In July 2006, DAACS undertook a two-week survey of slave villages on Nevis in collaboration with archaeologists from DePaul University, the University of Southampton, and National Museums, Liverpool. Goals included locating and initiating preliminary shovel-test-pit surveys of three slave-village sites: Jessups I, Jessups II, and Upper Rawlins. Twenty-seven shovel-test pits were excavated at Jessups I, 16 STPs were dug at Jessups II, and 49 were excavated at Upper Rawlins. Archaeologists also conducted surface inspection at several other slave village sites on the island.
Archaeologists affiliated with the St. Kitts-Nevis Digital Archaeology Initiative returned to the Jessups village sites in 2008 to complete the surveys begun in 2006. A total of 93 shovel test pits were excavated at Jessups II.
These surveys are part of a larger collaborative fieldwork project in the Caribbean known as The St. Kitts-Nevis Digital Archaeology Initiative. The Jessups villages were selected for a number of reasons. First, a number of evocative primary sources provide glimpses into the development of the Jessups Plantation. These documents include an exceptionally detailed 1755 plat of the property that shows the location of these villages and their movement on the landscape through time, as well as a 1748 slave inventory. Please see DAACS document queries for access to images and transcriptions of these documents.
Second, the Jessups villages sites are currently under development. Mountainside villas were built along the western edge of the Jessups II village in the early 200s. Nearly one-third of the Jessups I villages was bulldozed in early 2008 to make way for more construction. As a result, portions of each village site were destroyed prior to archaeological investigation.
The St. Kitts-Nevis Digital Archaeology Initiative is funded by a JISC-NEH Transatlantic Digitization Grant to The Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS), Monticello, The University of Southampton, and the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool. The Jessups villages are a key component of a multiple-year research program in the Caribbean spearheaded by DAACS, known as the DAACS Caribbean Initiative (DCI). DCI's immediate goal is to document archaeologically, through survey, excavation and collections analysis, the trajectories of change in slave lifeways on the north and south coasts of Jamaica and on the small islands of Nevis and St. Kitts during the 18th and 19th centuries. DCI's ultimate goal is to improve our understanding of the causal forces that shaped the evolution of slave societies throughout the early-modern Atlantic World by giving researchers access to easily searchable and comparable data from archaeological sites throughout the Atlantic World.
Documentary research on the Jessups estate was conducted by Dr. Roger Leech at the Court House on Nevis as well as at the Southampton Archives Office. The documentary sources for Jessups plantation are principally title deeds and estate records.
The first known document to refer specifically to slavery at the Jessups Estate is a 1748 inventory that includes a list of enslaved individuals owned by Jesup. The inventory provides names and general ages of each individual owned by Jesup. In 1748, Jesup owned 53 men, 29 women, 18 boys, and 11 girls. Another two boys appear to have been in transit to the property, therefore the total slave population was listed as 113 individuals. Several names are embedded clues with clues to a person's ethnicity, age, occupation, or parentage. In these cases, two names are provided for a single individual, one proper name and one descriptor. For example, the first enslaved man listed is 'Jack Driver', suggesting his role as the driver within the village or gang. Two other men were listed with their possible occupations, 'Mason Cockoe' and 'Cooper Cuffee'. Five men carried names that elude to their ethnicity, 'Mundingo [sic] Prince', 'Creole Harry', 'Creole Sammy', 'Congo Jemmy' and 'Congo Scipio'. Four are listed as "old": 'Old Man', 'Old Jack', 'Old Jackoe', and 'Old Pompey'.
No women had occupations linked to their names but four carried names suggestive of their origins in Africa. These women included 'Congo Diana', 'Ebo Sarah', 'Ebo Jenny', and 'Ebo Mary'. 'Old Sarah' and 'Great Kate' were listed last and were most likely the oldest enslaved women on the property. The 1740 list also provides clues to family groups. Priscilla, Ebo Sarah, Sabine and Judith each had a boy and B Bess, Fanny, and Mary Ann each had one girl. Children's names such as 'Little Cuffee', 'Little Lucas', and 'Little Judith' may also provide clues to parentage and family structure at Jessups plantation.
A plat of the Jessups Plantation drawn in 1755 shows in detail where these slaves lived. Titled "A Plan of the Plantation of Edward Jesup, Esq. in the Parish of St. Thomas Lowland in the Island of Nevis", the plat describes two plantations owned by Jesup, a "Mountain Plantation" and "Lower Plantation". The Jessups I and Jessups II slave villages were part of Jesup's "Mountain Plantation" and those living in the villages were engaged primarily in sugar production. Cane fields were planted above and below the great house, mill works, and villages. The plat also shows the location of a cocoa garden, slabs [water collection ponds], pastures, provision grounds, and wooded mountainous zones that climb toward the peak of Mount Nevis.
The most striking feature of the plat is the detailed representation of the "Negro Houses", an early slave village [Jessups I] northeast of the great house and works, where twenty-two structures of various sizes are arranged across the landscape. A path that leads to the provision grounds winds approximately east/west through the village and a number of the houses appear to face the path. The northern edge of the Jessups I village is bounded by a steep ghut, through which an intermittent stream flows after rainfall.
Sometime after the completion of the 1755 plat, it was edited to show the location of a second village north of the gut. At least 13 structures (Jessups II) were lightly penciled in over an area originally designated as a sugar cane field in 1755, suggesting that the early village was moved north of the gut. Archaeological data from SKNDAI's 2008 survey has confirmed that the Jessups I village was occupied from the mid-1700s to around 1780 when it was moved to the location of the second village penciled onto the 1755 plat. That village, Jessups II, was occupied after 1780 into the early 19th century.
The history of land transfers among Jesup and subsequent owners and leasees is well documented in deeds and estate records. A 1767 inventory provides details of the Jesup's holdings, including individual slaves, structures, and livestock; however this document has not yet been viewed by DAACS staff.
Excavation history, procedure, and methods
The Jessups villages were initially surveyed by Roger Leech in June 2003 at the request of the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, which was concerned that nearby development had impacted a slave graveyard at Jessups II. Leech conducted a surface survey and mapped several landscape features at Jessups II, most notably remnants of house platforms and the location of a single grave marked with stone slabs (Leech and Williams 2003).
2006 Excavation Season
Agbe-Davies, Galle, and Neiman returned to the site with Leech in 2006 and promptly relocated the grave at Jessups II. Although villa development has destroyed the northwestern quadrant of the site, about two-thirds of the village remained forested and undisturbed. Using the 1750 plat and visual inspection of the landscape, which included portions of cut-limestone house platforms, we established a single north/south transect of 16 shovel test pits placed on 6-meter centers. Distance between pits was occasionally adjusted when physical features such as trees or rock walls prevented their placement. Pit locations were recorded using a total station.
Each excavated pit was 50 centimeters in diameter. In most cases pits were excavated to either subsoil or an apparent sterile layer. At Jessups II, this was between 30 and 45 centimeters in depth. All sediment was screened through 1/4-inch mesh. Recovered artifacts were washed and cataloged to DAACS standards while on Nevis.
DAACS also provided Nevisians and local organizations with information about the excavations at Jessups. Galle and Agbe-Davies discussed DAACS's work in the Caribbean on Choice 105.3FM Community Radio Morning Program. The St. Kitts-Nevis Observer published an article on DAACS's work in the Caribbean, which appeared in August 2006 (Abraham 2006).
2008 Excavation Season
Archaeologists with DAACS, the University of Southampton (UK), and the International Slavery Museum (UK), returned to the Jessups II village in July 2008 to complete the STP survey begun in 2006; additional development had occurred at the Jessups II village since 2006.
Two datums were established at Jessups I. We used a total station and GPS to place an UTM grid across the site. All shovel-test-pits were placed on 6-meter centers using a total station. An alphanumeric system was established for naming STPs that combined the Area, the Transect Letter, and the STP number. Jessups II was considered Area 3, with Jessups I containing Areas 1 and 2. Transects were labeled alphabetically across the site. STPs were numbered consecutively within each transect. As a result, STP context numbers follow this format: 3-Z-01, which translates into Pit 1, on Transect Z, in Area 3.
Ninety-three shovel test pits were excavated on 6-meter centers in Area 3. All STPs were 50 centimeters in diameter and all excavated sediment was screened through 1/4-inch mesh. In most cases, the pits were excavated to subsoil. Recovered artifacts were flown to the DAACS lab at Monticello, where they were cataloged to DAACS standards.
Summary of research and analysis
This section briefly outlines results from our preliminary analysis of archaeological data recovered in 2008 from the New River, Jessups, and The Spring village sites. The analysis is intended only to evaluate the analytical potential of the data and thereby the utility of the field research and digitization design that we have employed. We cannot hope to exhaust that potential here. After all the premise of the project is that the analytical potential of the data can only be realized when they are made freely available on the web to all researchers.
The historical questions that motivate our work at Jessups arise from the anthropologist Sidney Mintz's suggestion that the early-modern Caribbean is usefully understood not as a culture area, but as an ecological community (Mintz 1996). The implication of this idea is that ideological, behavioral, and material variation in time and space is not the outcome of the blending of cultural traditions, but rather the product of cultural strategies invented and adopted by individuals and groups to pursue their conflicting interests in the face dynamic social, economic, and ecological environments. Artifacts can help us document strategic variation in space and time, and further our understanding of it.
Taking Mintz seriously requires archaeological data that capture variation at multiple spatial scales, within slave villages, among estates, and among islands. The 2008 fieldwork was an attempt to address spatial variation on all three scales by excavating shovel-test pits on 6-meter centers at the slave villages associated with three estates (New River and Jessups on Nevis and The Spring on St Kitts). The spatial analytical potential of the St. Kitts-Nevis project is further enhanced by its being embedded in a larger research framework, The DAACS Caribbean Initiative (DCI). DCI adds the systematic study of sugar estates and their slave village on Jamaica to the mix, allowing analysis of biogeographic effects on slave lifeways (Terrell 2006). However, spatial variation is analytically intractable unless there is chronological control.
For this reason, the principle focus of our initial analysis is on dating. We show that is it possible to date accurately beginning and ending dates of each settlement and chart change in the intensity and location of occupation within settlements over time. With dates in hand, we then assess the extent to which it is possible to chart change over the course of the village occupations in the frequency of an artifact class that is a major focus of our project: Afro-Caribbean ware.
Our chronology relies on frequency seriation. The seriation method assumes that the relative frequencies of types, in our case ceramic ware types, in a suite of temporally successive assemblages follow lenticular or Gaussian curves. If this is right, then an ordering of undated assemblages in which type frequencies display this pattern is likely to be a chronology (Dunnell 1970). We rely on two complementary methods to estimate order: correspondence analysis (CA) and mean ceramic dates (MCDs) (Ramenofsky, Neiman and Pierce 2009, Smith and Neiman 2007). CA converts a data matrix of type frequencies into a set on scores which estimate the positions of the assemblages on underlying axes or dimension of variation. MCD's are weighted averages of the historically documented manufacturing date for each ware type found in an assemblage, where the weights are the relative frequencies of the types. Measuring the correlation between CA axis scores and MCDs offer an indication of whether the CA scores capture time (Ramenofsky, Neiman and Pierce 2009).
Because artifact samples from individual STPs are small, a large proportion of variation among assemblages is the result of sampling error, which obscures any meaningful pattern. To reduce sampling error, we rely on empirical-Bayes smoothing methods (Robertson 1999). Once the ceramic assemblages from each STP were fit into a single chronological framework, we used regression splines to extract the trajectory of change in AC ware.
As we've seen, the location of Jessups' 18th-century slave village is documented on an 18th-century estate plat, which shows the village adjacent to the great house and mill complex. Penciled addenda on the plat suggest the location of a later settlement, further away from the great house, on the opposite side of a deep ghut. Unfortunately less than half the early village site has survived recent road construction in the vicinity. Nevertheless, 203 STPs were excavated at Jessups I, covering roughly a third of the original village site. A total of 93 STPs were excavated at Jessups II, enough to verify that the penciled addenda really do represent later slave housing. However, complete survey of the later village site waits additional funding.
The CA results for the Jessups II indicates that there is no temporal trend within the village (Figure 1). However, village-wide Mean Ceramic Date of 1792 put the mid-point of the village's occupation in the late 1700s. When assmeblages from Jessups I and Jessups II were put together, however, clear temporal trends among the two villages emerge.
As at the New River Estate, the smoothed ceramic ware-type frequencies fit the expectations of the seriation model well, witness the U-shaped point configuration in the plot of STP assemblages on the first two CA dimensions (Figure 2). The corresponding plot of ware types reveals that CA axis 1 captures time: later types lie on the right, and earlier types are on the left (Figure 3). The relationship with time is confirmed in a plot of axis-1 scores against MCDs (Figure 4).
The MCDs suggests that the Jessups I village was occupied from the middle of the 18th century until about 1780. The occupation span for Jessups II apparently runs from about 1780 to 1810. However, the presence of sizable quantities of ceramic wares on the later site that postdate 1820, indicates that the MCD of 1810 may be too early. The discrepancy might be resolved by suggesting that the number of slaves at Jessups II dropped dramatically after 1810. Evaluating this idea requires additional samples from Jessups II.
A comparison of the dating evidence for New River and Jessups reveals that the shifts in the locations of the slave villages occurred at the same time. Not only are the dates the same, but the character of the change was too. In both cases, the site of the old village was terraced for cane cultivation and the new village was located farther away from the great-house and mill complex. The Jessups slave village appears to have been moved in order to increase the amount of land under cultivation and bring that production closer to the plantation's processing hub. This would have increased production efficiency by reducing travel time and labor needed to transport sugar cane to the mill.
We suspect that changes in the frequency of Afro-Caribbean ware may offer evidence for better living conditions for slaves. Here our conclusions are more tentative because research, including INAA and petrographic studies, is ongoing. Afro-Caribbean ware is an open-fired, locally-produced, hand-built ceramic common on slave sites in the Caribbean. Red-slipped exteriors attest to the effort that went into production.
The STP chronologies for New River and Jessups allow us to chart change in the frequency of Afro-Caribbean ware relative to all other ceramics at these sites. Again, statistical methods are critical to defining the pattern of change. We fit a generalized additive model, with logistic link and binomial errors to the New River and Jessups data.
The trend in the relative frequency of Afro-Caribbean ware at the Jessups villages shows similarities and differences with the New River trend. The overall pattern for the course of the occupation is the same: increase followed by decrease (Figure 5). However, at Jessups Afro-Caribbean ware achieves its highest frequency in the late 1760s and there is an apparent dip and then a second increase in the 1770's. If, as the New River data suggest, AC ware manufacture is largely a Nevisian tradition, this kind of unanticipated variability may track variation in the proportion of newly-arrived Africans, in slave labor forces. These individuals lacked the local knowledge necessary to produce these wares. Again, further work is required to resolve this issue.
We hypothesize that at both villages the increase in Afro-Caribbean ware before 1780 represents increases in the ability of slaves to improve their own lives though local production of ceramics, resulting in the increasingly widespread use of ceramic vessels for food processing, storage and consumption. The post-1800 decline in the proportion of AC ware may represent greater means and motive to acquire and display more costly imported ceramics, as living conditions further improved and as payoffs to costly signaling with them increased (e.g. Galle 2010). Further analysis is underway to test this hypothesis.