“Back it off,” Meghan calls to the machinery operator. His last pass has revealed a line of bricks.
My lucky day, she thinks. The scraped soil shows a ninety-degree turn in the line. She knows exactly where to have the backhoe clear the top twenty centimeters of plowed, surface soils.
Within minutes, the rectangular outline of a building foundation is clear. The neat double rows of orange bricks separate the natural yellowish brown soils from the dark brown, organic-rich deposits inside the structure. Meghan suspects she’s found the remains of the original Colonial house.
Meghan redirects the backhoe to continue stripping the south side of the rise. If all goes well, she won’t need the heavy equipment after today. She has one of her graduate students monitor the equipment while she steps away to call Evelyn with the news. Leaving a voice mail, she checks her watch—eleven-thirty. Almost time to break for lunch.
Today’s sunshine is a refreshing change from the dreary weekend, and Meghan’s students are enjoying the time away from the classroom. Instead of a final written exam for their Archaeology Field Methods course, she’ll evaluate their excavation and recording skills with this project.
As she and her students finish their lunch, Meghan sees a horse approaching at a gallop. There’s no mistaking the petite figure astride the bay Anglo-Arab hunter. Evelyn must have gotten her message.
“Is it the house?” Evelyn asks as she dismounts. Unlike Maisy and Chess, Wyndham’s Prize is highly schooled and stands in place as Evelyn drops the reins and hurries to Meghan.
“It has to be,” Meghan replies. “Come see.”
Evelyn’s eyes shine as Meghan shows her the brick foundation. “When can you start excavating it?”
“We should finish the ones we found this summer first. If the weather turns bad, I don’t want too many features open. Rain is bad enough, but freeze-thaw could be worse.”
“What if you wait on the ones you haven’t started yet and concentrate on the two cellars and that other foundation you’ve opened? The others can wait until spring.”
The determination on Evelyn’s face is unmistakable. Over the summer, Meghan had learned it was easier not to argue. She acquiesces.
“We can do that. Once we get the new features mapped, we’ll finish that small foundation first. I’d like to know what it was. I’d guess an outbuilding or slave quarter at this point.”
“I hope it’s an outbuilding,” Evelyn says. “The idea of a slave cabin makes me uncomfortable.”
“But you know the Walkers were slaveholders. Most Colonial landowners around here were. That’s how the tobacco economy worked.”
“I know, but it’s not something I’m proud of. Jackson would be thrilled, of course, but I’d rather forget that part of history.”
Meghan holds her tongue. Forgetting uncomfortable history is a good way to repeat it, she thinks. Jackson Carter, Evelyn’s property manager, is proud of his slave ancestors. He’s spent years trying to document which plantations they worked. Evelyn probably doesn’t realize he knows as much about the area’s history as she does.
“Besides,” Evelyn adds, “imagine what Frank Sloma will say if it’s a slave cabin.”
“You’re letting him come back?” The words slip out before Meghan can stop them.
Evelyn laughs. “Not by choice. But he managed to book every weekend this fall and winter except the holidays. That’s the downside of on-line reservations. In the old days, he would have to call, and we could say we were full. I was thrilled when those reservations were made last spring. Guaranteed guests at the low point of the season? Fabulous. Now, April can’t get here soon enough. His last reservation is in March.”
Meghan steers the conversation back to archaeology. “Do you want to finish the kitchen cellar or switch to the house?”
“The house, please. I doubt my ancestors spent much time in the kitchen.”
No, Meghan thinks. Those slaves who make you uncomfortable would have done all the cooking. She’ll keep the kitchen cellar covered until her crew finishes the house.
Evelyn searches the ground within the brick outline but leaves the broken pottery fragments where they are. When the excavations had started that summer, Meghan had to repeatedly remind her to leave them in place.
“Is that porcelain?” Evelyn asks, pointing to a blue-painted sherd that is partially uncovered.
“A saucer rim, I think,” Meghan replies, bending for a closer look. “It’s too thin to be tin-glazed earthenware.”
“The Walkers were the most important family in the county. Imitation china wouldn’t do for them.”
Meghan silently wagers with herself that she’ll find many more “middling” wares than luxury goods. And she hopes the small building is a slave quarter. Some people forget how fortunate they are, she thinks. Evelyn Browne could use a reminder.
“We’ll see what shows up,” she says.
I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 4 next Tuesday.