens believes a Civil War era slave burial ground is also on the former farm property.