By Julian Smith
In the late 17th century, Annapolis enjoyed a thriving economy as the capital of the Maryland colony. An average of at least 300 slaves were brought in every year between 1695 and 1708, many from the west coast of Africa. By the middle of the 18th century, slaves made up a third of the city’s population, and the number of free African Americans was growing as well.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, archaeologists discovered a bundle of objects buried under the floor of a house in Annapolis once owned by Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The objects were in the northeast corner of a room that at one point had been occupied by slaves. About a foot and a half beneath the floor, roughly two dozen items were found in an area about six inches in diameter. The list included shell discs, straight pins, buttons, two pierced coins, a tiny faceted glass bead, a smooth black stone, and 14 large rock crystals. The collection was covered with an overturned pearlware bowl with a blue sunburst painted on it. Two more crystals were found in the same room, the largest of which was six-inches long and weighed about four pounds. All the objects were dated around the beginning of the 19th century.
At first people thought it was a garbage deposit or rat’s nest, says archaeologist Mark Leone of the University of Maryland. But the assemblage reminded him of similar groups of items he had excavated at Native American sites in the Southwest. He consulted with scholars of African American history, who pointed him to historic descriptions of charms from West Central Africa called minkisi. These bundles of carefully chosen items were used to invoke the supernatural for healing and protection. It appeared that the bundle as a whole was a spiritual artifact, rooted in African traditions but transformed by the journey across the Atlantic.
Summary. Read more in American Archaeology Vol. 19 No. 2, Summer 2015
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