SOTTERLEY SLAVE CABIN
18ST54

Introduction

The Sotterley Slave Cabin (18ST54) is a standing African American slave and tenant dwelling built between 1830 and 1850 at Sotterley Plantation in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. It is the only surviving slave cabin at Sotterley Plantation, which once contained anywhere from five to ten such structures, and its survival is due in part to renovations and periodic use following the Civil War and into the early 20th century.

Other surviving structures at Sotterley Plantation include the c.1717 main house and numerous outbuildings from the 18th through 20th centuries.

The slave cabin is one of only a few structures still standing in St. Mary’s County that constituted the housing for well over half of southern Maryland’s antebellum residents. This structure, its archaeological collection, and associated research on the history and genealogy of its inhabitants, represent a significant resource for examining African American lifeways just before and after the Civil War in southern Maryland. In particular, the slave cabin assemblages offer the potential to compare the material conditions of life before and after freedom.

Archaeological Investigations

This single-room cabin measured 16 by 18 feet with a loft above, and was constructed of hewn and sawn pine logs, square notched at the corners. Clay and mortar was used as chinking, and cedar posts were attached to the logs by wooden pegs to provide additional stability to the structure. The floor was hard-packed dirt or clay with a root cellar in front of the fireplace. The house was heated by a brick or stone chimney. A corner staircase by the fireplace allowed access to the loft. Two doors were centered on the west and east walls, and unglazed windows lit the building. Architectural historians from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation detected numerous repairs and renovations to the slave cabin that occurred at various times since its original construction. Among these changes: a brick and stone chimney was added to the dwelling, the foundation along the south wall was underpinned by stone, a wooden floor was added and later removed, boards replaced a shingled roof, and vertical siding was placed on the exterior of the structure. In addition, a partition was placed in the attic, a new staircase was positioned in the northwest corner of the cabin, and the interior walls were whitewashed.

In October 1995, Jessica Neuwirth conducted a limited program of archaeological testing within a fifteen foot perimeter around the slave cabin as part of a project to stabilize the structure. This investigation focused on sampling archaeological deposits within and adjacent to the slave cabin that would be impacted by the proposed stabilization, and on addressing questions about the chronology of the cabin’s construction and subsequent repairs. Testing at the site consisted of four five-by-five foot excavation units, three partial five-by-five foot units, and ten shovel test pits. Six units were placed directly outside the foundation walls, one unit was placed in the structure’s interior in front of the chimney, two shovel tests were dug inside the building, and eight shovel tests were excavated at ten-foot intervals on two transects in the surrounding yard. All soils were screened through ¼-inch mesh, and excavation units were dug according to natural stratigraphy until culturally sterile subsoils were reached. This archaeological investigation discovered stratified midden features to the east, west, and south of the cabin, a root cellar inside the structure, and stratified deposits associated with the construction and repair of the foundation. Additional archaeological investigations on the Sotterley Slave Cabin were conducted by Jessica Neuwirth in 1997.

Artifacts

A total of 17,506 artifacts were recovered from the Sotterley Plantation Slave Cabin Site during the first season of Neuwirth’s excavation. These artifacts included predominantly building materials, faunal remains, and domestic debris from the 1830s through 20th century. Over 8,000 oyster shell fragments and 3,600 pieces of building material, such as mortar, brick, foundation stone, and nails, were recovered, along with 3,686 glass fragments and 309 ceramic sherds. Some of the 527 animal bones exhibited butchery marks. Coal was utilized periodically in the fireplace to heat the structure, while oyster shells were used to improve the drainage around the structure. Seventeenth and 18th-century artifacts were virtually absent, except for three creamware and two pearlware sherds, supporting the 19th-century construction date of the slave cabin. Artifact concentrations suggest that the eastern yard saw much less activity than did the west yard, indicating that these areas served different functions for the cabin’s occupants.

Records

The Sotterly Slave Cabin document collection is comprised entirely of photocopies in very good condition, with no stains from field exposure. The collection is housed in one letter-sized clamshell archival storage box and one document roll.

Excavation records are organized sequentially by excavation unit number. Records exist for Units 1 through 6 and Unit 8. Excavation records consist of notes, soil descriptions, provenience cards, plan and profile drawings, and lot lists. There is no field journal associated with the collection.

Most other records consist of site history records and research. Additional records in the collection include maps, conservation documents, photography logs, survey logs, excavation unit logs, shovel test pit logs, catalog sheets, artifact catalogs, and correspondence. These are available online as .PFD files.

One bound report, Archaeological Investigations at the Sotterly Plantation Slave Cabin, St. Mary’s County, Maryland (Neuwirth 1996) is included in the collection and available online as a word searchable .PDF file.

Researchers should note that if information was found on both sides of an original form, only information on the form’s front side was photocopied.

Photographs taken on-site or in post-processing are available through the online database, and are searchable using the above criteria. Researchers should note that images are not linked directly to specific documents, and photograph records do not necessarily exist for all features or units. Original images consist of slides, prints, and contact sheets and are housed at the MAC Lab.

References

Chappell, Edward, Jeffrey Bostetter, Willie Graham, and Mark R. Wenger
1995     The Slave House at Sotterley near Hollywood, St. Mary’s County, Maryland: An Architectural Investigation. Report prepared by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for the Sotterley Mansion Foundation.
Neuwirth, Jessica L.
1996     Archaeological Investigations at the Sotterley Plantation Slave Cabin, St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Report prepared for the Sotterley Mansion Foundation.
1997     1997 Sotterley Slave Cabin Report-Addendum. Report prepared for the Sotterley Mansion Foundation.

Digital Resources

Documents

  • No documents

PDFs

Archaeological Report
Catalogs
Conservation Documents
Correspondence
Excavation Documents
Maps
Photo Log
Project Documents


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An online archive of over 30 archaeological sites in Maryland, produced by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab with the support of the National Endowment of the Humanities.