The Mere Distinction of Colour

Montpelier is mostly known for its association with President James Madison.  However, the site has created a new exhibit called The Mere Distinction of Colour focused on the lives of slaves living at the site.  “This provocative, multimedia exhibition, offers visitors the opportunity to hear the stories of those enslaved at Montpelier told by their living descendants, and explore how the legacy of slavery impacts today’s conversations about race, identity, and human rights.” This exhibit, located in the Cellar of the site, aims to educate the public on how slavery impacted individuals, their families, descendants, and the entire history and development of the United States.

 

“We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man” – James Madison, 1787

The exhibit opened to the public on June 4, 2017.  Both historical and archaeological research was used to create this holistic story of America and those enslaved humans whose stories are rarely told.  The emotional and evocative story is told through letters, documents, artifacts, and art, to not only tell the story of the Montpelier slaves but also the full legacy of slavery in the United States and its impact on the world we live in today.

History and archaeology cannot ignore the ugly histories.  Slavery was a large and impactful part of American history that is often glossed over or told in simple black-and-white terms.  Because of this, the real stories of those enslaved peoples are not told.  These stories are just as important to understanding our past as James Madison’s story.  Archaeologists can use the formation of slavery and interactions between the races to combat modern notion of race and racism.  Slavery and its role in American history is more than the black and white picture history classes portray.  The archaeological finds used in the exhibit and Heather Lash’s thesis debunk some of the myths associated around the daily lives of slaves.  In doing this, these people are given their agency, personalities, thoughts, dreams, and voices back.

“This isn’t African American history, it’s American History” – Hugh Alexander, descendant

 

For more information about The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibit, visit Montpelier.org.

Follow IUP Anthropology on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Information, Videos, and Image from Montpelier.org

Heather Lash Thesis: Foodways of Pre- and Post-Emancipation African Americans at James Madison’s Montpelier

Written by Heather Lash

Archaeology at Montpelier from montpelier.org

For many people, consuming food is one of the best parts of each day. The act of eating provides for most, a moment  to rest, spend time with family, and relate to others. It is especially pleasing for individuals who enjoy preparation and cooking of foodstuffs. And while the act of eating is universal, it is not associated with positive connotations for all people. In fact, the way a person is shaped and influenced by their cultural norms and traditions influences the way they associate with food, foodstuffs, and foodways. Foodways –  the cultural, economic, political, and social aspects involved in the act of eating – influence the production and consumption of food-related materials. These overlapping spheres of influence effect the creation and continuation of foodways and food traditions within cultures.

 

 

By focusing on the daily act of eating, and all processes involved in production and consumption of food, the agency of communities and individuals can be illuminated. Reconstructing food processes contributes to better understanding one aspect of daily life that introduces choice based on preference. In my thesis, “Foodways of Pre- and Post-Emancipation African Americans at James Madison’s Montpelier: A Zooarchaeological Analysis of Food Preference and Food Access,” I explore African foodways through Zooarchaeological identification and analysis. By matching each bone to IUPs Zooarchaeological Comparative Collection, and determining the presence and absence of different animals in the collection, Trends describing preference of food and access to foodstuffs can be clearly differentiated. At James Madison’s house, Montpelier, located in Virginia, the need exists for pre- and post- emancipation subsistence practices to be contrasted, compared, and evaluated. Therefore, detailing differences and similarities between one group of enslaved individuals and one free family across the Montpelier property can also delineate post-Emancipation effects on food procurement and the utilization of foodstuffs.

Map created by Heather

The Montpelier plantation is located in Orange, Virginia, about 30 miles north of Charlottesville. The main house was built by James Madison Sr. and then later occupied by former President, James Madison Jr., and his family from 1764 to 1844. Throughout their “Retirement Period” (1809-1844), the period of significance for this research, James and Dolley Madison hosted guests for celebrations and cookouts. Preparation of the festivities were facilitated by their three groups of enslaved individuals—domestic enslaved individuals, artisans, and field hands (Reeves and Greer 2012:73). These enslaved individuals formed a large community across the plantation before emancipation, 1764 to 1860. After emancipation, formerly enslaved individuals, such as George Gilmore, were responsible for their own subsistence. This juxtaposition of two time periods provides a comparison for pre- and post- emancipation food preference and consumption trends.

 

Map of Montpelier Site created by Heather

Modification of food was a very important way of continuing and reinforcing traditions. The application of African traditions to foodstuffs, food preparation, and food consumption due to the repetition of social actions (i.e. tradition), resulted in an identity linked to food. This Africanization, recognized as the modification of available resources, applied to foodways, and contributed to a phenomena that embodies much of the South, and is known as “Soul Food.” Focusing on Enslaved African and Black Freedman culture helps provide an outlet for African voices; individuals overlooked as creators of their own history and culture. Overall, foodways help conceptualize the story of perseverance and strength of pre- and post- emancipation families.

Follow IUP Anthropology on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

 

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

As discussed in last week’s post, Janee Becker’s thesis is investigating The Wigwam, the former home of Major Israel McCreight and campsite for the Native American performers in the famous Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  Along with his partner Dr. W.F. Carver, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, opened his Wild West show on May 19, 1883 in Omaha Nebraska.  His show included cowboys (and girls), Indians, military formations, mock battles and hunt, trick shooting and riding, and creative storylines connecting all performances.  Buffalo Bill’s and many other rival Wild West shows often depicted major events occurring in the mysterious wild west, all while promoting the idea of westward expansion.  Americans were not the only people fascinated by the West.  Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show opened in London on May 9, 1887 and traveled throughout Europe.

Native Americans played an extremely important role in the show. For the most part, they were treated and paid well, able to travel with their families, and able to retain their traditional ways of life.  Despite these positive aspects of the show, they were still viewed as warlike savages preventing the expansion of civilization into the West.  The Native American victory at Little Big Horn was even used to show audiences why westward expansion is needed.  In the 1890s Buffalo Bill’s employed hundreds of Native Americans, vastly outnumbering the number of cowboys and cowgirls.

Women were also included in the Wild West Shows.  Some had spotlighting roles as sharpshooters like Annie Oakley and Princess Wenona, the Indian Girl Shot (Lillian Smith) while others portrayed rancheras and Indian captives.  Lucille Muhall even made a name for herself as a roper and Rough Rider.  According to records from Buffalo Bill’s women performers were paid the same as men.  African Americans also participated in Wild West shows, although in minor roles.  They often portrayed cowboys, were members of the all-black 9th and 10th US Cavalry units, or as part of the band.

These live shows declined in the early 1900s with the introduction of television and movies and the increasing popularity of sports.  World War I also created problems for the shows.  The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real Wild West show had all of their horses taken for the war effort performing in Great Britain in August 1914.  The Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show went bankrupt in July 1913 and in 1917 both the industry and Buffalo Bill Cody had passed.

Source: https://centerofthewest.org/learn/western-essays/wild-west-shows/

Follow IUP Anthropology on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram