23 Graves Discovered; Marked; Researched and Reburied; One Given Face/ Likeness by Police Detective Re-constructionist
On a quiet peninsula of Serenity Farm in Charles County, the African American Heritage Society of Charles County, farm owners and archaeologists joined together to remember the lives of enslaved African American men, women, and children, who once lived on the Smith plantation in the late 1700’s/ early 1800’s. Marked by granite stones, the graves of 23 enslaved African Americans will be formally marked as a cemetery and protected from future development.
While conducting archaeological excavations along MD 231 to find sites associated with the War of 1812, Maryland State Highway Administration Chief Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky was invited to excavate an area on Serenity Farm cleared as a result of damage caused by the 2012 derecho. Initial investigation indicated the discovery of grave sites; believed to be those of African American slaves of then-property owner Henry Arundel Smith. Of 13 burials excavated, one grave yielded a skull preserved well enough to allow a Baltimore County Police Detective to create a likeness of the individual – a male estimated to be aged between 25-29. He was found with five copper alloy and pewter buttons indicating that he served as a house servant or other type of skilled worker.
“As SHA archaeologists, our work often involves discovering important pieces of Maryland history that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, undiscovered,” said Dr. Julie Schablitsky, SHA Chief Archaeologist. “We are constantly trying to reconstruct history through small things lost and forgotten– this project is special because we found a community of enslaved African Americans who have been lost for over 200 years. Now it’s our duty to tell their story.”
Representatives from the African American Heritage Society of Charles County including Vice President Mary Louise Webb and Dorothea Smith, SHA Chief Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky, Dr. Dana Kollmann from Towson University, and Serenity Farm owner Franklin Robinson, Jr. and his family joined together in today’s dedication.
“This is simply amazing – words cannot describe the power of this discovery and the reconnection with our heritage,” said Mary Louise Webb, Vice President of the African American Heritage Society of Charles County.
Careful excavation of the remains showed those buried were in clothing or wrapped in shrouds fastened with copper straight pins. Each person, including the infants, were laid to rest in custom made pine coffins. Grave shafts were dug as rectangles, but once a certain depth was reached, the hole was reduced to the size and shape of the coffin. Once the coffins were placed within the grave, a series of wooden slats were placed on the dirt ledge (left from narrowing the hole), thereby creating a vault over the coffin. Wooden markers may have once marked the burials, but have long since decomposed.
“Working together with the community to learn more about the people who lived here more than two hundred years ago is an exercise in community education and healing,” said Serenity Farm Owner Franklin Robinson, Jr. “With the finding here on this property, this important discovery will be protected and preserved for generations yet to come.”
Physical anthropologists studied what remained of the ancestors. Their bones indicated these individuals worked hard and some even suffered vitamin deficiencies and disease during their childhoods. In many cases, the remains were identified as a man, woman, boy, or girl. Within the year, isotope analysis will reveal the quality of the food they ate and if the enslaved African Americans were from the Chesapeake or if they traveled here from another area such as the southern United States or Africa. It is hoped that DNA results will confirm their ancestry and reveal if those who rest here are buried next to family members.