By Elizabeth Lunday
In 1830, a woman named Susan Gratiot received a letter from her father. Gratiot (pronounced GRASH-it) lived in a two-room log cabin with her husband and several young children in a mining community in southern Wisconsin on the border between Native American and white American-controlled territory. Her husband was often away on business, and her father expressed his regret for his daughter’s “recluse situation.”
Yet Gratiot wasn’t alone. She complained that her cabin was “continuley [sic] filled with men” and described regular interactions with women in the community. In fact, Gratiot’s letters reveal she felt lonely because most residents were not of her upper middle class pedigree. Her father shared this view of his daughter’s social milieu and regretted she was “thronged with a rude set of people of almost every nation.”
Historians studying the letters and accounts of the Gratiots have long recognized the family’s determination to maintain their social status. Now archaeologists can add a new perspective to the story. Excavations at Gratiot’s Grove, the mining community founded by Susan’s husband Henry, have identified what archaeologists believe is the Gratiots’ home. Artifacts from the site reinforce the view of Susan Gratiot as a woman focused on surrounding herself with all of the accoutrements of upper middle-class life—and make clear the effort this required.
Inhabited for about a decade starting in 1826, Gratiot’s Grove was a place of precarious balance between varied and competing groups: Native Americans and white settlers, free whites and enslaved Blacks, newcomers and established families. Somehow, all of these people lived side-by-side with comparatively little conflict. One thing brought people to Gratiot’s Grove: lead. For millennia, Native Americans mined lead ore (known as galena) in a district that spans southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and western Iowa, according to archaeologist Philip Millhouse. (Millhouse is The Archaeological Conservancy’s Midwestern regional director.) “Minerals were deposited there in seams and shallow crevice deposits,” he said. “As early as the Late Archaic period, we start to see this lead circulating along trade networks across North America.”
This is an article excerpt from the Fall 2022 edition of American Archaeology Magazine. Become a member of The Archaeological Conservancy for your complimentary subscription!
| The Archaeological Conservancy 2022