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French Colonial Archaeology in the Southeast and Caribbean$

Kenneth G. Kelly and Meredith D. Hardy

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780813036809

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813036809.001.0001

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French Refugees and Slave Abuse in Frederick County, Maryland

French Refugees and Slave Abuse in Frederick County, Maryland

Jean Payen de Boisneuf and the Vincendière Family at L'Hermitage Plantation

Chapter:
(p.29) 3 French Refugees and Slave Abuse in Frederick County, Maryland
Source:
French Colonial Archaeology in the Southeast and Caribbean
Author(s):

KENNETH G. KELLY

MEREDITH D. HARDY

Publisher:
University Press of Florida
DOI:10.5744/florida/9780813036809.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses archaeological and historical research conducted to help Monocacy National Battlefield interpret a plantation on their property that was founded by refugees of the French Revolution and subsequent slave uprising in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue. Between 1789 and 1793, Jean Payen de Boisneuf, Marguerite Magnan de la Vincendière, and her children fled to Maryland and founded a plantation in Frederick County that they called L'Hermitage. These French refugees arrived in the area with deeply held religious and proprietary values that were in conflict with the predominantly German protestant population of the region. They owned an unusually high number of slaves, and the slave abuse they exercised was so extreme that criminal charges were filed. The history and archaeology of L'Hermitage reveals the conflicts that arose when one displaced French family moved to an area where their values and behaviour clashed with the local community.

Keywords:   French refugees, slave abuse, plantation, archaeology, Saint-Domingue, Frederick County, Maryland

Among the properties owned by Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick County, Maryland, is a 274-acre tract known as the Best Farm. In the 1790s, a family of French refugees, fleeing the Reign of Terror in France and the subsequent slave uprising in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), established a plantation at the site that they called L'Hermitage.

In 2000, Monocacy National Battlefield launched an Archaeological Identification and Evaluation Study of the Best Farm, which was being considered as a possible location for a new visitor's center (Figure 3.1). In an effort to inform the project about the French refugee occupation of the site, the Maryland Historical Trust sponsored a graduate internship designed to draw together archaeological studies of plantation sites in Maryland and Virginia as well as the Caribbean, and combine this context with primary historical research on the family that occupied the site. This study was designed to identify practices that the family may have carried with them from France and the Caribbean, and consider how this imported vision may have manifested itself on the landscape. What would a French-Caribbean plantation owner build if the plantation were removed to northern Maryland? Was the family heavily influenced by the local cultural and physical landscape? And how did the trauma of the French and Saint-Domingue revolutions affect the life that this specific family established in Frederick County? (p.30)

French Refugees and Slave Abuse in Frederick County, MarylandJean Payen de Boisneuf and the Vincendière Family at L'Hermitage Plantation

Figure 3.1. L'Hermitage Plantation, Monocacy National Battlefield, Frederick County, Maryland. The parcel of land is now popularly known as the Best Farm because the Best family lived there during the Civil War. In the plan view of the site, the stone house with the white upper story is labeled the “Secondary Dwelling” because of the presence of a larger extant house at the site today. Courtesy of Monocacy National Battlefield, National Park Service.

The subsequent research performed by the author revealed a story of a refugee family that established a lifestyle centered on large-scale ownership of slaves, including blatantly inhumane treatment of slaves that contributed to an antagonistic relationship between L'Hermitage residents and the surrounding community. These details, in combination with contextual data compiled from plantation archaeology in Maryland and the Caribbean, have helped to shape the direction of the excavations conducted at the Best Farm and interpretations of the resources unearthed there so far.

Becoming Refugees

L'Hermitage Plantation was founded when its inhabitants, the Vincendière family and Jean Payen de Boisneuf, were forced out of Saint-Domingue and France by the French Revolution and subsequent slave uprising in (p.31) Saint-Domingue. In 1780, Saint-Domingue was the richest French colony, with exports from the relatively small island outpacing those of the United States (Babb 1954:13–14). The wealth of the nation came from the utilization of enslaved labor to produce high-demand crops such as sugar and indigo. By 1789, the colony's population was comprised of about 54,000 white planters, 36,000 free mulattos, and over 675,000 enslaved individuals (Blackburn 1997:440). The cruel regime of enslaved human labor that created the island's riches also created an imbalanced population with the majority forced into such harsh working conditions that suicide and infanticide were not uncommon, and thousands of new slaves were imported each year to keep up populations (Geggus 1982:25; Rivers 2002:28–29).

When the French Revolution broke out, Jean Payen de Boisneuf was associated with a crowd of French politicians who supported the revolution in France as long as the situation in Saint-Domingue remained status quo (Childs 1940). As the proprietor of three large sugar plantations in central Saint-Domingue, Boisneuf was active in the colony's trade and politics, and he used what political clout he had to maintain the system of slavery upon which his livelihood depended (Mastromarino 2000:77–78, 385–386; Ministère des Finances 1832).

Slavery and the subjugation of free mulattos were not politically supportable when the ideas of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” swept in with the French Revolution, however. Educated Saint-Domingue mulattos in Paris demanded equal rights when the French Revolution broke out. Their movement fueled the abolition movement in France, which quickly spread to Saint-Domingue, and by August 1791 Saint-Domingue was experiencing a revolution of its own (Reinhardt 2000:19).

In his capacity as a member of the Estates General of France and the Colonial Assembly of Saint-Domingue, Boisneuf and a colleague traveled to Philadelphia in November 1791 to appeal for U.S. military aid in halting the uprising. The two deputies met with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who delivered their letter of appeal to Congress, but the United States took no action, and Boisneuf returned to France (Mastromarino 2000:77–78).

In 1793, Boisneuf attempted to return to Saint-Domingue by way of the United States, but word of the deteriorating situation in Saint-Domingue prevented him from completing his trip (Catterall 1968:56). In the summer of 1793, the white population of the colony lost all control (p.32) as Saint-Domingue revolutionaries burned the capital, Cap Français, and massacred many of the white residents. Saint-Domingue's white, mulatto, and enslaved residents fled the island to Cuba, Louisiana, South Carolina, Maryland, and other U.S. states (Babb 1954; Fiehrer 1992:26).

Boisneuf decided to remain in the United States until the situation calmed down, for the political atmosphere in France may have been just as dangerous for him as it was in the colony. By 1793, Boisneuf was socializing with a group of Frenchmen in Philadelphia that one Republican sympathizer described as “the most gangrenous aristocrats,” indicating that Boisneuf was out of favor with the Jacobins leading the Reign of Terror (Childs 1940:109, 163). Unable to return to the colony, and apparently unwilling to return to revolutionary France, Boisneuf took up residence in Maryland with his cousin's wife, Madame Marguerite Magnan de la Vincendière, and her children (Catterall 1968:55–56).

Saint-Domingue Refugees in Maryland

Maryland was an attractive location for refugees fleeing Saint-Domingue thanks to strong trade ties that connected Saint-Domingue and Maryland ports. Hundreds of refugees fleeing by sea stepped onto ships already destined for Baltimore (Babb 1954:63; Morrow 2000:123). Many Marylanders were sympathetic to the refugees, who arrived with horrific depictions of the rebellion led by the “cannibal insurgent bondsmen” (Fiehrer 1992:28). Reports of the massacre filled the Baltimore newspapers, prompting residents to open their homes to refugees in need and launch benefits to raise money for them. The 1793 wave brought 53 ships with approximately 1,000 white and 500 enslaved refugees to Baltimore (Rivers 2002:34–36). By 1794, there were more refugees needing aid in Maryland than in any other U.S. state (Babb 1954:86).

As refugees flooded the country, fear spread that slaveholders in the United States might suffer a similar uprising if they did not keep the slaves arriving from Saint-Domingue under tight control. White Virginians referred to the enslaved refugees as “infected with the contagion of liberty,” and Louisiana prohibited importation of Saint-Dominguan slaves altogether (Debien and Le Gardeur 1992:146; Egerton 2000:96). These fears were not entirely unfounded. In the decade of the 1790s, slave uprisings in the United States increased by 150 percent, and many Americans blamed (p.33) the refugees (Babb 1954:242–243). In order to maintain control, various states with a high number of refugees passed laws to regulate them.

Maryland's response was to limit the number of slaves that the refugees could import. In 1792, the legislature adopted “An act respecting the slaves of certain French subjects,” which allowed the refugees to retain five household servants for a head of household and three domestic servants for a single man, as long as they registered these individuals in their county of residence (Maryland 1792). This law compelled Boisneuf and the Vincendières to register their imported slaves when they arrived in Frederick County, Maryland, marking the first documentary evidence of their intent to settle there.

The Founding of L'Hermitage

On December 28, 1793, Boisneuf and the Vincendières registered 12 enslaved individuals in Frederick County. As head of household, Marguerite Magnan de la Vincendière registered five servants: Janvier, age 24; François Arajou, age 20; Jean Sans-nom, age 16; Véronique, also 16; and Maurice, age 15. Her sons also registered slaves, presumably within their rights as single men, though the youngest son, Henry, was only 11 years old at the time (Russell 2001:230). Étienne Paul Mario de la Vincendière registered three servants: Marianne, age 40; Cécile, age 18; and Souris, age 15. Henry de la Vincendière registered Saint-Louis, age 14. Finally, Boisneuf registered a man and two children: Pierre Louis, age 35; Lambert, age 5; and Fillete, age 8 (Rivers 2002).

Along with Madame Vincendière's daughters, this group presumably comprised the founding settlers at L'Hermitage Plantation, though it is unclear how the group could afford the undertaking. It is possible that an inheritance from another refugee, Pierre Laberon, who arrived with the family just before dying in 1794, may have supported the plantation, but the amount of money he bequeathed to Boisneuf and the Vincendières is unknown (Rivers 2005). Marguerite and her husband, Étienne Bellumeau de la Vincendière, were estranged at the time of the revolutions—she in France and he in Saint-Domingue. Étienne had been a planter in Saint-Domingue, but he fled in December 1792 “to avoid being murdered by the assassins armed by the Civil Commissioners Polverel and Sonthonax against all the planters of … St. Domingo” (South Carolina Will Book D 1800–1807). (p.34) He lived out his life in Charleston, South Carolina, as a destitute refugee who relied heavily on charity (Rivers 2005).

Boisneuf was in debt when he arrived in the United States and remained an insolvent debtor until his death, so he could not have backed the venture unless his assets were hidden in the Vincendières' name (Rivers 2005). He did play an important founding role at the plantation, however, as he negotiated the purchase of the first 451 acres that would comprise L'Hermitage on behalf of Victoire Vincendière, Marguerite's oldest daughter. It is unclear how or why, but Victoire Vincendière, who was 17 years old in 1794, legally owned all of the family's assets from the time they arrived in Maryland, including all of the land and slaves that many observers of the plantation attributed to Boisneuf. Despite Victoire's legal status as owner, evidence suggests that no one resident of the plantation completely controlled its formation, but rather the Vincendières, Boisneuf, and other refugees that they took in worked and lived there together for the benefit of the whole group (Rivers 2005).

By 1798, the plantation had grown to 748 acres, including the land now owned by Monocacy National Battlefield (Rivers 2002). Large plantations were still common in Frederick County, but L'Hermitage was unusual in that it was populated with a very high number of enslaved laborers for its size and location. Cereal crops such as grain, wheat, and clover dominated the area, and fewer laborers were necessary for growing these crops than the tobacco that dominated southern Maryland. Typical cereal plantations of 700–1,000 acres had 12–25 slaves (Rivers 2002:53).

L'Hermitage broke with local trends. With a population of 90 enslaved individuals in the 1800 census, Victoire was one of the largest slaveholders in Frederick County. There were iron furnaces in the area that might have created opportunities to rent slaves out and draw income for the family, but the Caribbean background of the refugees may have been a greater motivator in the acquisition of such a large number of individuals. Prior to the revolution, Marguerite's husband had been a planter, her parents had owned an indigo plantation, and Boisneuf had owned three large sugar plantations. Any attempt to re-create what they lost would have compelled them to own a large population of slaves, and they may have done so whether they truly needed them to work the land or not.

(p.35) Slave Abuse at L'Hermitage

Evidence that the refugees attempted to perpetuate their Saint-Domingue lifestyle is found in their treatment of the slaves at L'Hermitage. Disciplinary practices varied from plantation to plantation, but mutilation, whipping, and other violence has been recorded throughout the Caribbean and plantation-holding areas of North America (Blackburn 1997). Since the proprietors at L'Hermitage had derived their livelihood from a regime of forced human labor, they probably arrived in Maryland accustomed to using such violence to maintain control. Atrocities committed against slaves were by no means limited to French colonials, nor is it supportable based on this author's research to conclude that the French in general were more cruel than slaveholders from other countries, but the losses that the proprietors of L'Hermitage suffered upon their unwilling expulsion from Saint-Domingue may well have escalated the violence they employed in Maryland.

Not only did the family lose their land and livelihood, but they also lost relatives. One of Victoire's uncles was reputedly shot by a slave while seated at his dinner table (Lowe 1913:17). From the perspective of Boisneuf and the Vincendières, these were crimes perpetrated by individuals whom they had been conditioned to see as highly inferior beings—mere chattel to be exploited as a means to a profit. The revolution created a situation ripe for a volatile emotional response from the refugees. While the proprietors of L'Hermitage may have employed the exact same methods in Maryland as they had in Saint-Domingue, it is also possible that the uprising that attained freedom for thousands of enslaved laborers in Saint-Domingue led to an increase in violence visited upon the slaves at L'Hermitage. Either way, historical documents show that the practices they employed were considered extreme and illegal in Frederick County, despite that fact that it was not against the law to beat a slave in Maryland (Rivers 2005).

The most potent account of slave abuse at L'Hermitage was recorded by the Polish writer and politician Julian Niemcewicz, who saw the plantation as he traveled from Georgetown to Frederick in June 1798 (Niemcewicz 1965:111–112). The following is an excerpt from his journal:

June 15. After dozing till four in the morning, I set out the next day for Frederik Town. … I took up my favorite place, that is, on the (p.36) driver's seat next to the citizen driver. The reasons for my predilection to this place are, coolness, the fresh and open air, a view on all sides, and finally a pleasant, interesting and intimate conversation with the citizen coachman. My friend the coachman was a third-generation German settled in America. … The driver not only told me about everything I asked, but even things I did not ask; and we were yet 40 miles from Frideriks [sic] Town when I already knew the whole history of the town and its environs. … Four miles from the town we forded the river [blank: Monocacy]. On its banks one can see a row of wooden houses and one stone house with the upper storeys [sic] painted white. This is the residence of a Frenchman called Payant [sic: Boisneuf], who left San Domingo with a substantial sum and with it bought two or three thousand acres of land and a few hundred negroes whom he treats with the greatest tyranny. One can see on the home farm instruments of torture, stocks, wooden horses, whips, etc. Two or three negroes crippled with torture have brought legal action against him, but the matter has not yet been settled. This man is 60 years old, without children or relatives; he keeps an old French woman with two daughters; she, in sweetness of humour, even surpasses him. This charming group has caused about 50 legal actions to be brought. They foam with rage, beat the negroes, complain and fight with each other. In these ways does this man use his wealth, and comforts his life in its descent toward the grave. (Niemcewicz 1965:111–112)

In order to fully explore the implications of the Niemcewicz account, it is necessary to point out that it expresses a bias common among the residents of Frederick at the time. An abundance of available land attracted French refugees to Frederick in the late eighteenth century, but the demographics of the area were primarily dominated by settlers of German Protestant descent who migrated south to Maryland from Pennsylvania as land there became increasingly scarce (Rivers 2002:38). These German residents, including the coachman relating the story of the plantation to Niemcewicz, were inclined to dislike all of the Frenchmen in the area. Aside from the usual French/German ethnic tension, resentment grew when the French Revolution disrupted the grain trade upon which area farmers relied (Niemcewicz 1965:111–119). Frederick was a border county between tobacco-growing regions to the south and Pennsylvania to the (p.37) north, where slavery was an unpopular and marginal practice (Blackburn 1997:359, 476–477). By 1850, Frederick was one of the counties of northern Maryland that had developed industries and a free labor system (Fields 1985).

The Neimcewicz account depends upon a storyteller who may have had these “northern” sympathies and who clearly disliked the proprietors of L'Hermitage, but the distaste he expressed for the family's actions is an important part of the story. Without individuals like him, the cruelty at L'Hermitage may never have been recorded. Instead, travelers along the road saw acts of torture, and several witnesses were offended enough to testify in court. While the coachman's tale included some exaggerations, his description of a stone house with the upper story painted white matches a structure at L'Hermitage that still stands in 2009, and archival records indicate that the lawsuits he mentioned did exist.

Most of the family's appearances in court relate to debts that Boisneuf acquired in town and Victoire's participation in bailing him out (Frederick County Court Docket 1797). Just as Niemcewicz indicated, however, Victoire and Boisneuf were also charged with abusing their slaves. In 1797, the state of Maryland brought Victoire up on charges for assaulting a slave named Rosina Cécille, and also for “Especially cruelly and immercifully beating her slave Jenny” (Frederick County Court Docket 1797). Jenny's case was dismissed by a grand jury, and Rosina Cécille's case was also struck off, but Victoire did have to pay at least $272 in court fees (Frederick County Court Docket 1797; Frederick County Court Minutes, March 1797:65; Reed 2004:99). Similarly, the 1797 Criminal Dockets charged Boisneuf on six separate counts for “Cruelly and immercifully beating and whipping his slave[s]” Harry, Jerry, Abraham, Stephen, Soll, and George. Nine witnesses testified against him, but these cases were also dismissed, possibly because it was not illegal to beat a slave in Maryland (Frederick County Court Docket 1797; Rivers 2005).

Boisneuf was not acquitted of all cruelty charges, however. Another long list of witnesses came forward in a case brought on behalf of the slave Shadrack Hinton, and this time a jury found Boisneuf guilty of “Excessively, cruelly, and unmercifully beating, etc. of his slave Negro Shadrack” (Frederick County Court Minutes, March 1797:91; Reed 2004:99). Boisneuf also was convicted for “not sufficiently clothing and feeding his negroes etc.” (Frederick County Court Minutes, March 1797:97; Reed 2004). It was perhaps their failure to feed their slaves that landed Boisneuf and (p.38) Victoire in court again in 1799 when Rebecca Dulany, owner of neighboring land, sued them for “trespass by slaves.” The term “trespass” has several legal meanings, including “unlawfully striking, chasing, if alive, and carrying away to the damage of the plaintiff, a personal chattel” ('Lectric Law Library 2010). The case may be evidence that hungry slaves from L'Hermitage were stealing food from the neighbors. Victoire paid dam-ages in the amount of $251 after the case went to trial (Frederick County Court Dockets 1799).

A final case involving a slave at L'Hermitage demonstrates that members of the community did more than testify about slave cruelty; they must have intervened and done some research in order to help the slaves. In 1797, Pierre Louis, one of the slaves registered by Boisneuf in 1793, filed a petition for freedom on the grounds that Maryland law prohibited his importation. As previously stated, single male refugees were permitted by Maryland law to import three of their domestic slaves. Pierre Louis had been the domestic servant of Boisneuf's deceased brother prior to his importation to Maryland. Representatives on his behalf argued that because Louis had belonged to Boisneuf's brother, not Boisneuf himself, Boisneuf had no right to register him in the first place (Catterall 1968: 55–56). Frederick County Court minutes indicate that Boisneuf and Victoire tried unsuccessfully to keep Pierre Louis from attending the trial. The court issued a “summons on complaint for ill usage contrary to their re-cognizance entered into to permit the complainant to attend the court to present his petition for freedom” (Frederick County Court Minutes 1797). Thanks to the court's intervention, their efforts failed. Three years after his arrival in Maryland, a jury of 12 granted Pierre Louis his freedom, and though Boisneuf and Victoire appealed, the ruling was upheld (Catterall 1968:55–56). This case serves as evidence of outside intervention because somebody identified the legal loophole that would grant Louis's freedom and made sure that he could appear in court, despite Boisneuf and Victoire's attempts to stop him.

Their numerous appearances in court evidently weighed on the proprietors of L'Hermitage. On January 16, 1806, the following announcement appeared in the Frederick-Town Herald:

TAKE NOTICE: I do hereby forewarn all persons whomsoever from dealing with my slaves from this date, without their having leave in writing from me. If any person or persons should hereafter disregard (p.39) this notice, I will put the law in force against them. V. Vincendière January 11 (Frederick-Town Herald 1806)

The Decline of L'Hermitage

The settlements that the family had to pay with regard to their many lawsuits were a draw on their resources and may have contributed to the downfall of the plantation. Over half of L'Hermitage Plantation was advertised for sale in January 1816 and again in 1819 (Rivers 2002:39). Unless the family rented laborers to nearby farms or industries, owning so many enslaved individuals for a wheat- and grain-producing plantation such as theirs may have been a failing venture anyway.

Financial hardship may not have been the only motivation for selling L'Hermitage, however. The advertisements to sell land correspond closely with the deaths of the elder generation of the family. Boisneuf died in October 1816, and Marguerite Vincendière followed in 1819 (Russell 2001). Given the timing of the advertisements, it is possible that Boisneuf 's health was failing, and Victoire, whose roots in Saint-Domingue slavery did not run as deep, decided to abandon the plantation.

Victoire started selling off L'Hermitage slaves in 1822. By the time she succeeded in selling L'Hermitage in 1828, she had sold at least 25 individuals, including 17 slaves whom she sold to a dealer from Louisiana. One of the slaves sold south was Fillelle, who had been eight years old when Boisneuf imported her to Maryland from Saint-Domingue. As the years passed following the sale of L'Hermitage, Victoire sold or manumitted all but a very few of her slaves, and her will manumitted the three slaves remaining in her possession when she died in 1852 (Rivers 2002:57–58).

Instead of clinging to a proprietary lifestyle, it seems that Victoire and her sister Adelaide preferred to express their cultural affiliation through the Catholic Church. In 1913, Victoire's niece, Esther Lowe, gave an account of the sisters' Catholicism:

They were strictly religious Catholics and at that period there were few of such—of their social standing—in Frederick. The population was mostly German, and … the teachings of Calvin and Luther, bitterly antagonistic to Catholicism, had taken so strong a hold on their prejudices as to control neighborly feelings. … I remember how systematically once a year [Adelaide Vincendière] called (p.40) formally upon certain persons of her acquaintance—how formal her demeanor, and a remark I once heard her make speaking of Mrs. T. “She is very sweet, but we are like two lambs upon the brink of a precipice—a gulf between; we look across the gulf and smile at each other; but that impassable gulf is there.” She seemed never able to throw off that feeling. (Lowe 1913:12)

An examination of the Vincendière sisters' finances demonstrates their support of St. John's Catholic Church in Frederick. After they sold L'Hermitage, Victoire and Adelaide provided a $10,000 cash mortgage to the St. John's reverends to keep up Catholic assets in the town. They then built a home less than a block from the church and engaged in a number of Catholic charities (Lowe 1913; Rivers 2002:54–56). Of their charitable work, Victoire's niece claimed that “self-sacrifice was their rule of life. They were most generous and appeal from any charity was never unheeded, unless it savored of Protestant progress, and in that they were as stern as rocks. No compromise was the watchword and to give to the rearing of Protestant churches was considered by them as such” (Lowe 1913:10). Not surprisingly, their charitable efforts and devout faith, rather than the cruel enslavement practices at L'Hermitage, were most prominent in Esther's recollections of the family.

Locating L'Hermitage Slave Village

The background research conducted on the refugee family has helped to guide archaeological research and place its findings in context. With the aid of the Niemcewicz travel account, archaeologists learned that the “row of wooden houses” that most likely comprised the plantation's slave village was located in view of the main road and a “stone house with the upper storeys [sic] painted white.” One extant structure fits the description of the house, and this structure stands atop a slope that looks down on the Georgetown Pike (Route 355) (Figure 3.2). The Georgetown Pike has shifted slightly, but is essentially the same route taken by Niemcewicz in 1798. Between the road and the house is a 20.14-acre field (Bies and Gallagher 2003).

For purposes of surveying the field between the house and the road, five metal detector transects were laid out at regular intervals on an east-west axis. These transects covered 2.24 acres, or 11.2 percent of the field. (p.41)

French Refugees and Slave Abuse in Frederick County, MarylandJean Payen de Boisneuf and the Vincendière Family at L'Hermitage Plantation

Figure 3.2. The “stone house with the upper storeys [sic] painted white” described by Niemcewicz (1965) matches one extant structure at the Best Farm that dates to the Vincendière occupation of the site. The probable slave village is located in the field in the background, and the tree line in the distance indicates the approximate location of the road traveled by Niemcewicz. Courtesy of Monocacy National Battlefield, National Park Service.

Experienced metal detectors swept each transect twice, and all targets were flagged and excavated by staff archaeologists. Artifacts received unique numbers and were mapped with an electronic total station. Data was then downloaded and incorporated into GIS so that distributions could be mapped on the landscape (Bies and Gallagher 2003).

As with most of the areas surveyed at the Best Farm, Civil War-related artifacts such as military buttons and accoutrements were recovered, but the survey also identified a dense concentration of domestic artifacts in the western portion of the field near the stone and wood house. This domestic scatter ran 400 feet north-south and 100 feet east-west, with the long axis paralleling the Georgetown Pike. Buttons, eating utensils, nails, coins, tools, and padlocks were among the metal finds, and in the course of excavating these targets nonmetal items including bricks, ceramics, glass, and pipes were also recovered. Diagnostic artifacts such as 71 (p.42) buttons, eight pearlware sherds, and three coins with the dates 1808, 1809, and 1811, respectively, indicate an occupation from the late-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries (Bies and Gallagher 2003). The assemblage is comparable to those found on slave village sites at Poplar Forest and Yaughan and Curriboo plantations (Beasley 2003:37).

More excavation is certainly needed to define the slave village, but the design of the metal-detector survey leaves little doubt as to its identification. The Archaeological Identification and Evaluation Study of the Best Farm was a comprehensive survey of the 274-acre property. Each field was either surface collected, shovel tested, or surveyed with metal-detector transects (Beasley 2005). Several nail concentrations were identified, as were Civil War encampments, but the site between the stone and wood house and Route 355 was the only one containing the density of domestic debris that would be expected of a slave settlement. Given the time period, location, historical documents, and absence of any other comparable artifact concentrations on the property, Monocacy archaeologists are confident that this is the location of the main slave quarters (Baker 2004; Beasley 2003; Bies and Gallagher 2003).

By the time archaeologists located the slave village, park officials had decided to place the new visitor's center elsewhere, so the site is not slated for development, and no further excavations are planned at this time. When a more in-depth research excavation does take place, however, the background research conducted by the author may serve as a quick reference that archaeologists can utilize to understand the plantation. Although too lengthy to include here, the background study not only compiled research on the family, but it also summarized previous research on slave cemeteries, African-derived spiritual practices, overall plantation layouts, and layouts and yard usage within slave villages that can aid archaeologists seeking to understand the physical and cultural landscape at L'Hermitage (Rivers 2002, 2005).

As an example of the usefulness of this context, the placement of the village at L'Hermitage has already supported one of the predictions derived from the compilation of archaeological work in the Caribbean. After synthesizing information on Caribbean plantation layouts, in particular Higman's (1987) study of plantation layouts and Armstrong and Kelly's (2000) analysis of the Seville plantation, the author hypothesized that

(p.43) if [the refugees] reacted to the revolt by trying to exert more control over the slaves, then it is likely that the slave dwellings would have been organized in efficient rows or barracks within the view of the main house. Alternatively, if the Vincendières decided to try to grant their slaves increased autonomy to try to prevent them from wanting to rebel, there might have been greater freedom allowed to the enslaved to arrange their houses based upon topography, desired yard arrangements, and social and family groupings. (Rivers 2002:26)

The placement of the slave houses in a row directly in front and downhill of the proprietor's house at L'Hermitage is consistent with the archaeological footprint of a plantation practicing tight control over enslaved people, and this in turn is consistent with historical data on the French refugees who inhabited the site.

Conclusion

Thanks to its discovery as part of the Archaeological Identification and Evaluation Study at the Best Farm, Monocacy National Battlefield now knows that it has stewardship of a unique slave village site with enormous research potential. L'Hermitage represents an experiment where large-scale sugar and indigo planters of the Caribbean tried to remake themselves in a region of Maryland that was steadily moving away from dependence upon slave labor.

Primary historical research revealed a painful story of a family clinging to a lifestyle that clashed with their community, but little is known about the enslaved individuals at L'Hermitage aside from the evidence that they suffered torture and intolerable conditions. Archaeologists for the National Park Service have already been thinking about the insights that excavations might provide into the lives of these individuals (Baker 2004). For example, will they find differences between quarters belonging to Saint-Domingue slaves versus their American- or African-born counterparts? And if so, can archaeology tell us about how they interacted?

Armed with a detailed context for the site, archaeologists are well positioned to plan a research excavation that may fill in the stories that have (p.44) not yet surfaced. In the meantime, Monocacy National Battlefield can continue to protect the site and decide how best to incorporate the story of Maryland's own French-Caribbean plantation into its public interpretation programs.

References Cited

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