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The Lost Towns Project is a team of professional archaeologists and historians, working closely with the government of Anne Arundel County, Maryland to discover and explore the County's rich heritage. The team is committed to sharing the discovery process of this incredible heritage with the public through hands-on experiences, publications, lectures, and exhibits. In this blog, we will share some of our exciting discoveries, updates, and events. Check out our website at www.losttownsproject.org for much more, or to learn how to become a volunteer or intern! No experience is required to assist us in field investigations, laboratory studies, archival research, and interpretive programs. Join us to rediscover the History in your own backyards!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Monocacy Battlefield and Best Farm field trip

Written by Suzanne Duvall, Lost Towns Project intern. 

During my internship, Lauren Schiszik, internship coordinator, organized two field trips. I was only able to go to one of them: Monocacy Battlefield in Frederick. After a tour of the battlefield we went to the Best Farm, and toured a slave village that is currently being excavated by archaeologists with the National Park Service.

I know that Monocacy Battlefield isn’t as famous as nearby Gettysburg or Antietam, but if not for this battle, the South may have risen and overcome the North during the Civil War. The Confederacy was trying to overtake Washington, D.C., approaching from north of Frederick, MD. Union troops intercepted at the Monocacy River outside of Frederick. The Confederate Army were able to push back the Northern troops and win the battle of Monocacy. But in the end, the North really won, because the Battle of Monocacy slowed the Confederate troops long enough to get enforcements to protect Washington, D.C., stopping the Confederacy’s plan to overtake the Capitol.
Interns Madelyn Santa (above) and Alex Zerphy (below) both try out being a young soldier in Monocacy's Visitor Center.

After we learned the history of the battle and driven around the battlefield, we took a tour of the Best Farm slave village. The National Park Service archaeologists at Monocacy Battlefield are finishing up another summer season excavating the site, and graciously gave us an in-depth tour of the slave village and the Best Farmhouse. Best Farm is located on what is now Monocacy Battlefield, though it predates the battlegrounds by over 100 years. It was interesting because it was very different from any other plantation built in the 1700s in Frederick.

Interns take a break on the front steps of the Best Farmhouse.

Best Farm is what remains of a much larger plantation owned by the Vincendière family, who had been sugar plantation owners in the Caribbean. During the late 1700’s there were slave riots in Haiti and they fled the country to protect themselves. When they arrived in Maryland they modeled their new plantation, L'Hermitage, off of their plantation in Haiti. The Manor House design was different from typical homes in this part of Maryland, because the family designed it to look like their home in Haiti. That meant that the Manor House had tall ceilings and big windows. Maryland, as we all know, has hot summers and cold winters, and the Vincendières design for the house did not protect them from the weather, but made winters very cold and summers very hot. 

Another difference from typical Maryland plantations was that the slave quarters were placed in front of the Manor House for all to see, along a road. Generally in Maryland in the 1700s, slave quarters were located behind the house, or by the fields. The Vincendières could view the slave quarters at all times from their house, making sure that their slaves knew they were being watched both by their owners. The Vincendières didn’t want their slaves to riots. Immigration records from that time indicate that plantation owners coming from the Caribbean couldn’t bring more than 10-12 slaves into America. Since slaves in the Caribbean were rioting, Americans didn’t want their slaves to get the same notions. So they controlled the immigration numbers, in hopes of controlling the slaves. The Vincendière family brought the maximum number of slaves into America with them.

However, the Vincendieres didn’t waste their time purchasing new slaves once they settled in Frederick. The plantation records show that there were around 100 slaves, yet there was no known commercial trade at the plantation. That means that the family really only needed 20-30 slaves to handle the crops grown on that plantation, not 100 slaves. The archaeologists are making discoveries that might explain the reason for the large amount of slaves owned by the family. However, what is known is that the slaves were treated horribly, based on written records. 

Kate Birmingham, NPS archaeologist, gives us a tour of the slave village. Note the overseer's house in the distance.
We were taken on a tour of the slave village, where we saw the remains of a few of the quarters, including the stone hearth of one of the five slave buildings. While the slave village was under direct watch of the Plantation owners, recent excavations show that the communal kitchen area was located behind the slave’s quarters, out of view from the Vincendières. This shows that the slaves were trying to take any piece of their lives back from their owners. This revelation was a glimpse into the lives of the slaves, and the lives they endured.
All in all it was a day full of exciting war stories, and an interesting history of the Best Farm. The battle at Monocacy changed the course of the Civil War, and the Vincendière’s are a mystery to archaeologists trying to uncover their life in the late 1700’s.

Learn more about the excavations of the Best Farm Slave Village here.

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