On February 26, Chris Barton, a Winterthur Research Fellow, visited Westhampton Middle School in Burlington County, New Jersey, to speak to more than 200 middle-school students during Black History Month. Accompanying him was Mary Weston, whose ancestors lived in a nearby community in Westhampton Township, New Jersey, called Timbuctoo. Their presentation was part of the public outreach program devised by Chris and the Timbuctoo Discovery Project, a committee comprised of descendants and vested community members of Timbuctoo. Chris and Mary had a very interesting story to share with the students about the community, based on archaeological and historical research. Although he is accustomed to teaching college and graduate students, Chris found that his audience on this day, while younger than usual, was no less interested in African American archaeology.
Chris not only did a PowerPoint presentation but also brought recovered artifacts to share with the middle school students. The artifacts included sherds of ironstone, stoneware and redware, as well as several glass jars. These artifacts were excavated by supervised volunteers during two field seasons (2010 and 2011) at Timbuctoo. The volunteer opportunities, presentation, and shared artifacts were an attempt to give young students a “hands-on” experience with the past. For those of us who are committed to the study of material culture as a way of learning about people in the past, the excitement of handling an historic artifact is incomparable.
Chris is pursuing his Ph.D. in archaeology at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is spending four months at Winterthur as a Dissertation Research Fellow. Here is a description of his work at Timbuctoo, in his own words:
Timbuctoo was founded circa 1825 as an antebellum African American community. The community operated as a terminus of the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War several of the men served in the United States Colored Troops (USTCs). One such soldier, William Davis, was born in 1836. In his adult life, he worked as a brick molder before enlisting in the 22nd regiment of the USCTs. Wounded at the Battle of Petersburg, Davis was honorably discharged in 1865. In 1879 Davis and his wife, Rebecca, bought a twenty-by one hundred-foot lot at Timbuctoo for the sum of two dollars. On the lot, William and Rebecca constructed a twelve-by-sixteen-foot home, where they raised five children. William died on April 4, 1914, and is interred in the Timbuctoo cemetery. Sometime in the 1940s the Davis’s home was abandoned, dismantled, and its foundation used as a community trash midden. Through two field seasons, the team excavated the remains of the Davis’s home and recovered over 13,000 artifacts. This artifact assemblage and the larger landscape of Timbuctoo represent the core data for my dissertation.
My work seeks to understand how external and internal dynamics, specifically constructions of race, gender and class, influenced commodity and dietary consumption within Timbuctoo from the 1860s to 1940s. This is an important period. The 19th and 20th centuries experienced a mass production of commodities that has been interpreted as creating uniformity in the archaeological record. However, my dissertation seeks to investigate how consumer choices were limited by sociocultural and economic constructs. I hope to research how people who were racialized and classified as “other” were able to use their individual and collective power as consumers to operate within repressive landscapes. The residents of Timbuctoo constructed individual and collective identities to contest being labeled as “inferior” to the broader population of New Jersey.
Chris is using the library collections at Winterthur to identify and contextualize some of the artifacts recovered from Timbuctoo. During the first three months of his internship, he has made good progress on three chapters of his dissertation and a peer-reviewed article. For more information about Winterthur’s research fellowship program, see http://www.winterthur.org/fellowship.