“Presents case studies proving the material realities of enslavement in the northeastern United States. Shatters the myth that slavery was only a fact of life in the American South and in the Caribbean and charts an important direction for continued research.”—Charles E. Orser Jr., author of The Archaeology of Race and Racialization in Historic America
“Brings vital stories of slavery and freedom to light through an overview of diverse examples as well as in-depth discussions of specific case studies from the author’s research. A welcome survey in the archaeological study of African Americans in the northern United States.”—Christopher N. Matthews, coeditor of The Archaeology of Race in the Northeast
Investigating what life was like for African Americans north of the Mason-Dixon Line during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, James Delle presents the first overview of archaeological research on the topic in this book, debunking the notion that the “free” states of the Northeast truly offered freedom and safety for African Americans.
Excavations at cities including New York and Philadelphia reveal that slavery was a crucial part of the expansion of urban life as late as the 1840s. Slaves cleared forests, loaded and unloaded ships, and manufactured charcoal to fuel iron furnaces. The case studies in The Archaeology of Northern Slavery and Freedom also show that enslaved African-descended people frequently staffed suburban manor houses and agricultural plantations. Moreover, for free blacks, racist laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 limited the experience of freedom in the region. Delle explains how members of the African diaspora created rural communities of their own and worked in active resistance against the institution of slavery, assisting slaves seeking refuge and at times engaging in violent conflicts. The book concludes with a discussion on the importance of commemorating these archaeological sites, as they reveal an important yet overlooked chapter in African American history.
Delle shows that archaeology can challenge dominant historical narratives by recovering material artifacts that express the agency of their makers and users, many of whom were written out of the documentary record. Emphasizing that race-based slavery began in the Northeast and persisted there for nearly two centuries, this book corrects histories that have been whitewashed and forgotten.
James A. Delle, associate provost for academic administration at Millersville University, is coeditor of Archaeologies of Slavery and Freedom in the Caribbean: Exploring the Spaces in Between and Out of Many, One People: The Historical Archaeology of Colonial Jamaica.