Ceramic Samples Fragments Samples of ceramic fragments found at the Ashland quarters


Meals were a time when the community or family came together. Ceramics found during excavation show the kind of tableware they used. Interestingly, similar ceramic patterns were found at a number of different cabin sites. This suggests that the African-Americans at Ashland were probably getting their tableware from the same source, most likely the Ashland Plantation store. The fact that many items listed in the store inventory were found at the cabin sites provides further evidence that the African-Americans made many of their purchases at the Ashland store.

Additionally, the artifacts from Cabins 1 and 2 exhibited a great deal of similarity in the kinds and proportions of objects in the collections. The similarities between the collections from the two cabins illustrate how a planter might continue to control the African-Americans' access to goods, even after Emancipation. The plantation store provided everything needed, but the variety of goods stocked was limited. Thus, it appears that the freedmen's possessions at Ashland were affected by limited market access.


crew excavating cabin 2 Archaeological crew excavating quarters Cabin 2

The quarters were where the African-Americans on the plantation spent their limited leisure time. "Leisure" no doubt is a relative term. In the context of the Ashland quarters, this presumably was one area of the slaves' lives over which the master had little or no control. However, despite the difficult lives they led and the constant demands of the master and overseer, slaves did not surrender all of their independence. During their leisure time they played games, smoked, or made music, and they participated in their own social festivities and rituals.

Pipe Bowls From Ashland Pipe bowls from Ashland

Children in particular had a wide variety of activities they engaged in around the cabins. Although some slave children were already working by the age of 10, field labor usually began at about age 12. It was common for younger children to be left in the quarters during the day. An elderly woman was in charge of the smaller children. Nursing children were kept in a special building in the quarters and visited by their mothers a number of times a day to be fed. Older girls helped to watch their younger siblings.

Doll Parts Doll fragments, arm, legs, torso and face

Playing marbles was a favorite pastime of both children and adults. Ceramic, glass, and limestone marbles were collected during excavations at both cabin sites at Ashland. Most of the ceramic marbles were "commies," or common earthenware marbles. These unglazed, earth-toned marbles were manufactured until the late 1920s. Based on historical records, marbles were the only toy sold at the Ashland store at the time of Kenner's death. Numerous marbles and china doll fragments found in the Ashland quarters provide evidence of the plantation children's activities.

A large number of buttons were found scattered across the yards surrounding both cabins. Buttons are usually abundant on sites where African-Americans lived, and large numbers of buttons have been found at other sites in Louisiana, such as Orange Grove and Oakley plantations. The large number of buttons found by archaeologists in and around quarters areas might be related to any number of games played by African-American children where pawns, tokens, or "forfeits" were used. These games had names like Uncle Tom, Jack in the Bush (also known as Old Gray Mare), Hold Fast to What I Give You, and Truth or Dare. Buttons could have also been used as counters for the African game Mancala. Buttons were also carried in the pocket for good luck, and they may have been strung as necklaces or bracelets for the purpose of adornment.


Buttons Found at site Examples of buttons found at Ashland

The slaves' musical instruments were usually homemade. The banjo was an instrument of African derivation. The fiddle, which also had West African counterparts, was probably the most popular instrument throughout antebellum rural America among slaves and whites. However, the popularity of most folk wind instruments fell victim to the harmonica, often called a "French Harp" in the deep South. Hand-manufactured harmonicas, imported from Germany, were introduced in America before 1830. Costing 10 cents in 1850, harmonicas were already common in the United States prior to the Civil War and were even frequently traded to Native Americans on the frontier. The instruments began to be mass-produced in 1867, and one could be bought for 5 cents until about 1900. The Ashland Plantation store sold harmonicas. Several harmonica reed plates were found during excavation at both Cabins 1 and 2.

Fiddler DrawingHarmonica reed plate

Drawing of a fiddler; Harmonica reed plate found at Ashland

Even though articles reflecting leisure activities, such as smoking, games, and music were collected from the quarters, they were not plentiful compared with the number found at nineteenth-century urban residential sites. Both African-American and European-American lower- to middle-class households in New Orleans generally have a higher proportion of artifacts reflecting leisure pursuits in their collections. This probably indicates that African-Americans on plantations had both less leisure time and less access to these items.

Traditional religion and beliefs were an important element of slave culture. African cultural beliefs and practices were not forgotten under American slavery or following Emancipation. Although African-Americans may not have had access to objects or materials used for ritual practices in Africa, archaeological research has shown that they used and reworked common items to help maintain their belief system. These items could have been used in ritual practices, despite pressures from European-Americans to erase all African cultural beliefs and heritage. Similarly, using common European-American objects could serve to camouflage forbidden ritual activity.

The more exotic and less understood system of beliefs held by the plantation slaves was generally known as "Hoodoo." This set of beliefs played an important part in the slaves' commitment to the folk aspect of their religion and their spirit of resistance to the master's culture. Many masters attempted to prevent their slaves from participating in folk practices, such as wearing charms or amulets. The beliefs of the slaves survived despite the efforts of their masters to stop them. However, because these beliefs and practices were largely forbidden, they are poorly documented in historical records. Archaeology is an important means of gathering evidence of these practices.

A large number of objects were used as charms or amulets. A partial listing includes herbs and roots, the feet of animals, such as rabbits or raccoons, thimbles, needles, nails, human hair or nail parings, pierced silver coins, buttons, beads, polished stones, worked bones, pieces of ceramic, bottles, and seashells. Examples of nearly all of these objects that do not deteriorate rapidly have been recovered from Louisiana archaeological sites associated with African-American occupations.


Pierced coin Pierced Spanish medio real coin from Ashland

Often, African-Americans wore dimes on a string around their ankles or necks to prevent "Hoodoo." Evidence of this practice at Ashland was found at Cabin 1, where a 1793 Spanish medio real was recovered. The silver coin was about the size of a dime and was embossed with the profile of Charles IV. There was a hole drilled in it, suggesting it may have been worn as a necklace or charm. This pierced coin was found near two long, tubular black glass beads. The close association of the beads and the coin may suggest ritual activity, or that the beads and the coin together were used as an amulet. Thus, archaeologists must look at not only individual objects, but also the association of objects with each other in order to discover evidence of traditional practices and belief systems.

Smoothed, rounded, and polished pebbles were collected from several cabin sites at Ashland. Only one smoothed pebble was collected from Cabin 1, but Cabin 2 yielded three polished stones. Polished stones are associated with ancestor veneration and coping with bad luck. Shells are also associated with ancestors. For instance, in the religion of the Kongo peoples, shells represent the sea, which is where the Kongo ancestors reside.


Sea Shells Small Sea Shells

Examples of shells found at the Ashland quarters

Shells were recovered from both Cabins 1 and 2, and a cowrie shell was collected from another cabin at Ashland during previous excavations. In Africa, cowrie shells had a variety of uses including money, charms, and religious symbols. The coin, beads, shells, buttons, and smoothed stones were found more frequently near the hearths than in other parts of the cabins or in the yards. This may reflect ritual activity centered on the hearth. Alternatively, it may indicate that ritual activity occurred within the house where it could be hidden.

The principal difficulty in interpreting the significance of many of the objects mentioned above is that some of them, such as buttons, needles, or thimbles, are common. These ordinary items may take on a greater cultural meaning in the context of their use. Some objects, such as pierced coins and seashells, have a more obvious symbolic explanation associated with them in African-American traditions


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