- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

OSSABAW ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Sifting through dirt from the floor of a small cabin made from oyster shells and sand, archaeologist Dan Elliott is finding unexpected treasures.

He unearthed a doll-sized porcelain plate, clay marbles, lead shot and a French-made gunflint — fascinating finds from a cabin that once housed plantation slaves.

“We’re dealing with the facts. These are all things they left behind,” said Mr. Elliott, noting that toys and firearms material “could suggest their masters were letting them have a little bit of latitude.”

Researchers say three cabins made of tabby — a cement mixture of oyster shells, lime and sand — on this undeveloped, state-owned barrier island are among the best-preserved slave quarters in the South.

Now, 142 years after slavery ended, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the nonprofit Ossabaw Island Foundation are conducting the first archaeological digs here, hoping artifacts buried beneath the cabins will yield a better picture of how Southern slaves lived in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“It is easily one of the most important African-American slave sites in the Southeast,” said Dave Crass, Georgia’s state archaeologist. “Normally, it’s a big, white-columned plantation house that’s still there. And the people who made the place work, their houses are long gone.”

Ossabaw Island remains one of coastal Georgia’s wildest places. There are no paved roads. There is no bridge to the mainland. Hogs, deer and armadillos roam the island’s 11,800 acres.

The first slaves arrived in the 1760s, when Jim Morel bought the island and established North End plantation to harvest live oaks for shipbuilding timber and to grow indigo and other cash crops.

Researchers believe Morel had about 100 slaves. More came later to work three additional plantations his sons established on the island, which is about 6 miles from Savannah.

Mr. Elliott, the lead archaeologist for a $1.3 million study, has located buried foundations indicating 18 slave cabins once stood at North End. Only three survived intact, built 32-by-16 feet and divided into two living quarters sharing a chimney and hearth in the center wall.

The study is funded by a $400,000 National Park Service grant, matching funds from the charitable foundation of late Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff and private donations. Donors include actress Sandra Bullock, who owns a home on nearby Tybee Island.

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