Ar­chae­ol­ogy work set for Cam­bridge

Dorchester Star - - REGIONAL -

CAM­BRIDGE — A team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists from the Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion (SHA) will be dig­ging for ev­i­dence for two weeks in Septem­ber to help de­ter­mine whether a 19th-cen­tury cabin be­hind a house on High Street could have been used as hous­ing for en­slaved African-Amer­i­cans in the 1800s.

The site, which is lo­cated on the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road By­way, is sig­nif­i­cant for sev­eral rea­sons. Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion found in the Mary­land In­ven­tory of His­toric Prop­er­ties, the pri­vately-owned Bayly House, be­lieved to be built in the 1740s and then moved to Cam­bridge in the 1750s or 1760s, is prob­a­bly the old­est dwelling in Cam­bridge. The struc­ture be­hind the house, which is thought to date from the mid-1800s, has long been re­ferred to as a for­mer slave cabin. How­ever, no con­clu­sive ev­i­dence cur­rently ex­ists to doc­u­ment the build­ing’s orig­i­nal pur­pose.

The SHA ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team is work­ing with the home­owner, Cather­ine Mor­ri­son, and the Heart of Ch­e­sa­peake Coun­try Her­itage Area to doc­u­ment the struc­ture’s prove­nance and ver­ify whether it was once used as slave quar­ters. Be­cause SHA ar­chae­ol­o­gists spe­cial­ize in African Amer­i­can ar­chae­ol­ogy and be­cause the prop­erty is along the Un­der­ground Rail­road By­way, it is a per­fect part­ner­ship for them, said Julie Sch­ablit­sky, SHA’s chief ar­chae­ol­o­gist.

“Very lit­tle ar­chae­ol­ogy has taken place on the East­ern Shore, and this is an op­por­tu­nity to high­light a his­tory of well-known Cam­bridge fam­i­lies, as well as un­sung he­roes who fought their way to free­dom,” Sch­ablit­sky said. “If the cabin is a quar­ter, it will give the ar­chae­ol­o­gists a rare chance to dig di­rectly around and un­der such a build­ing.”

Their work be­gan in Au­gust with a geo­phys­i­cal sur­vey us­ing a mag­netic gra­diome­ter (mag­ne­tome­ter) and ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar to pin­point lo­ca­tions for ex­ca­va­tion. The team will be dig­ging on the prop­erty on week­days from Sept. 10-21. Dur­ing that time, they also will have a den­drochro­nol­o­gist take sam­ples from beams in­side the house and the cabin to ex­am­ine the tree rings. The den­drochronol­ogy will help de­ter­mine the age of the struc­tures, as well as where they were built based on the wood’s source.

“It will be very dif­fi­cult to un­equiv­o­cally state if this is a slave quar­ter,” Sch­ablit­sky said. “At the best, we will be able to show it was a do­mes­tic home that was lived in by peo­ple prior to eman­ci­pa­tion. We will look for the sur­vival of pits and pro­tected buried ar­ti­fact de­posits di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with the build­ing.”

The ar­chae­ol­o­gists hope to find fau­nal re­mains that re­flect a diet of peo­ple who were im­pov­er­ished. An­i­mals that were old and cuts of meat that were from the limbs and heads of an­i­mals would have been fed to en­slaved work­ers. Be­cause the ra­tions were sel­dom enough, they would sup­ple­ment their diet with rac­coon, rab­bits, opos­sum, crabs, fish and tur­tles — any­thing that could be gath­ered or eas­ily snared.

Mor­ri­son has ad­vo­cated for this re­search and for ways to pre­serve the cabin since she learned of its sig­nif­i­cance af­ter pur­chas­ing the prop­erty 3 1/2 years ago. She be­lieves that she has an obli­ga­tion to pre­serve the cabin and share the his­tory of the prop­erty and those who have owned it over the past three cen­turies.

The Heart of Ch­e­sa­peake Coun­try Her­itage Area has re­ceived two grants — from Preser­va­tion Mary­land and from the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion’s Bar­tus Trew Prov­i­dence Preser­va­tion Fund — to sta­bi­lize and pre­serve the struc­ture. That work will be­gin af­ter the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion is com­pleted.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Mor­ri­son said. “When I bought the house, I thought all the houses up and down High Street had cab­ins be­hind them. I didn’t re­al­ize that it was not a com­mon thing. This should be high­lighted and pre­served. Some­times you just find your­self in a place and time when some­thing needs to be done.”

Be­cause the prop­erty is lo­cated on the Har­riet Tub­man Un­der­ground Rail­road By­way, it is ex­pected that the find­ings from this ex­ca­va­tion can be in­cor­po­rated into sig­nage and in­ter­pre­tive ma­te­ri­als as­so­ci­ated with the by­way.

The cabin is on pri­vate prop­erty; there­fore, the site is not open to the pub­lic dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion. How­ever, in­ter­pre­tive pan­els will be in­stalled along the side­walk to pro­vide an over­view of the work tak­ing place. In ad­di­tion, the Heart of Ch­e­sa­peake Coun­try Her­itage Area will be pro­vid­ing reg­u­lar up­dates on a web­site page de­signed to the Bayly House (vis­it­dorch­ and on Dorch­ester County so­cial me­dia (face­ Dorch­esterCounty).


Colin Bean, ar­chae­ol­o­gist, uses ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar to sur­vey the prop­erty around the Bayly cabin. The data from their sur­veys will be used to map po­ten­tial buried ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­sources and help guide the SHA ar­chae­ol­o­gists when they con­duct their ex­ca­va­tions.

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