- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

EASTON, Md. — The Great House still stands on the plantation where Frederick Douglass spent his childhood. But the quarters where the famed abolitionist once lived along with other slaves are long gone from the 350-year-old estate.

Although the history of the Lloyd family, which has owned the property since the 1600s, is well-documented, much less is known about the daily lives of their slaves.

University of Maryland archaeologists, hoping to flesh out the story of those who built and worked on the estate, are wrapping up their second season at Wye House, guided in part by Douglass’ account of his childhood in slavery.

Jennifer Babiarz, a university archaeologist supervising the dig, said slaves such as those who worked at the plantation were the backbone of Maryland’s early economy.

“We were very interested in what daily life would have been like for people who were enslaved on this plantation and making sure that people knew the rich history, not just of the Lloyds, but of all the people who lived and worked here,” she said.

“There were so many men, women and children who lived their lives here, and it’s important their story gets told,” Miss Babiarz said.

The estate now has about 1,300 acres, much less than its 42,000 acres in the early 19th century, but the core remains intact.

Along with the Great House, with its lengthy, tree-lined drive, the property has one of the country’s few remaining orangeries — a type of greenhouse used to shelter orange and other citrus trees during the winter.

An overseer’s house, a slave graveyard, a captain’s house, a smokehouse and other structures also dot the property.

A strip described by Douglass as the Long Green is where the archaeologists are concentrating their efforts.

Douglass lived at the plantation for several years in the mid-1820s and wrote about it after his 1838 escape from slavery.

In the 1845 autobiography “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” he described the plantation as “a little nation by itself, having its own language, its own rules, regulations and customs. … The overseer was the important dignitary. … All the people were the property of one man, and they could themselves own no property.”

The foundations of three buildings and perhaps a fourth have been discovered along the narrow strip of land between the Chesapeake Bay and a gravel path mentioned by Douglass.

A tall poplar grows between the foundation of what may have been a two-story slave quarters Douglass mentioned in his writings.

An American Indian burial ground dating to before the Lloyd plantation also has been found there.

Other buildings were used as either housing or work space by the slaves, many of whom had backgrounds in fields such as carpentry, blacksmithing and barrel making, said Lisa Kraus, a doctoral student who used Douglass’ autobiography and old maps to decide where to dig.

Many slaves at Wye House “were actually purchased and brought there specifically because they had skills the Lloyds needed for the plantation to function,” Miss Kraus said.

“They were producing material that was used by the plantation but also producing things that were shipped out, which was totally different than most other plantation slaves.”

Mark Leone, an anthropologist supervising the project, said the plantation did not just provide for the owners’ needs.

Wye House was the head of a large commercial enterprise, he said.

“How do you turn farm products into international trade for a profit? That’s what these places are really all about, and that’s what this Long Green is — it is the labor base for a very big set of diversified industries,” Mr. Leone said.

Before digging began, Mr. Leone said, archaeologists contacted descendants of slaves who worked on the property, many of whom still live in nearby Unionville and Copperville, and asked what questions they had.

The descendants were most interested in slave spirituality and the role the Wye House slaves had in blacks’ fight for freedom, Mr. Leone said.

Items relating to those questions have not been found, though some items thought to have had spiritual significance were discovered earlier in buildings on the estate, he said.

A third and final year of excavation is planned for next summer.

The excavation is being performed with the permission of Mary S. Tilghman, who inherited the property in 1993 and is an 11th-generation descendant of Edward Lloyd, who first settled the property.

“The history here is of intense personal interest to me, and I’m dedicated to its preservation,” she said.

“This land has been part of my life for so long that I feel a duty to preserve the heritage it holds.”

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