The Sukeek’s Cabin Site (18CV426) is a late 19th through early 20th-century African American domestic occupation located on a ridge above Mackall Cove at the eastern margin of Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM) in Calvert County, Maryland. The site contains the fossiliferous sandstone foundation of a house that was constructed c. 1870 and abandoned before 1920. The vacant dwelling stood on the site until at least 1952. The site encompasses approximately one-half acre around the remains of the dwelling, including a swept yard south of the ruin, and two possible trail-heads connecting the dwelling to a spring and to the farm where some of the tenants worked. In addition, 18CV426 incorporates a 1930s hog-processing site just west of the ruin.
According to eye-witness descriptions, the house was a two-story structure with one room on each floor, approximately 17 feet square. It had clapboard siding, a single entrance on the south façade, few windows, and a metal roof. The interior walls were covered in plaster over wood lath.
The study of the Sukeek’s Cabin Site included oral history, archaeology, and documentary research. Oral historical information was gathered from several sources, including descendants of Sukeek and people who worked on the surrounding farm in the 1930s. The descendant family traces their lineage to a woman known only as Sukeek, who was enslaved on the plantation that is now JPPM. ‘Sukeek’s Cabin’ may be a misnomer, as it is not confirmed that Sukeek herself lived there, though the elder descendants believe she did. Documentary and oral historical evidence suggests that Jane Dawkins Johnson - Sukeek’s granddaughter - and her kin occupied the site, probably up to a few years before Johnson’s death in 1918. Sukeek could have lived there before her granddaughter.
The Sukeek’s Cabin Site represents Sukeek’s descendants’ first home as free people. After Emancipation, family members continued to work on the farm of their former owners, the Petersons. Analysis of the site helps to document one of the important social transformations in American history: the change from enslaved to free.
The Sukeek’s Cabin Site was first noticed during a rapid survey in 1983. However, no systematic investigation of the site was conducted. In 1996, oral historical research suggested a connection between Sukeek’s descendants and the cabin ruins. In 1999, volunteers cleared the site and began a controlled surface collection. Twelve 3-meter squares were collected. Intensive investigation of the site began in May 2000 as part of the JPPM Public Archaeology Program. Eight-week field sessions were conducted at the site in 2000 and 2001.
Investigations entailed surface collection, shovel-testing, and the excavation of test units. Fifty-two 1.5-meter squares were surface collected in 2000. In 2001, twelve shovel test pits measuring approximately 35 centimeters in diameter were excavated on the slopes south and west of the dwelling. The STPs were placed at 3-meter intervals. All soils from the STPs were screened through ¼" mesh, and the stratigraphy was recorded.
In addition to the surface collection and STPs, during both field seasons test units were placed northwest, west, and south of the foundation, as well as within the foundation. The site had not been disturbed by plowing, so the test units were all excavated by hand in 5 centimeter levels within natural layers. All soils were screened through ¼" mesh, and all artifacts were retained. A 25-centimeter square from each stratum was excavated and waterscreened through fine mesh, to detect classes of cultural material that passed through the ¼" mesh. All units within the cabin foundation or abutting it were divided into four quadrants. Each stratum in each quadrant was assigned a unique lot number. The units in the yard and elsewhere away from the cabin were not divided into quadrants.
Three units were excavated within the foundation. A trench feature and a foundation stone that protruded into it, presumably to support a floor joist, were found in the northeast corner of the dwelling, and suggested that the dwelling was log, at least on the first story.
Other units revealed that a barbed-wire and wire-mesh fence at the edge of the slope south of the house had defined the perimeter of the yard. A few artifacts were clustered along the fenceline, but the yard itself contained little cultural material. This, and the presence of complex erosional features in the yard, suggested that the area had been kept clean and vegetation-free through sweeping, a common practice among African Americans in the region. Two additional units were excavated on the relatively steep slope south of the fenceline, in an area where residents apparently dumped their trash. Visible artifacts were scattered over an area of the hillside that was at least 25 meters wide. Most of the artifacts from the site were recovered in these units.
Three test units were excavated west of the dwelling. All bore evidence of the processing of butchered hogs. This included soil disturbed by the excavation of pits to hold steel boiling drums, and the remains of fires in which metal objects were heated to make the drum water boil. Artifacts recovered directly west of the foundation suggested that objects from the house were collected and burned, perhaps during demolition.
A total of 42,771 artifacts were recovered at the Sukeek’s Cabin Site. The domestic artifacts, with the exception of a plastic thimble found in the trash midden, were comfortably dated between 1873 and 1920. Some, notably pipe fragments, were possibly earlier. Approximately 300 sherds of refined earthenware were found, most of these whiteware or ironstone. Roughly 50 porcelain fragments were recovered, many of them pieces of toys. More than 1000 fragments of bottle or jar glass were found. The majority of artifacts were plaster, fossiliferous sandstone, and shell, followed by nails.
A cast iron stove heated the house and was used for cooking; a second cast iron cook stove may have stood in the yard. Parts of both were recovered. The ruined chimney on the west end of the house was not investigated, so it is not known if a hearth predated the stoves, both of which date to the early 1870s.
Among the most interesting artifacts were sherds of a child’s alphabet plate. The registry mark indicated it was made on September 29, 1882. Slate pencil fragments and fragments of writing slates were also found. In the 1880s, Calvert County had not yet begun to bear the cost of educating African American children. There was a school for African Americans at a church five miles from the site. It is not known if the children who lived in the house attended that school, but the plate, pencils, and slate suggest that Sukeek’s family was educating their children at home.
The document collection consists of original records in good condition, with some discoloration and minor staining from field exposure. The records are housed in three letter-sized clamshell archival boxes and two oversized enclosures.
Excavation records are organized by unit; there are eleven units. Records include excavation unit reports, plan drawings, profile drawings, soil descriptions, and excavation stratum registers. Individual daily field records sheets are available for the periods January through March 1999; March, May through July, September, November, and December 2000; May through August and November 2001; and April through May 2002.
Other records include survey logs, surface collection notes, shovel test pit records, photograph logs, artifact lot number lists, miscellaneous site plans, conservation documents, miscellaneous maps, unit excavation lists, excavation sample documents, artifact control sheets, and public archaeology volunteer logs and daily task outlines. Specialized catalogs are available for surface collections conducted from 1999 through 2001, test units excavated from 2000 through 2001, shovel test pits, and cast iron stove parts. These have been scanned as .PDF files. There are no reports.
Extensive genealogical and oral history research relating to Sukeek’s descendents is available in the collection, but has not been digitized.
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 exist in the form of slides and are housed at the MAC Lab.
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