|Location:||Middleburg, Middleburg, SC, United States|
|Occupation Dates:||Third-quarter 18th century through first-quarter 19th century. Phasing and mean ceramic dates can be found on the Chronology page.|
|Excavator(s):||Dr. Leland Ferguson.|
Excavations at Middleburg Plantation (38BK38) began in 1986 as part of an archaeological survey of the East Branch of Cooper River in the South Carolina low country. Conducted by Leland Ferguson and students from the University of South Carolina, the goal of the survey was to locate the settlements and work places of enslaved Africans and African-Americans in anticipation of a larger study aimed at exploring the development of an African-American community under the stress of slavery. Middleburg Plantation, founded in the 1690s and one of the oldest plantations on the river, became a focus of this proposed larger study.
Archaeological exploration began at Middleburg with test excavations that located a slave village on a ridge northeast of the plantation house. In subsequent field seasons excavators explored the village layout, excavated the majority of one house, and investigated outlying settlements and work sites. Archaeological investigations at Middleburg and neighboring plantations continued until 1992, with a brief seven-week season of final work in 1999 (Table 1).
We anticipated finding evidence of early-18th century pioneering settlements similar in layout to West and Central African villages, however excavation and survey revealed mostly late-18th and early-19th century domestic and work complexes. The abundance of locally-made pottery called colonoware testified to the origins and resourcefulness of those enslaved, but the village layout illustrated the wealth-display of plantation owners, the rigid control placed on slaves after the American Revolution, and the fear of insurrection following the Denmark Vesey rebellion conspiracy of 1822. This work resulted in a survey report, several graduate and undergraduate theses, two documentary films, and Ferguson used data from the site in the book Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1650-1800 (Adams 1990, Affleck 1990,Babson 1987, Barile 1999, Byra 1996, Connor 1989, Errante 1993, Ferguson 1992, Ferguson and Babson 1987, Joseph 1987, Marcil 1993, West 1988).
Rising no more than thirty miles north of Charleston Bay, Cooper River is little more than an estuary, and the East Branch which flows by Middleburg is barely 13 miles long. Nevertheless, 17 plantations similar to Middleburg, were seated along the East Branch and its tributaries; and, by the early-19th century, enslaved workers had built more than 55 miles of rice field banks along this short stretch of river. The small numbers of white people who owned and planned these plantations were a close-knit group of families. The Simons, Lucas, and Ball families owned Middleburg in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and the three were related by marriage. In turn, from plantation to plantation their enslaved workers were also closely related. Marriages and liaisons between plantations were common, and both white and black had kin up and down the river. Thus, the documentary evidence from one location often sheds light on the history of two, three, or more other plantations. These sources have served as the basis for several historical works including two dissertations on demography and social history (Cody 1982, Terry 1981), as well as Edward Ball’s 1998 book Slaves in the Family in which Middleburg figures as one of the family seats.
Beginning in the early 1700s, Middleburg’s owners had businesses and dwellings in Charleston and on the coast as well as at Middleburg. The 19th century censuses show that the white presence at the plantation was often no more than a young man serving as overseer (United States Census, 1790-1889, St. Thomas and St. Dennis Parishes, South Carolina: microfilm, South Carolina Department of Archives and History). As a result, at plantations all along the Cooper River, there was an overwhelming black majority.
In a 1951 book on Charleston Gardens, author Loutrell Briggs mentioned the Middleburg slave quarters (Briggs 1951:113):
[At Middleburg] there is the avenue of gnarled old live oaks leading to an ample grass forecourt on which the house faces flanked by massive magnolias. To one side, at some distance, are farm buildings, and on the river side beyond the garden, a rectangular pond which was no doubt the “duck pond” to be seen on a very old map of the plantation. This drawing also shows a forecourt with a square formal garden on each side. Beyond one garden are twelve cabins for the Negroes and beyond the other, a barn and machine house with other accessory buildings.
Brigg’s description of the “very old map” matches a 1786 Middleburg map by surveyor Joseph Purcell. The “twelve cabins,” labeled “Negro Houses” on the map, were located about 100 yards northeast of the plantation house. A 1794 land-division map, which appears to be based largely on Purcell’s map, shows only nine houses. The Purcell map shows rice banks and fields, landing places and a storehouse on the waterfront, fences, roads, a saw house, and dependencies near the plantation house (1786 Purcell map in possession of the Thomas Huguenin family, Berkeley County, South Carolina, copy on file, South Carolina Department of Archives and History; 1794 map by Goddard and Sturges: microfilm; SC Department of Archives and History).
The first slaves came to Middleburg sometime in the late 17th or early 18th century, but the first population counts come from the last quarter of the 18th century. Estate inventories for Benjamin Simons II and Benjamin Simons III list 87 slaves living at Middleburg in 1772 and 89 in 1789 (SC Department of Archives and History, Columbia). The activities of the Middleburg workforce, represented by tools and materials in the lists, included blacksmithing, tanning, cooperage, shoe- and saddle-making, spinning, lumbering, dairying, animal husbandry, and the cultivation of oats, peas, corn, and rice. Colonoware, a locally-made ceramic, was not listed in these inventories or any other plantation documents so far discovered. The archaeological recovery of more than 21,500 colonoware fragments emphasizes the resourcefulness of the African-American population, the narrow conception of value represented by the inventories, and the limitations of the documentary evidence as a source for accurately describing day-to-day plantation activities (Affleck 1990:20-56).
Excavation history, procedure, and methods
In the mid-1980s, Ferguson and graduate student David Babson prepared a composite map of 18th- and 19th-century plats on the East Branch of Cooper River. This map and the accompanying report were to serve as tools for both archaeological research and cultural resource management. Although the original map included 19 tracts and plantations, Ferguson and Babson found no plats for several plantations, including Middleburg: Babson discovered the 1786 and 1794 maps after the archaeological project began (1987).
In 1986, three factors combined to initiate a search for the Middleburg quarters. Due to a recent faculty resignation, the Department of Anthropology asked Ferguson to teach an archaeological field course. Middleburg was a blank place on the East Branch map and the owners, the Max L. Hill family, had responded enthusiastically to a mailing to landowners along the river. The ensuing field research included four field schools and spanned more than a dozen years (Table 1).
Table 1: Middleburg Plantation Projects
|Year||Project||Dates||Field Spec. Numbers||Feature Numbers||Field Director|
|1986||Field School I (Excavations at Areas 1, 2, 3)||June 11-July 2||1-295, 299||1-18||Ferguson|
|1986||Plantation House Test||Oct. 16||296-298||Ferguson|
|1987||Filming (Excavations at Area 3)||June||300-326||19-24||Alex West|
|1988||Field School II (Excavations at Area 3)||June 17-26||330-779||Ferguson|
|1989||Field School III (Excavations at Area 3)||June 6-July 3||780-978||Ferguson|
|1989||Field School III (Excavations at Saw House)||Affleck|
|1989||Field School III (Excavations at Halidon Hill)||Affleck|
|1989||Hurricane Hugo. No excavations.||September|
|1991||Field School IV (Excavations at Area 3)||June 3-July 1||979-1200||Ferguson|
|1991||Field School IV (Excavations at the garden, north side plantation house)||Dec. 14||1201-1203||Byra|
|1992||Garden, north side plantation house||June 18||1204||Byra|
|1999||Barns (Excavations at Area 3)||Feb. 6-March 25||1205-1237||Barile|
Early plats of the plantation were not discovered until after the project began. Thus, in the beginning, with no period maps of the plantation, clues to the quarter location came from two sources: First, John Gibbes, a descendant of a previous plantation owner claimed the quarters were in a low area northeast of the plantation house, a place we designated Area 1. Second, Briggs’ book Charleston Gardens referred to a “very old map” that he said showed barns on one side of the house and “Negro Houses” on the other. We associated the standing brick “commissary” and “carriage house,” on the ridge east of the house with the barns described by Briggs. Thus, we suspected that if the quarters were not found in the spot specified by Gibbes, they were most likely west of the plantation house in a location designated Area 2. The ridge east of the house with the present-day brick barns was designated Area 3. Based on the information, we expected the quarters were most likely in Area 1, least likely in Area 3. Archaeology and subsequent historical research demonstrated our prediction wrong: We discovered the quarters in Area 3.
Beginning the search, we tied a metric coordinate system to the orientation of the plantation house with “grid north” approximately 40 degrees west of magnetic north. Thus, in this overview, all orientation refers to coordinates based on this system rather than magnetic or true north. The southwestern corner of the bottom front step of the Middleburg plantation house served as a benchmark with an arbitrary elevation of 20 meters.
In our search for the quarters, four one-meter square tests northeast of the house in Area 1 produced no features and only a sparse scattering of artifacts. West of the house, in Area 2, artifacts recovered from ten 50-x-50 centimeter tests and three posthole tests were consistent with barns but not habitation (Table 2).
Table 2: Initial Tests in Areas 1 and 2
|Area 1||N564 E609, N568 E622, N575 E654, and N570 E657.|
|Area 2a||N541 E384.1, N534.5 E383.6, and N534.5 E393.6|
|Area 2b||N524.5 E383.6, N515.5 E383.1, N504 E383.6, N500 E374, N500 E391.3 (posthole), N500 E396.8 (posthole), and N500.8 E401.7 (posthole)|
|Area 2c||N500 E425 and N500 E445|
As we tested Area 2, we also monitored utility workers in Area 3 using a “ditch-witch” to excavate a six-inch-wide trench from the plantation house to the brick commissary building. Artifacts from the ditch-witch trench included colonoware and European ceramics, shards of glass, broken bricks, and hundreds of rusty nails-just the kinds of artifacts expected from an early slave quarter.
Monitors sifted all the dirt thrown up by the ditch digger through ¼-inch screen and plotted the frequencies of various artifact types. Based on a high artifact frequency in the vicinity of N495 E570, we placed a series of eight one-inch cores along the E570 line from N485 to N520, and began excavating two squares N507 E568 and N507 E569. Please see the “Before you Begin” page for more information on these Oakfield core samples. These tests strongly implied we were wrong in guessing that the contemporary barns were in the same location as those described by Briggs on the “old map.”
As other students conducted these field tests in the summer of 1986, David Babson, searching the private archive of an adjacent landowner, discovered a copy of Joseph Purcell’s 1786 map of Middleburg-apparently the map described in Briggs’ garden book. In the vicinity of our Area 3, the map showed 12 small buildings labeled “Negro Houses.” Our excavations in Area 3 were therefore in the village and the two standing 19th-century buildings, the “commissary” and “carriage house”, were on top of the ruins of some of the slave houses.
Based on our findings and the 1786 map, we expanded excavations in this first field season in the vicinity of N511.5 E568 and began finding the postholes of an earthfast building. Subsequently, we followed the paths of two linear features (Features 2 and 8), possibly fence lines of the easternmost garden shown on the Purcell map. Confident we were in the vicinity of the village, we excavated a series of 17 one-meter squares aimed at locating the houses. As a hedge against our predictions, we also selected eight test-locations we believed to be just beyond the village, as well as 16 random locations within the predicted boundary.
In the vicinity of our Area 3 tests at N511.5 E568, we eventually exposed a two-room, earthfast house with ruins of a central brick chimney (Adams 1990; DAACS Feature Group 2). Sometime after construction, several of the earthfast posts appeared to have been shored with brick and mortar, for fragments of broken brick and mortar were found around and over most of the postholes. With the outline exposed, the house measured approximately 14.8-x-29.5 feet with the southwestern corner at N507 E566 and the northeastern corner at N511.5 E575.
The house-plan measurements together with the centrally located chimney suggested the building was a duplex with two rooms measuring approximately 14.8 feet square and doors on the southern elevation. The room diagonals measured seven yards, suggesting the Euro-American technique of laying out a square room by first striking a diagonal with a string, then using a carpenter’s square to turn 90 degrees at the midpoint and measuring a second diagonal the same length. The ends of the diagonals thus form the corners of a square room with the perpendicular intersection in the center of the square (see Adams 1990:72-73; Glassie 1975: 23). Adams observed that the technique “fits well with the European control displayed in the settlement layout.”
The 1786 map showed three rows of houses-a northern line of three structures, a middle line of five, and a southern line of four. Those who laid out the village appear to have aligned the northern walls of the northern line of the “Negro Houses” with the northern wall of the plantation house. West of the houses at the edge of a wooded area was a rail fence and another rail fence ran between the southern line of houses and a dammed waterway. Numbering the houses one to twelve from northwest to southeast, we believed we were likely seeing the remains of House #4 in our initial tests in the vicinity of N507 E566.
Aiming to locate the settlement more securely, we laid out eighteen additional one-meter test squares within the approximate 3.2-acre rectangle of the presumed village. Some of these were placed within, others between, predicted house locations. These tests produced a variety of artifacts and features consistent with village occupation. Discovery of early European ceramics in tests from the eastern portion of the village suggests undiscovered features in this area may date to the early-18th or even late-17th century. Together with the cartographic evidence, an analysis of these data, available in the DAACS database, should provide a more detailed description of the settlement.
Table 3: Tests within and between presumed locations of houses
|House 1||N521 E561|
|House 2||N524 E594|
|House 3||N521 E620, N522 E620|
|East of House 3||N526 E659|
|Between Houses 4 & 5||N505 E580|
|House 5||N511.3 E596.5, N507.8 E596, N507.8 E598.5, and N505 E599|
|Between Houses 6 & 7||N510 E631 and N511 E631|
|House 8||N510 E670 and N511 E670|
|House 9||N495 E600|
|House 11||N496 E642|
|Between Houses 11 & 12||N500 E654|
|East of House 12||N492 E685|
In addition to tests placed within and between predicted house locations, 20 one-meter squares were laid out in a stratified, unaligned random pattern within the presumed village. Only two of these, N511 E560 and N492 E685, were excavated.
Students also placed eight squares outside to the north, east, and south of the hypothesized settlement boundary. We anticipated, and discovered, negative evidence for houses in these tests.
Table 4: Tests outside limits of presumed village
|North of Village||East of Village||South of Village|
|N535 E603||N502.5 E724.5||N472 E640|
|N535 E673||N521 E711||N486 E626|
During the project, excavators used shovels and trowels to remove sediment in 10 cm levels or following natural stratigraphy and sifting all soil through ¼-inch screen. Squares were identified according to the coordinates of their southwestern corners and stratigraphic levels were measured from this corner. Artifacts were bagged and given a field specimen number according to the level in which they were found. This number, together with the site designation, became the final catalog number: For example, 38BK38-150 would identify all artifacts from the provenience designated F.S. 150. Excavation units and features, each with a unique field specimen number, were described on context and feature forms. Obvious identifiable features were also drawn in plan and photographed.In some cases, contexts with no artifacts were not given an FS assignment. As a result, DAACS analysts have assigned context (FS) numbers to these excavated contexts that produced no artifacts. This allows these contexts to be represented in the archive as well as provides critical information on negative areas within the excavation area. DAACS assigned contexts begin with the same number as the FS number above the layer in question, and have a “.1, .2” suffix. For example, context 209.1 is the DAACS assigned context number for an excavated layer that contained no artifacts and that was below the layer which produced artifacts that was assigned the FS# 209.
The natural soil profile at Middleburg consists of a gray/brown, sandy/loam organic A-horizon extending to a depth of 10-12 cm below the surface. The B-horizon exhibits a lessening of organic material and is a lighter shade of yellow loamy sand. This horizon can extend from roughly 10 cm to over 50 cm below the surface. Toward the bottom of the B-horizon, the soil becomes sandier before reaching the C-horizon, a sandy clay subsoil that is frequently rust colored. Deeper postholes could be easily identified by this colored subsoil in the fill.
When sifting, excavators collected faunal and botanical materials as well as artifacts. In addition, during a portion of the excavation, particularly the block excavations of 1988, samples from six selected units (see Table 5) were separated and screened using water flotation. Soil was collected in size #10 coffee cans. Lighter than water fractions were collected in four screens: 1 mm2, 0.5mm2, and 0.25 mm2; the heavier than water fraction was collected in .025 in2 and 0.0625 in2 screens.
Table 5. Middleburg Ethnobotanical Collections
|Field Specimen Number||Description|
|FS 633||N501 E569 (Main block excavation). Quadrant bisect of Feature 19. Feature is located between two rows of slave cabins and is hypothesized to be an outdoor hearth. The slave cabins date from the 1780s to the 1820s. One hundred percent of the soil in the bisect was processed using water separation.|
|FS 455||N496 E642 (Test excavation) 1×1 meter test unit located in center of circular earthen mound thought to contain remains of either winnowing tower or pitch pit. Botanical material was collected during excavation.|
|FS 586||N501 E570 (Main block excavation) Area east of Feature 19, located between two rows of slave cabins. Botanical material was collected during excavation.|
|FS 379||N524E594 (Test excavation) Test unit was located in estimated center of slave cabin located in second row of cabins. Botanical material was collected during excavation.|
|FS 766||N506/507E567/568 (Main block excavation) Bisect of Feature 67.2. Feature is a posthole located in the first slave cabin of the second row of cabins. Botanical material was collected during excavation.|
|FS 392||N521E561 (Test excavation) 1×1 meter test unit located near slave houses. Feature 32 contains carbonized post. Botanical material was collected during excavation.|
Summary of research and analysis
Research by students of the University of South Carolina from 1986 through 1999 clearly illustrates the high quality and enormous quantity of this resource. Research reports and master’s theses on topics related to Middleburg and other plantations on the East Branch of Cooper River are on file at the University of South Carolina and/or the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Below is an annotated list of reports and theses:
1987 Leland Ferguson and David Babson: Survey of Plantation Sites along the East Branch of Cooper River: A Model for Predicting Archaeological Site Location, Report submitted to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Prepared with support from a National Historic Preservation grant, this model is based on ten plats dating 1780-1825 and covering twenty-one tracts and plantations, including Middleburg. The report includes a detailed composite of these early maps transposed to scale and orientation of local USGS maps.
1987 David W. Babson: The Tanner Road Settlement: The Archaeology of Racism on Limerick Plantation, Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. Based on archaeological testing of a small outlying settlement, Babson determined this site was likely not a village of enslaved African Americans but rather the home of a family member of Limerick’s owner.
1987 Kathryn A. Joseph: Agricultural Construction on the East Branch of the Cooper River from 1780-1825. Paper presented to the Southeastern Archaeological Conference/Eastern States Archaeological Federation Conference, Charleston, South Carolina. Joseph analyzed paths, roads, fences, canals, causeways, dikes and dams illustrated on the composite map prepared by Ferguson and Babson above (1987). Her report provides data for individual plantations and tracts as well as totals for the entire 21 tracts and plantations on the map. With approximately 8 miles of dams and dikes totaling approximately 5.5 million cubic feet of earth, the size of Middleburg’s rice field structures ranked within the top four plantations on the river.
1988 Alexander West: Archaeology and Film: The Unequal Partnership. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. As part of his thesis on documentary film and archaeology, West produced a thirty-minute video entitled “The Strength of These Arms” based on Middleburg research, particularly early stage excavations in the vicinity of House #4 on the 1786 Purcell map (the area of DAACS Feature Groups 1, 2, and 3). The video featured the plantation landscape, archaeological excavations, early 20th century photographs, and rare 1940 color-film footage from USC’s McKissick Museum of African-American workers harvesting low-country rice.
1988 Filming, British Broadcasting Corporation: During the 1988 field season a crew from the BBC filmed archaeological work at Middleburg as part of a documentary entitled “Digging for Slaves”. The sixty-minute program included segments on excavations at Williamsburg and Monticello as well as Middleburg. The archaeological portion of the Middleburg segment focused on excavations in the vicinity of House #4 on the 1786 Purcell map (the area of DAACS Feature Groups 1, 2, and 3).
1988 Elizabeth Reitz: During the summer of 1998, Professor Reitz (University of Georgia) analyzed a collection of faunal material from Middleburg features. She reported a diverse collection including pig, cow, chicken, catfish, chicken turtle, and probably deer and quail. The BBC documentary included a segment on Dr. Reitz’s study. [Colonial Williamsburg’s Zooarchaeological Laboratory has also analyzed the Reitz collection as well as other faunal material from Middleburg. These data are provided through the DAACS database and faunal queries].
1989 Cynthia Connor: “Sleep On and Take Your Rest”: Black Mortuary Behavior on the East Branch of the Cooper River, South Carolina. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. The 1987 composite map locates planter cemeteries as well as several early African-American cemeteries. Connor’s study included 18 cemeteries and 871 observable graves. She looked for cultural pattern in cemetery location and with the aid of local informants also studied the recent use of several of these graveyards. She discusses grave markers and the traditional practice of placing artifacts on graves.
1990 Natalie P. Adams: Early African-American Domestic Architecture from Berkeley County, South Carolina, Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. In her thesis, Adams compared the architecture found in the 1986-1990 block excavation (particularly those features that comprise DAACS Feature Group 2 ) with archaeological evidence from excavations at Yaughan and Curriboo plantations (Wheaton, Friedlander and Garrow 1984). She concluded that the Middleburg structure showed more evidence of planter control than earlier slave settlements at other plantations.
1990 Richard M. Affleck: Power and Space: Settlement Pattern Change at Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. Affleck’s thesis includes a comprehensive review of Middleburg’s history, geography, and settlement pattern. He surveyed the entire plantation including portions separated in various sales and estate divisions. Looking for dispersed living and work places of African-Americans, he conducted surface collections and test excavations at locations shown on early maps including the “Saw House,” “Smokey Hill” (designated an “Old Settlement” on the 1786 map), and Halidon Hill. His thesis includes probate inventories of Middleburg owners Benjamin Simons II and his son, Benjamin Simons III.
1992 Leland Ferguson: Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1650-1800. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. Ferguson recounts finding the “Negro Houses” shown on the 1786 Purcell map of Middleburg. A broad study of early African-American culture in the southeastern United States includes colonoware data from the site.
1993, James Errante: Waterscape Archaeology: A Survey for 18th Century Boat Landings at Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina, Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. The East Cooper waterway was Middleburg’s principle connection to other plantations and the outside world. Eighteenth-century maps showed two landings. Errante conducted an underwater survey along the entire length of the plantation’s riverfront. Although he recovered some artifacts, Errante found no clear evidence of the river landing on the surface of the river bottom. The thesis includes Errante’s presentation of the waterscape concept as well as a discussion of several terrestrial features along the waterfront and their relationship to the waterway.
1993 Valerie G. Marcil: Continuity and Change: Colono Ware as a Coping Tool for African Americans. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. Marcil analyzed a sample of Middleburg colonoware from Features 28, 46, 61, 67.1, 67.2, 67.3 and 129. This analysis was part of a larger study of the meaning of this ware in the lives of African-American slaves. Employing a biocultural approach, Marcil argues that these hand-built ceramics–likely used for preparing and serving both foods and medicine as well as in ritual activities–were a traditionally rooted response to the stresses of slavery.
1996 Patti L. Byra: The Contextual Meaning of the 1830s Landscape at Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina, Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. The Lucas family, who owned Middleburg in the early 19th century, was prominent in developing rice-milling technology. During the 1830s Jonathan Lucas III significantly altered the 18th century Middleburg environment. This new landscape resembled an Old World estate with formal plantings and European-style outbuildings. Excavations in the formal garden north of the plantation house confirmed the early-19th century date of this garden and provided botanical and palynological data about early plantings. Appendix A lists the probate inventory of Jonathan Lucas III (Charleston County Inventories, 1848: SC Department of Archives and History, Columbia).
1999 Kerri Saige Barile: Causes and Creations: Exploring the Relationship between 19th Century Slave Insurrections, Landscape and Architecture at Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina, Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. In 1999, Barile returned to Middleburg to study the architecture of the 19th-century commissary and carriage house and to consider carefully the antebellum landscape. She excavated four units adjacent to the building foundations: one at the stable, and three at the commissary. Barile determined the buildings were most likely built in the 1820s and that one of the “Negro Village” houses was burned prior to construction of the commissary. In her comparative study of Middleburg and other plantations, Barile argues that Middleburg’s 19th-century landscape modifications were largely a response to threats of rebellion by enslaved workers on low-country plantations—especially the revolt planned in 1822 by freedman Denmark Vesey.
Middleburg and the entire East Branch of Cooper River is a remarkable archaeological resource for the study of African-American history. The entire river valley is a National Historic District with an exceptionally well-preserved archaeological record. Throughout the historic period, the overwhelming majority of people who lived in this region were African American. Historical archaeology on the East Branch of Cooper River, and particularly at Middleburg plantation, has illustrated the resourcefulness and resilience of the enslaved population as well as planters’ attempts to control their black workers and their response to threats of rebellion.
Combining early plats and documents with archaeological discovery, student archaeologists reconnoitered and surveyed plantations on the entire East Branch. More intensive archaeological testing and excavation at Middleburg revealed the location, general layout, and many particular features of a village. This work included the block excavation of a late-18th to early-19th century slave dwelling in the vicinity of the dwelling we identified as House #4 on the Purcell plat. Archaeological surveyors mapped and tested several settlements closely related to Middleburg; however data from these surveys are not included in the DAACS database.
Eighteenth-century planters arranged the settlement in a rigid alignment based on the orientation of the plantation house and the excavation of House #4 revealed an earthfast structure laid out in an European fashion. Nevertheless, the white minority could not completely control the large number of workers. The prodigious amount of folk-made pottery (colonoware) together with fishhooks, gunflints and a wide range of plant and animal remains testify to independent activities of Middleburg’s black majority-activities that likely included active as well as passive resistance to slavery.
Nineteenth-century changes to the Middleburg settlement correlate with fearful reactions to the Denmark Vesey conspiracy. Like many others, Middleburg’s owners had barns and storehouses rebuilt close to the plantation house and the slave quarters moved away. At least one house was burned prior to construction of a new brick commissary. This period saw cruel and repressive responses from planters throughout the low-country. Nevertheless, their reactionary movement of slave quarters away from plantation houses to more remote locations may have reminded some black Carolinians of Br’er Rabbit being thrown in the Briar Patch: Through the 19th and 20th centuries the remoteness of these lowcountry communities allowed the Gullah people of the South Carolina low country to flourish as one of America’s most distinctive sub-cultures-their survival, due in part, to their ancestors’ competent resourcefulness and threats of rebellion.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, USC
Research Associate, Old Salem Museums and Gardens
Things you need to know about Middleburg excavations before you use the data:
- Measurements are in meters and centimeters.
- All sediment was screened through 1/4 inch mesh, with the exception of a few sediment samples that were floated.
- Some contexts that were excavated but did not contain artifacts were not designated a Field Specimen Number (FS#) in the field. In order to represent these contexts in the archive, DAACS has created FS numbers for these negative contexts. DAACS-assigned context ids for these contexts begin with the same number as the context or FS number above the layer in question, and have a “.1” suffix. For example, “209.1” is the context ID for the sediment layer below context 209. 209.1 had no artifacts. The following DAACS-assigned FS numbers were given to contexts that had no artifacts: 017.2, 054.1, 054.2, 054.3, 141.2 , 163.2, 209.1, 225.1
- An Oakenfield corer measuring 1 inch in diameter was used at systematic intervals in the block excavation area. Grid coordinates were recorded for each core. Artifacts were recovered for some of the cores. Stratigraphic layers within a core that contained artifacts were assigned FS (context) numbers; no FS numbers were assigned for “negative” layers within a core. In order to represent all sediment layers in the core samples, whether they were negative or positive, and to lessen confusion, DAACS has created new contexts for all core samples. The cores have been assigned context numbers beginning with “Core1.A” (Core 1, Level A), etc. Center points for the cores have been recorded as ‘Quadrat Boundaries.’
- Please see the Site Features page for detailed information about features at Middleburg.
Middleburg Site Maps
- Magnetic North is 39 degrees east of grid north for Middleburg excavations.
- Quadrats are identified by their southwest corner coordinates, which also serve as Quadrat IDs.
- A final site map that contained all quadrats and features was never compiled for the Middleburg excavations. As a result, the site maps included on the DAACS website have been compiled by Leslie Cooper, DAACS Archaeological Analyst. Cooper used Microstation and ArcGIS to compile hundreds of maps and field sketches that were drawn by the excavators between 1986 and 1999. These maps were found throughout the context and feature field forms. Cooper combined these small individual feature and context maps with two large area survey maps produced by Ferguson and Babson in the late 1980s. Ferguson consulted extensively with Cooper on the production of the Middleburg/DAACS site maps and they believe they are the best representation of the contexts and features excavated at Middleburg between 1986 and 1999. We suggest, however, that researchers use the maps in conjunction with the context and feature descriptions that can be retrieved through the Context Query page.
- Portions of a number of features are represented on the Middleburg site maps with dotted lines. These dotted lines are approximations of the feature’s dimensions since they were mapped in one quadrat but not mapped in the other quadrats. However, excavator descriptions on unit and feature forms indicate that these features extended into other quadrats and therefore the dotted lines represent DAACS’s best guess as to the extent of these features
©2013 Thomas Jefferson Foundation
The original excavators of the Middleburg site assigned numbers to individual features. Middleburg feature numbers were assigned consecutively throughout the entire project. Since Middleburg feature numbers were assigned by the excavator, they do not have a F-prefix as DAACS-assigned feature numbers do.
Feature Groups are comprised of features whose architectural or landscape or spatial/Feature groups are sets of features whose spatial arrangements indicate they were part of a single structure (e.g. structural postholes, subfloor pits, hearth) or landscape element (e.g. postholes that comprise a fenceline). Feature Groups were not assigned by the original excavators. In 2008, feature groups were assigned by DAACS in consultation with Leland Ferguson. These feature groups have a FG-prefix, which precedes the number (i.e. FG01 equals Feature Group 1).
Things to know about Middleburg features:
1. Due to the Field Specimen (FS) system of assigning context numbers, unexcavated features were assigned features numbers but were never given context numbers. To represent these unexcavated features in the database, DAACS assigned context (FS) numbers that are comprised of an F-prefix followed by the feature number. For example, Feature 68 was not excavated and had no FS/context number. A DAACS context was assigned as “1300-F068.” For a complete list of these unexcavated features, please see the Before You Begin page.
2. Similarly, excavators also did not assigned FS numbers to features that were excavated but that contained no artifacts. To represent these unexcavated features in the database, DAACS assigned context (FS) numbers that are comprised of a F-prefix followed by the feature number. For example, Feature 102 was assigned the context “1300-F102.”
3. There are three gaps in the feature number list. Features 14, 68, and 74 do not exist. Feature 14 was initially thought to be a separate feature but was later deleted and designated part of Feature 19. Feature 68 was assigned a feature number but was determined later not to be a feature. There was no field record for Feature 74 and it does not show up on any sketch maps. It appears on a feature log form as being excavated in 1987 but the feature form contains no other information.
4. Parts of a brick foundation excavated in 1986 were not assigned feature or field specimen numbers in the field. In order to identify these features in the database, DAACS has assigned context and feature numbers to these brick features (F143 and F144).
5. Feature 95 was excavated and contained artifacts but was not assigned an F.S. number in the field. As a result, DAACS assigned a FS/context to these artifacts and they have been cataloged as context “F095.”
6. All features have associated contexts except for the following features: F109, a limestone marker, F116, a fireplace backing, and F117, a large iron pipe. The pipe was not removed and therefore not cataloged into DAACS.
7. Portions of a number of features are represented on the Middleburg site map with dotted lines. These dotted lines are approximations of the features’ dimensions since they were mapped in one quadrat but not mapped in the other quadrats. However, excavator descriptions on unit and feature forms indicate that these features extended into other quadrats and therefore the dotted lines represent DAACS’s best guess as to the extent of these features.
|067.2||Posthole||157, 670, 766|
|142||Rubble Scatter||1199, 1198|
|028||Rubble Scatter||569, 560, 368, 530, 543, 617, 559, 597, 711, 580, 591, 550, 570|
|046||Rubble Scatter||490, 606, 608, 701|
|143||Brick in Course||F143|
|144||Brick in Course||F144|
|001||Trench, utility||143, 117, 118, 119, 120, 130, 131, 132, 133, 145, 144, 151, 152, 245, 247, 262, 261, 259, 205, 204, 153, 154, 155, 268, 080, 088, 079, 068, 075, 076, 083, 086, 090, 101, 093, 113, 094, 105, 099, 103, 110, 039, 163.2|
|002||Trench, unidentified||207, 275, 210, 211, 222, 158, 159, 179, 181, 531, 771, 775|
|003||Pit, unidentified||729, 742, 743|
|004||Pit, unidentified||142, 095, 173|
|005||Pit, unidentified||174, 097|
|008||Trench, unidentified||214, 201, 203|
|012||Tree Stump||293, 289|
|019||Hearth, possible||519, 613, 633, 673|
|031||Trench, unidentified||391, 400|
|054||Not a Basin/Cut||566, 568, 574, 577|
|055||Not a Basin/Cut||567, 596|
|059||Pit, unidentified||697, 650, 603|
|061||Trench, unidentified||646, 623, 630|
|062||Posthole, possible||678, 651|
|067.3||Trench, unidentified||717, 700, 579, 611|
|109||Not a Basin/Cut|
|116||Not a Basin/Cut|
|117||Not a Basin/Cut||974|
|118||Brick in Course||989|
|119||Brick in Course||F119|
|124||Unidentified||1007, 1008, 1005|
|141||Tree hole||1191, 1192|
DAACS Seriation Method
DAACS staff aim to produce a seriation-based chronology for each slave-quarter site using the same methods (see Neiman, Galle, and Wheeler 2003 for technical details). Only assemblages from features or stratigraphic groups with more than five ceramic sherds are included in these ceramic-based seriations. Although many Middleburg features and stratigraphic groups contain more than five sherds, DAACS has currently been unable to produce a statistically significant seriation-based chronology for the site.
Mean Ceramic Dates and TPQs
However, Mean Ceramic Dates for the entire Middleburg site (MCD=1770) and the main excavation block (MCD=1771) point to the site’s temporal placement in the third-quarter of the eighteenth century.
Two other chronological measures that are less sensitive to excavation errors and taphonomic processes that might introduce a small amount of anomalously late material into an assemblage were also calculated. They are TPQp90 and TPQp95.
The TPQp95 of 1775 provides a robust estimate of the site’s TPQ based on the 95th percentile of the beginning manufacturing dates for all the artifacts comprising it. The TPQp90 of 1762 provides a more robust estimate of the site’s TPQ based on the 90th percentile of the beginning manufacturing dates for all the artifacts comprising it.
Site-wide Mean Ceramic Date and TPQs
The following table displays MCDs and TPQs calculated using ceramics from all excavated contexts at Middleburg.
Main Block Excavation Mean Ceramic Date and TPQs
The following table displays the MCD and TPQs calculated using ceramics from all excavated contexts in the main excavation block.
|Main Block Excavation||1771.6||1870||1762||1775||17,365|
Middleburg Plantation Harris Matrix
The Harris Matrix summarizes stratigraphic relationships among excavated contexts and groups of contexts that DAACS staff has identified as part of the same stratigraphic group. Stratigraphic groups and contexts are represented as boxes. Lines that connect these boxes represent temporal relationships implied by the site’s stratification, as recorded by the site’s excavators (Harris 1979).
Stratigraphic groups, which represent multiple contexts, are identified on the diagram by their numeric designations (e.g. SG01) followed by the original excavator’s descriptions of them (e.g. “occupation zone”). Contexts that could not be assigned to stratigraphic groups are identified by their individual context numbers (e.g. 345). Contexts and stratigraphic groups that are associated with features are identified on the diagram by the feature number which is followed by either the context number or stratigraphic group (e.g. 067.2_670)
Boxes with color fill represent contexts and stratigraphic groups with ceramic assemblages large enough to be included in the DAACS seriation of the site (see Chronology). Their seriation-based phase assignments are denoted by different colors to facilitate evaluation of the agreement between the stratigraphic and seriation chronologies. Grey boxes represent contexts that were not included in the seriation because of small ceramic samples.
See the Middleburg Chronology page for Stratigraphic and Phase information.
This Harris Matrix is based on data on stratigraphic relationships recorded among contexts in the DAACS database. It was drawn with the ArchEd application. See http://www.ads.tuwien.ac.at/arched/index.html.
For a printable version, download the Harris Matrix [163.82 KB PDF].
Overview of Middleburg Plantation showing main house in relation to excavation areas.
PDF of composite excavator’s plan of block excavation area, compiled by DAACS from original field drawings, with excavation units and features labeled.
PDF of composite excavator’s plan of block excavation area, compiled by DAACS from original field drawings, with only excavation units labeled.
PDF of composite excavator’s plan of block excavation area, compiled by DAACS from original field drawings, with only features labeled.
1990 Early African-American Domestic Architecture from Berkeley County, South Carolina. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Affleck, Richard M.
1990 Power and Space: Settlement Pattern Change at Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
1987 Tanner Road Settlement: The Archaeology of Racism on Limerick Plantation. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
1998 Slaves in the Family. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.
Barile, Kerri Saige
1999 Causes and Creations: Exploring the Relationship between 19th Century Slave Insurrections, Landscape and Architecture at Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
1951 Charleston Gardens. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina.
Byra, Patti L.
1996 The Contextual Meaning of the 1830s Landscape at Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Cody, Carol Ann
1982 Slave Demography and Family Formation: A Community Study of the Ball Family Plantations, 1720-1896. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, University Microfilms, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan.
1989 “Sleep On and Take Your Rest”: Black Mortuary Behavior on the East Branch of the Cooper River, South Carolina. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
1993 Waterscape Archaeology: A Survey for 18th Century Boat Landings at Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County, South Carolina. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
1992 Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1650-1800. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Ferguson, Leland , and David Babson
1987 Survey of Plantation Sites along the East Branch of the Cooper River: A Model for Predicting Archaeological Site Location. Report submitted to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia.
1999 The Cross is a Magic Sign: Marks on Eighteenth Century Bowls from South Carolina., I, Too Am America: Archaeological Studies of African-American Life. In I, Too Am America: Archaeological Studies of African-American Life. Edited by Theresa Singleton, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, pp. 116-131.
1975 Folk Housing in Middle Virginia: A Structural Analysis of Historic Artifacts. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Harris, Edward C.
1979 Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy. Academic Press, London, England.
Hill, Max L., III
n.d. A Brief History of Middleburg. Manuscript on file, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
1998 Preliminary Analysis of Archaeobotanical Material Recovered from Middleburg Plantation, South Carolina. Manuscript, Department of Archaeology, Boston University.
1987 Agricultural Construction on the East Branch of Cooper River from 1780-1825. Paper presented to the Southeastern Archaeological Conference and Eastern States Archaeological Federation, Charleston, South Carolina.
Marcil, Valerie G.
1993 Continuity and Change: Colono Ware as a Coping Tool for African Americans. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Neiman, Fraser D., Jillian E. Galle , and Derek Wheeler
2003 Chronological Inference and DAACS. Unpublished paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Providence, Rhode Island. On file at the Department of Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia.
1981 ‘Champaign Country’: A Social History of an Eighteenth Century Lowcountry Parish in South Carolina, St. Johns Berkeley County. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of History, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.