200 years of history unearthed in former slave quarters

Natchez, Miss. (AP) – Two hundred years of history have been unearthed at Concord Quarters, an original 1820s slave quarter in Natchez.

Beneath a garden fence surrounded by vines and fuchsia buds, wrought iron hides in the dirt. It may be the structural support for a brick extension built in 1819 from the main plantation house.

Although the above-ground house burned down in 1901, Shawn Lambert, a professor of anthropology and archeology at Mississippi State University, hopes the iron element will lead them to the base of a column. Lambert is two weeks into an archaeological dig on the land where the Concord mansion once stood.

Debbie Cosey and her husband, Greg, own the last standing building of the original construction. They invited Lambert’s team to recount “the ingenuity and skill of slaves,” Cosey said. “It is important to remember the life and work of slaves, many of whom bear forgotten names.”

Concord Mansion was first built in the 1790s by Manuel Gayoso, Governor of Spanish Louisiana, as a plantation house. He also built police and fire stations for Natchez and adorned his own house with a double marble staircase that rose to the second floor. The stone was shipped from Spain for its architectural exceptionalism in a Cypriot-built city.

In 1799 Gayoso died of yellow fever, and Stephen Minor, Gayoso’s secretary and captain in the Spanish army, moved in with his wife Katherine. Then 10 years later Minor died and Katherine ran the house until she passed it on to her daughter, also named Katherine.

In 1844, the Miners owned 147 slaves. Concord Quarters, the Coseys’ current home, was where many of them lived.

The surnames of those enslaved are unique to the records held at Concord. First names, even, are rare. Due to the details of Katherine’s documentation, genealogical research and collaboration with descendant communities can be used to discover the direct descent of people in the current Natchez community.

“That makes it a very significant public archaeological opportunity,” Lambert said.

Open for student-led tours every Thursday, the archaeological field study is “a testament to the powers of combining the tools of archeology with the cultural heritage of the community and the people who have these important historical connections to these places,” Lambert said. .

“This type of archeology wasn’t done much in Mississippi when it was done. This is the future of archaeology,” he added.

One of their main digs was caused by a few bricks disturbing the lawn from below. They have since discovered a cistern 17 feet wide. Typically, they are one-third that size.

“We thought the tree roots had destroyed it,” Seylor Foster, a junior archeology student at MSU, said of the still intact cistern.

The cistern, once a cavernous water storage tank for the original mansion, was likely built by slaves. There are three upward facing depressions in one of the bricks that form the rim of the cistern. Cosey had been looking for a brick like this for years.

Depressions are fingerprints. When slaves made bricks, they often had quotas. To identify which bricks were theirs, they sometimes dug their fingers into the clay before it went to the kiln. The number of fingers they used as a signature was specific to each person.

The slave who made the brick discovered in the cistern used three of them.

“As I held this in my hands,” Cosey said, “we live in history.”

“Your thumb is on their thumb. For someone like Debbie who has been looking for one of these bricks for 6 or 7 years, she has an even deeper connection,” Foster said.

Emily Cohlmia joined the Oklahoma Public Archeology Network project. After her two sons graduated from high school, she decided to quit her job as an 8th grade teacher to study public archaeology.

She hopes to involve youth groups in public archaeology. While still teaching, Cohlmia remembers her students asking her if she was going to find dinosaurs.

“Even in 8th grade, they don’t understand the difference between archeology and paleontology,” she said.

One of Cohlmia’s most memorable finds at Lambert’s field school was an early 1800s pewter rake and mini teacup handles, likely from a play set. These artifacts were found in an area where slaves lived and worked in Concord.

“There were children here,” she said of the miniature household items.

On Wednesday, they discovered a shiny metallic object.

“The metal object turned out to be a mourning medallion,” Lambert said. “The medallion is still intact and it is possible that hair, which was often placed in mourning jewelry in the 19th century, is still inside.”

Due to the poor quality metal and the area that Lambert’s students were digging in, the locket likely belonged to a slave.

One of the last recorded events at the mansion dates back to 1901, Cohlmia said. While Dr Steven Kelly owned and rented the property, the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, barely entering adulthood, lined the driveway with lanterns and invited crowds of people and bottles of port.

Two months later, the house was lit not by lanterns but by embers.

“I think after the main party maybe the guards drank alcohol and started a fire,” Cosey said. His theory is well known to archaeologists, although Lambert said “we may never know what really happened”.

It is still unclear what started the fire, which left the marble staircase rising to nothing. Even the staircase gradually disappeared when mid-20th century visitors realized they were relics and stole the marble staircases to adorn their gardens.

Some of the slabs have since been salvaged and lined up by the Coseys in their backyard. Some have markings to tell OEMs which side should be up.

The public is invited to visit the site on Thursdays until June 30. The collection of discoveries, displayed on a plastic table, continues to grow. An intact sponge cup from the 1840s, probably used by slaves, is identified by a flash card.

There are also fragments of olive-green bottles that may have come from the miners’ extensive wine inventory.

Some artifacts have been outside the realm of their presumed interests, such as a 1970s Snoopy doll and a 1969 Hot Wheels car. “If it’s 50 years or older, it’s considered an artifact, so we had to keep it,” Lambert said.

Bullets probably from the Union occupation, one of which was fired, were also found. Because Natchez surrendered, any bullets fired were likely from practice.

Lambert’s team will bring all artifacts back to MSU where they will wash, analyze and store them for preservation. With the Coseys’ permission, they could distribute some to museums, but most will return to Concord Quarters for display.

One of the main goals of the Lambert Public School of Archeology is to create an interactive walking tour in Concord. Each uncovered item will have a display banner and be embellished with flowers. A walking tour will create an “interactive story of the true story of Concord,” Lambert said.

The cistern will not be completely dug up. Instead, it will be “on display to the point where it’s a nice feature rather than an eyesore,” Lambert said.

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