- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

The American fight for liberty was not only the domain of John Adams and his fellow Boston patriots — although HBO’s miniseries might lead us to believe that.

The fight also took place much closer to home in places like Annapolis, where a recently opened archaeological exhibit at the Banneker-Douglass Museum shows how an 18th-century printmaker protested the British Stamp Act tax and how mid-19th-century freed slaves fought discrimination by purchasing brand-name canned goods and bottled libations.

“They preferred national brands because of the predictability of price and guarantee of quality,” says Mark Leone, founder and director of Archaeology in Annapolis, the group behind the digs and discoveries displayed. He also is a professor of archaeology at the University of Maryland.

Adds Amelia Chisholm, an archaeology student at the university: “It’s fascinating how you can tell someone’s race and class from broken pieces of glass and rusted cans.”

And from fish and meat bones.

The bottles and cans were found at the Maynard-Burgess House in downtown Annapolis along with animal bones that indicate the black residents fished in streams and hunted in nearby woods, probably because they would have been shortchanged by butchers and fishmongers.

“Just the cuts of meat can tell you a huge amount about a whole group of people,” Ms. Chisholm says.

Yet this black household wanted to fit in and belong in mainstream America while still keeping its African and African-American traditions.

“It’s the two souls of black folk. The facade toward the street: the Victorian parlor [with upscale china and furniture] while the back was devoted to African traditions,” Mr. Leone says.

Their African traditions included making African foods and engaging in West African religious practices.

According to the exhibit, blacks, who themselves had been commodities before emancipation, embraced the emerging consumer culture — rights reflected in material goods.

The exhibit also features findings from prominent Annapolis families such as the Calverts and items from printmaker Jonas Green’s shop.

“This is one of the Hope Diamonds of our exhibit,” says Amelia Harris, exhibit specialist at the museum, while showing the skull-and-crossbones stamp Green used to protest the British Stamp Act. (All American printed materials for sale were taxed by the British by the mid-1700s.)

The actual stamp is shown with a copy of the front page of the Oct. 10, 1765, issue of Green’s Maryland Gazette. The masthead says: “Expiring: In Uncertain Hopes of a Resurrection to Life Again”; farther down the page is the death-head stamp.

These discoveries — the ones at the Green print shop and the Maynard-Burgess home — are examples of when archaeology amends our picture of history, reinforcing what the written record has indicated.

The plight of freed slaves and the racism they endured were recorded by prominent black philosophers such as Booker T. Washington, Mr. Leone says, and the skull-and-crossbones stamp was recorded by the preserved newspaper page.

Then there are discoveries that have no representation in the written record. In Annapolis, these discoveries feature cosmograms — part of West African religious rituals that include caches of bones, glassware and feathers hidden under doorsills, hearths and the northeast corner of rooms.

“What we discovered is significant because these cosmograms were unexpected and unknown,” Mr. Leone says. “They were also complete,” he says. “They’d been fed and nurtured for 40 years.”

The cosmogram findings are from the mid to late 19th century. Hiding caches — or mojo — in passageways was a West African method of catching spirits that could heal, predict the future and end injustice.

“A crossroads is the meeting place of this world and the underworld,” Mr. Leone says.

It’s where the supernatural occurs, he says.

Mr. Leone and his team of archaeologists found a half-dozen homes of prominent white families with these types of West African cosmograms.

“It helps complete the picture of what Annapolis was really like,” Mr. Leone says. “The American Revolution wasn’t perfect; it denied freedom to a lot of people.”

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