Guest Blogger: Hope Anderson, C’22 Biology Major “ArcGIS and the Arboretum: New Technology Contributes to our Understanding and Appreciation of Trees on Campus”

Hope Anderson is a senior biology major and mathematics minor from Carrboro, North Carolina. She currently serves as the co-Editor-in-Chief of the Davidsonian. She is also a member of Turner Eating House and on the Executive Board of Pre-PhDs of Davidson Science and Women in Math. 

Davidson community members walking across campus would be remiss not to notice the little silver tags adorning many of the trees along their path. These tags date back to 1982 when the college first received its designation as an arboretum (Dick, “The Davidson College Arboretum”).  As of 2005, the arboretum contained over 3000 individually labeled trees and shrubs (Davidson, “Arboretum”).

Figure 7: Collecting a DBH Measurement

Nearly forty years after its establishment, the arboretum’s records remain almost entirely on paper. The most current map, created by Physical Plant in the early 90s, is a huge printed poster divided into grids and subgrids. Since then, available technology has improved dramatically. My fall 2021 independent research with Dr. Susana Wadgymar and collaborator Chloe Fisher (‘23) aims to digitize and update the arboretum’s records for both community and scientific use. To visualize data in a spatial format, we created a map of campus using Geographic Information System (GIS), which permits the storage, visualization, and analysis of data as a map ( “What Is a Geographic Information System (GIS)? U.S. Geological Survey”). In specific, ArcGIS is a popular and powerful GIS software used to create interactive and customizable maps online. Our goal was to use ArcGIS to establish a database and store arboretum data for years to come.

The Davidson arboretum is significant for several reasons. First, trees play a large role in carbon sequestration, or keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The arboretum also cools campus and creates shady areas. Finally, the diverse collection of trees represented help us study and preserve native and engaged species in our region. We created an ArcGIS map with the help of visiting assistant professor of anthropology Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire. ArcGIS maps are primarily composed of a basemap and one or more layers of information. Our arboretum map includes two layers—a feature layer storing data points, each corresponding to a tree, and a grid to help us divide campus into useful 50 x 50 meter squares. See figures 1-4 for additional information on how ArcGIS layers and the basemap work together. 

 Figure 1: Arboretum map showing both the feature layer and grid layer. Green points represent tagged trees and red represent untagged.

Figure 2: Arboretum map with only the feature layer visible.
Figure 3: Arboretum map showing both feature layers turned off; only the basemap remains.
Figure 4: ArcGIS layers can be overlaid on a variety of preset basemaps which users can quickly toggle between. Users can also create their own basemap. 

Students in Dr. Lamoureux-St-Hilaire’s fall 2021 Imaging the Earth class collected the majority of the data thus far using the ArcGIS Field Maps app. Each student spent a week in October recording data, collecting information on a tree’s location, whether or not it is tagged, whether the tree is coniferous or deciduous (see figs. 5 and 6), and the tree’s diameter at breast height (DBH, see fig. 7 at the top of the post). DBH is a simple but powerful dendrological measurement often used as a proxy for biomass and can be analyzed alongside height to approximate a tree’s carbon sequestration. Find a video demonstrating how to collect all these measurements at the end of this post. 

Figure 5: An example of a deciduous tree on campus. 
Figure 6: An example of a coniferous tree on campus.

After the initial census, Chloe and I started auditing individual grid squares (see fig. 1) to fill in any missing trees. This project is far from over; next semester Chloe and I will continue to audit the current data and identify trees without tags. We also plan to revisit previously collected points to update data the anthropology students didn’t collect, such as height and species. We’re hoping to involve additional members of the Davidson community with an interest in the arboretum. In future years, students can use the same map to collect new measurements for each tree, in order to continually update the online version of the map and compare data across years. 

Thank you to Dr. Lamoureux-St-Hilaire, Dr. Susana Wadgymar, and Chloe Fisher for all their help this semester. I look forward to continuing this project in the spring and setting up future lab members for even more exciting research. 

Video – “Collecting basic measurements using the ArcGIS Field Maps app” 

References 

Cottle, Jessica. “National Park and Recreation Month: Davidson College Arboretum.” Around the D: The Davidson College Archives & Special Collections blog (post), July 13, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2021. https://davidsonarchivesandspecialcollections.org/aroundthed/national-park-and-recreation-month-davidson-college-arboretum/.

Davidson, North Carolina 28035894-2000. “Arboretum.” Davidson. Accessed December 9, 2021. https://www.davidson.edu/offices-and-services/physical-plant/arboretum.

Dick, Lacy. “The Davidson College Arboretum: A Time Line | News of Davidson.” Accessed December 9, 2021. https://newsofdavidson.org/2018/07/29/7205/the-davidson-college-arboretum-a-time-line/.

“What Is a Geographic Information System (GIS)? | U.S. Geological Survey.” Accessed December 9, 2021. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-geographic-information-system-gis.

Guest Blogger: Alice Berndt, C’22 English Major “Meeting My Grandfather in the Pages of Quips and Cranks”

Alice Berndt ’22 (she/her) is an English major and Art History minor from Maplewood, New Jersey. On campus, she interns in the Van Every/Smith Galleries, writes for The Davidsonian, and is on the editorial staff for both Hobart Park and Libertas.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my grandfather since he passed fifteen years ago, it’s how much he loved Davidson College. I recently examined an issue of Quips and Cranks from 1958, his senior year, while working on a project for ENG 422: Creating Narratives. My grandfather, Ross Jordan Smyth, died when I was six years old after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, a disease I never knew him without. As I flipped through the pages of the annual, I saw his face over and over again, at the same age that I am now.

1. Senior Portrait, Quips and Cranks, 1958.

Finding my grandfather alive in the pages of Quips and Cranks — alive and busywas a special experience. The publication lists each senior along with their campus involvement. My grandfather has eighteen clubs, organizations, and accolades next to his name, taking up noticeably more space on the page than some of his peers [Image 1].

I already knew he was an English major like I am. I knew he helped to launch Davidson’s soccer program as an official varsity sport in 1956 (See The Davidsonian article October 5, 1956 for more information) and was captain during his junior and senior years. And I knew he served as student body president, which at the time also meant heading the Honor Council.

2. President of the Student Body Quips and Cranks, 1958.
3. ROTC Regimental Staff, Quips and Cranks, 1958.

But I didn’t know that he was a cheerleader, in the chapel choir, or on the editorial staff of Quips and Cranks. Through these pages, I learned that my grandfather was serious and professional, as seen in his presidential portrait [Image 2] and a shot from ROTC [Image 3].

At the same time, these pages also suggest how much he enjoyed his time at Davidson, participating in many activities and organizations and getting to know a range of people in the process.

4. Honor Men of 1958, Quips and Cranks, 1958

A page in the athletics section titled “Honor Men of 1958” shows my grandfather sprinting across the soccer field [Image 4]. Interestingly, soccer at Davidson only started up again in 1956 after an absence due to students leaving the college to fight in World War II (See Davidson encyclopedia entry for soccer for more information).

5. Student Government “Under the Influence,” Quips and Cranks, 1958

In an image in the student government pages, my grandfather is seated at the head of a table holding a gavel, the same one he holds so earnestly in his presidential portrait. This time he’s captured mid-laugh, the other students at the table frozen in similar expressions. That year student government negotiated with the administration about alcohol consumption on campus. The photo’s caption reads “…seeking a clarification of ‘UNDER THE INFLUENCE’” [Image 5].

6. Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, Quips and Cranks, 1958

In the fraternity section, A photo of SAE brothers enjoying a meal is playfully captioned “Bradford and Smyth retain their composure over the masses” [Image 6].

7. Sigma Alpha Epsilon Year in Review, Quips and Cranks, 1958

Another SAE page lists highlights from the year as inside jokes including one that reads “Ross WHO?” [Image 7]. Those who knew my grandfather often remark with a laugh that he knew, did, and won everything and everyone. But it wasn’t about being the best it was about genuine interest, curiosity, and passion. I can guess that this line is a nod to his ubiquitous presence at Davidson — the way that his energy flowed throughout campus and touched many people. I hope to have had even a fraction of this impact in my time at Davidson.

Image Citations

Image 1. Davidson College. Quips and Cranks. Davidson: Davidson College, 1958. Page 45.

Image 2. Davidson College. Quips and Cranks. Davidson: Davidson College, 1958. Page 87.

Image 3. Davidson College. Quips and Cranks. Davidson: Davidson College, 1958. Page 91.

Image 4. Davidson College. Quips and Cranks. Davidson: Davidson College, 1958. Page 119.

Image 5. Davidson College. Quips and Cranks. Davidson: Davidson College, 1958. Page 86.

Image 6. Davidson College. Quips and Cranks. Davidson: Davidson College, 1958. Page 185.

Image 7. Davidson College. Quips and Cranks. Davidson: Davidson College, 1958. Page 183.

Guest blogger: Samantha Ewing, C’23 English Major “Attitudes Toward Sexual Assault”

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Samantha Ewing C’23 is an English major and Communication Studies minor. She transferred to Davidson in 2020 after spending her freshman year at the University of Georgia. On campus, she is Vice President of SGA, Co Editor-in-Chief of Libertas Magazine, Treasurer of Student Against Sexual Violence (SASV), and a Senior Staff Writer for The Davidsonian.

As the treasurer of SASV for the 2021-2022 academic year, I have become immersed in the fight against rape culture as it plagues college campuses. I would imagine that sexual assault has been prevalent at Davidson since the institution began admitting women in 1972. Yet, it seems that 1990 was the year students began to reckon with the issue as “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” details the founding of the Rape Concerns Committee. 

Excerpt from “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” by Frances Morton (C’ 1993) in the Davidsonian, April 8, 1991.

Encountering this piece in the Davidsonian was disturbing, as it illuminates the history of victim blaming at Davidson. According to the article, the committee showed a film as a part of a forum to increase rape awareness on campus. However, Frances Morton (C’93) describes the film as a narrative fixating on how women can avoid rape, rather than addressing the actions of perpetrators.

Excerpt from “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” by Frances Morton (C’93) in the Davidsonian, April 8, 1991.

Frances Morton, 1991 Quips and Cranks

Women are advised “not to prop open doors,” to “avoid isolated areas and walking alone,” and to “avoid mixed signals.” Each of these instructions frame rape as a consequence for women failing to prevent it, rather than the fault of the rapist; it seems that the committee was not bringing awareness to the issue of rape, but rather, was conditioning women to learn how to avoid it. I was astounded to find such rhetoric from a female student, especially as she was discussing the actions of an organization purposed to combat sexual assault. Additionally, I was shocked to see the word “co-eds” used to refer to female students. Even 20 years after women began to be admitted, they were demarcated into a separate category from the male students, indicating perpetuated division and exclusion. 

The language in this article provides insight into what it must have been like to be a woman on campus in the 1990s. The burden of protection placed on female students is much clearer, as I can now grasp how the community perceived and addressed rape: purely a women’s issue. I can empathize with the trepidation that must have accompanied women, knowing that if they were assaulted, they were the ones that would be held accountable. Being a female student at Davidson in 1991 entailed being othered not just as a student, but as a human being.


Guest Blogger: Paul Mullinax C’22, Environmental Studies Major “The African American Burial Grounds Network Act”

Originally from Athens, GA, Paul Mullinax ‘22 is an Environmental Studies major and Anthropology minor. He is also a member of Davidson’s Varsity Men’s Track and Field team and in his free time is an avid hiker who spends time outdoors.

Over the last couple years, Davidson College has begun addressing the problematic aspects of its history, particularly its connection to the Davidson family, their plantation, and their ownership of slaves. What’s left of the plantation, referred to as the Beaver Dam Estate, is just a short five-minute drive from Davidson’s campus. During the 2021 spring semester our class, Ethical Archaeological Research, set out to research this plot of land in hopes of uncovering and preserving a story that had yet to be told. In particular, we believe there is strong evidence of a cemetery used by the enslaved people of Beaver Dam, an important discovery that should be preserved. For this reason, it is imperative that we understand the current state, county, and federal laws surrounding historic black cemeteries and what this could mean for Beaver Dam.

Color photo of a clearing in the woods near Beaver Dam Plantation; possible location of a cemetery for enslaved people.
A view of the Beaver Dam Plantation house from the hypothesized location of the historical cemetery used by the enslaved (photo by Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire).

 As of the writing of this blog post, there is currently no federal law protecting historic African American cemeteries. These cemeteries are often at risk of being destroyed due to development, but a new bill could change that. Just recently the African American Burial Grounds Network Act was unanimously passed by the Senate and is now waiting to be voted on by the House. This bill could implement a network to help coordinate experts and community leaders to help with the preservation of historically significant cemeteries such as the one at Beaver Dam.

Originally proposed in the House in 2019 by Alma Adams, Rep for North Carolina’s 12th District which includes Davidson, the bill initially failed to make headway. This was for a few reasons. For one, the cost of such a program seemed difficult to justify given what other projects already existed. There already exists a National Underground Railroad Network to Free as well as the African American Civil Right Networks. On top of that The Reconstruction Era National Historic Network and a network focusing on the interpretation and commemoration of the Transcontinental Railroad were already in the works to be set up. These concerns were brought to life by the Deputy Director of the DOI and NPs during a subcommittee meeting in May of 2019. They stated that for the reasons of costs and preexisting and similar projects, they would not support the bill, nor the creation of this network. Luckily the Bill was revived, this time in the Senate, by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and is progressing much better than its predecessor.

The proposed network would work similarly to the already existing networks previously mentioned, working through the NPS and providing funding for technical support, recording, documentation, and other forms of aid to any project that requests help. This is exactly the kind of help that the Beaver Dam project could benefit from, and with a little luck, it may not be long before we have the resources necessary to proceed with the next steps of this project.

Complementary information may be found here:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/legislation-protect-african-american-burial-grounds-passes-senate-180976642/

https://afro.com/senate-passes-bill-to-create-african-american-burial-grounds-network/

https://www.brown.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/brown-bill-national-network-african-american-burial-grounds

Guest Blogger: Sara Wilson C’22 Anthropology Major “Mapping the Landscape of Beaver Dam”

Sara Wilson (she/her) is a senior Anthropology major from outside San Francisco, California. She is interested in osteology, archaeology, and ethical research methods in anthropology.

Maps and spatial data increase understanding of the Beaver Dam site during both historical and contemporary times, which lays the groundwork for potential future archaeological investigation. The goal of these maps is to help identify where the houses and cemetery for the enslaved people at Beaver Dam (documented on historical documents) were located. Satellite imagery, LiDAR data, and historical maps were combined in the ArcGIS Pro software to highlight the topography and possible locations of the cemetery and houses. While in-person site survey is integral and yields meaningful discoveries, creating maps is worthwhile as they can reveal patterns, nuances, and spatial relationships that may not be immediately obvious.

As shown by satellite imagery of Beaver Dam, the property is now far smaller than when it was a working plantation, which underscores the possibility that significant features may have been destroyed by neighboring housing developments.

Satellite map of the Beaver Dam site

Two historical maps of the Beaver Dam plantation site are sketches from 1865 and 1925. Despite being imprecise, these maps indicate important information that is absent from most historical accounts of Beaver Dam. Both maps included an area for enslaved people’s houses and a cemetery for enslaved people. While the scale of these historical maps is off, analyzing them in conjunction with current satellite imagery and LiDAR data, allowed us to narrow down the potential locations of the houses and cemetery. Topographic raster analyses based on LiDAR data, including hillshade, slope, and elevation contour, reveal a steep incline down to a creek bed along the eastern side of the property. The historical maps position the enslaved houses relative to the main house and to the creek, so having the actual locations of both helps deduce where the remains of the houses may be located. Analyses of the maps indicate that if there ever were houses between the Beaver Dam house and the creek as indicated by the 1865 map, it is likely they are located between the current tree line and west side of the creek.

Elevation contour lines over hillshade analysis of the Beaver Dam site

However, if there was a cluster of houses past the creek as shown in the 1925 map, the River Run housing development was unfortunately likely built on top of it, given the creek marks the eastern boundary of the property. The historical maps indicate that the cemetery was located south-southeast of the main house. This is also supported by topographic data, given that cemeteries are typically located on higher ground. If this project moves forward, the cemetery area should be marked and preserved, and the location of houses could be investigated through archaeological investigations.

1865 map georeferenced over satellite imagery of Beaver Dam site.
1925 map georeferenced over satellite imagery of Beaver Dam site.
Concluding location estimations of houses and cemetery for enslaved people at Beaver Dam.

This mapping project will have continued utility if the Beaver Dam project proceeds, as geolocating features, artifacts, and other archaeological findings would be a useful visualization technique. These maps are also helpful for working with the community, as they are a way to communicate information that is visually interesting and more accessible.

Guest Blogger: Isabel Nowak Anthropology Major C’23, “The History of Beaver Dam”

Isabel Nowak is a junior anthropology student at Davidson College. In spring 2021, they spearheaded archival research in Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire’s Ethical Archaeology seminar which investigated the silenced history of Beaver Dam Historical Park.

Hello! My name is Isabel Nowak, and Spring semester 2021, I was enrolled in a seminar with Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire where my peers and I investigated the local Beaver Dam historical park. Beaver Dam’s history isn’t super well-publicized, so I thought I’d share some of it here.

 The first major player in our story is William Lee Davidson, not to be confused with his father General William Lee Davidson, who died in the Battle of Cowan’s Ford a month after his son’s birth in 1781. In 1808, Davidson purchased 451 acres on Beaver Dam Creek (hence the name of the property), where he established a plantation. The actual house that still stands today was not completed until 1829.

 Sometime between October 1847 and December 1848, William Lee Davidson moved to Alabama, and in preparation, he sold his tract on Beaver Dam Creek to Joseph Patterson, who moved in with his wife and son. Patterson died suddenly in 1858, and his son John subsequently inherited the property. The Pattersons were gone by 1880, and following decades were full of exchanges (usually to settle debt), and over time, the property was divided up.

In 1937, then-owner Caldwell Hovis sold 8.5 acres consisting of the plantation house and immediate area to Dr. Chalmers G. Davidson, who restored the house from 1945 to 1975, when he moved in. The house was listed as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Site in 1977 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Davidson College purchased the house and 8 acres of the adjoining lands in 1998 due to the land’s significance to the college’s past. Indeed, in 1935 a committee of the Concord Presbytery met at the plantation house and decided on the location of what came to be Davidson College, named after William Lee Davidson’s father, General William Lee Davidson. However, not many sources mention Beaver Dam’s darker history.

Excerpt of the Will of William Lee Davidson including a list of enslaved people.
List of enslaved people held by Joseph Patterson

Jim, Linda, Aaron, Martha, Jim, Sarah, Harriet, Horace, John, Phebe, Rose, and Amy. Jane, Darky, Tilly, Lee, Taylor, Frances, Dallas, and Mary. These are the enslaved peoples referred to by name in the will/probate records of William Lee Davidson and Joseph Patterson respectively. According to census records corresponding to years he occupied Beaver Dam, William Lee Davidson owned 15 slaves in 1820, 21 in 1830, and 26 in 1840. Joseph Patterson owned 25 slaves by 1850. We don’t know a lot about the enslaved people that lived and worked on the Beaver Dam plantation. There are no written records of most of them. But, hopefully, this investigation into Beaver Dam will raise awareness of its history, and the people who lived and died there.

Guest Blogger: Mandy Muise Anthropology Major C’23,”Community-Based Public Research in Archaeology: An Outsider’s Perspective”

Mandy Muise is a sophomore currently majoring in anthropology with an intended minor in Latin American studies. On campus, they work as the anthropology consultant for the Writing Center and are currently interning with the Antiquities Coalition.

As part of the Ethical Archaeological Research seminar, I began my work on a project called Historical and Community Archaeology: The Enslaved People of Beaver Dam (henceforth referred to as the Beaver Dam project) as a bit of an archaeological outsider – and to a degree, I remain one. Although I am an anthropology major, my concentration has always been on the cultural side; as a result, I found myself outside of my comfort zone in an archaeology seminar. It took me quite some time to find my place in a project defined by archaeological perspectives and jargon I had not previously encountered. I found myself lost as to what we could gain from pottery sherds and confused about what possible implications historical archaeology could have upon a community. Archaeology is built upon colonial ways of knowing, and prior to becoming introduced to Community Based Participatory Research in archaeology (CBPR, discussed below), I saw zero potential for an archaeology that actively served a community.

color photo of front of Beaver Dam plantation house
Beaver Dam Plantation House

In most simplistic terms, CBPR is an archaeology that advocates a movement away from scholarship “on and for” and toward archaeological practice “by and with” a community. It was best defined by Sonya Atalay (2012), an archaeologist specializing in Indigenous archaeology. CBPR creates a methodology that seeks to decolonize archaeological practice to create a more equitable form of research that is mutually beneficial to the community and to academics alike through the democratization of the knowledge production process.

My role in this project ultimately consisted of contacting prominent members of the community for information, advice, and to build connections for eventual in-person activities. In doing this, I’ve developed an appreciation of the difficulty of engaging in CBPR with a community that has not expressed an interest in archaeology. As a result of these challenges, our project has not consistently been able to uphold the objectives and ideals of CBPR. As it stands, our project is not community-engaged beyond the intentions of our group, as our accomplishments thus far have been without the support or desire of the community.

How can we understand this project to be an anti-racist and ethical endeavor in lieu of community engagement? Rather than seeing the project as aligning with older archaeological practices, it is critical to recognize our project at Beaver Dam as still in its initial stages. We have hardly stepped back from the chalkboard, despite the semester coming to a close. What we have successfully done is set the stage for CBPR, creating space in which this project can come to fruition. Our project has been designed with endless flexibility in hopes of community engagement – research questions and ideas are open to adjustments, and excavation can and will wait for the community. I see the Beaver Dam project as full of potential, founded upon ethical and anti-racist intentions – assuming the project continues its trajectory of community engagement, I have confidence that this project will continue to emphasize service to the community through mutually-beneficial scholarship.

Bibliography

Atalay, Sonya

2012    Community-Based Archaeology: Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Guest Blogger: Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire Visiting Assistant Professor, Anthropology “Historical Archaeology and the Enslaved of Beaver Dam”

This is the first of five posts from Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire’s Ethical Archaeological Research seminar (ANT-380) summarizing the results of their preliminary work on the Beaver Dam Plantation in Davidson, North Carolina.

The role of archaeology is to study societies of the past by examining their material record and the landscapes they inhabited. Historical archaeology juxtaposes the written record to these evidences to gain an even richer understanding of past societies. This written record may come from archives or can literally be found on the artifacts found during excavations. In this, historical archaeology has two incredible advantages as a social science: (1) it offers a rich type of evidence that is unavailable to non-historical archaeology and (2) offers a vast amount of material culture while paying attention to landscapes in ways that are typically evacuated from strict historical lenses. Historical archaeology can thus fill-in the many blind spots of the historical record, which tends to be written by the powerful or literary elite of the past; in this, historical archaeology can be framed as “anti-history” (Lee-Dawdy 2016). In other words, this anti-historical power can shine a light on past realities which were either erased or muted by history; those of past people suffering from intersectional inequities.

For decades, historical archaeologists have documented the lives of people whose stories were muted. This approach has had great success in studying the socioeconomic context, personal practices, challenges, and violence which characterized the lives of the people who were enslaved by plantation owners in the USA and beyond. More recently, historical archaeologists have also studied the realities of the post-emancipation life of African American households (Franklin et al. 2020). This broad research field is known as African Diaspora Archaeology and is spearheaded by members of the Society of Black Archaeologists, who are actively encouraging accomplices to contribute in steering the discipline towards an antiracist future (Flewellen et al. 2021).




A view of the Beaver Dam Plantation house from the hypothesized location of the historical cemetery used by the enslaved (photo by the author).

In this series of blog posts, my four students – Mandy Muise, Paul Mullinax, Isabel Nowak, and Sara Wilson – from the Ethical Archaeological Research seminar (ANT-380) and I summarize the results of our preliminary work on the Beaver Dam Plantation. This past semester, we studied the archival record, the landscape, and the potential for a community-engaged archaeology project at the site. The remaining estate is a small park – located at 19600 Davidson-Concord Rd – owned by Davidson College and currently leased to the Town of Davidson. Our work has identified important features of this landmark which have been effectively muted from its history and contemporary landscape: namely, the probable locations for the homes and cemetery of the enslaved who lived and labored on these grounds in the 19th century. This project has antiracist roots and goals: it aims to redress history through a historical archaeological program to give back the voices to those who’ve been muted by history.

The design of this project was influenced by experienced historical and community-engaged archaeologists and by the rich and recent literature on the Archaeology of African Diaspora and Community Engaged Archaeology (Agbe-Davies 2017; Atalay 2012; Battle-Baptiste 2017; Colwell 2016; Dunnavant 2014; Engmann 2019; Flewellen 2017; Flewellen et al. 2021; Franklin 2019; Franklin et al. 2020; Fryer 2020; Joseph 2016; Kawelu 2014; McAnany 2020; McDavid 2007; Odewale 2019; Ogundiran and Falola 2007; Reeves 2004; Shackel 2013; White 2016, 2017).

We, the five members of this project, are white. We’ve strived to use our various privileges to position ourselves so that we may launch a small, ethically-grounded project seeking to collaborate with the local Davidson community to identify and achieve antiracist goals. In fact, any future research as part of our project will be developed in collaboration with members of the Davidson Community. The powerful lenses of historical archaeology and our preliminary findings give us confidence that this project could transform Beaver Dam into a place of positive historical awareness that would benefit the broader community.

Funding for this project was provided by Davidson College’s Stories (Yet) to be Told program.

Bibliography

Agbe-Davies, Anna

2017    Where Tradition and Pragmatism Meet: African Diaspora Archaeology at the Crossroads. Historical Archaeology 51:9-27.

Atalay, Sonya

2012    Community-Based Archaeology: Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Battle-Baptiste, Whitney

2017    Cruise Ships, Community, and Collective Memory at Millars Plantation, Eleuthera, Bahamas. Historical Archaeology 51(1):60–70.

Colwell, Chip

2016    Collaborative Archaeologies and Descendant Communities. Annual Review of Anthropology 45:113–27.

Dunnavant, Justin

2014    Rehistoricizing African Archaeology through the Archives: The Intellectual Life of William Leo Hansberry. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 29(2):34-49.

Engmann, Rachael A. A.

2019    “Archaeo, That Useless Subject”: Excavating the Past through Autoarchaeology and Community Outreach Education. Ghana Studies 22:173-190

Flewellen, Ayana Omilade

2017    Locating Marginalized Historical Narratives at Kingsley Plantation. Historical Archaeology 51(1):71–87.

Flewellen, Ayana Omilade, Justin P. Dunnavant, Alicia Odewale, Alexandra Jones,

Tsione Wolde-Michael, Zoë Crossland, and Maria Franklin

2021    “The Future of Archaeology Is Antiracist”: Archaeology in the Time of Black

Lives Matter. American Antiquity 1-20 .Online Article.

Franklin, Maria

2019   Enslaved Household Variability and Plantation Life and Labor in Colonial Virginia. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 24:115-155.

Franklin, Maria, Justin P. Dunnavant, Ayana Omilade Flewellen, and Alicia Odewale

2020    The Future is Now: Archaeology and the Eradication of Anti-Blackness. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 24(4):753–766.

Fryer, Tiffany C.

2020    Reflecting on Positionality: Archaeological Heritage Praxis in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 31(1):26–40.

Joseph, J. W.

2016    Marks from the Past, Signs of the Future—the Dikenga of Historical Archaeology. Historical Archaeology 50(3):5–23.

Kawelu, Kathleen

2014    In Their Own Voices: Contemporary Native Hawaiian and Archaeological Narratives about Hawaiian Archaeology. The Contemporary Pacific 26(1):31–62.

Lee Dawdy, Shannon

2015    Anti-History. In Social Theory in Archaeology and Ancient History: The Present and Future of Counternarratives, edited by Geoff Emberling, pp. 328-342. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

McAnany, Patricia

2020   Imagining a Maya Archaeology That Is Anthropological and Attuned to Indigenous   Cultural Heritage. Heritage 3:1-11.

McDavid, Carol

2007   Beyond Strategy and Good Intentions: Archaeology, Race, and White Privilege. In An  

Archaeology of Civic Engagement and Social Justice, edited by Barbara Little and PaulShackel, pp. 67-88. AltaMira Press, Lanham.

Odewale, Alicia

2019    An Archaeology of Struggle: Material Remnants of a Double Consciousness in the

American South and Danish Caribbean Communities. Transforming Anthropology 27(2):114–132.

Ogundiran, Akinwumi, and Toyin Falola

2007    Pathways in the archaeology of transatlantic Africa. In Archaeology of Atlantic Africa and the African diaspora, edited by Ogundiran Akinwumi and Toyin Falola, pp. 3-45. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

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Guest Blogger: Ayla Amon*, Curatorial Assistant at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, “The Autobiography and the Bible**: A Tale of Resistance”

Daguerreotype of Omar ibn Sayyid showing him directly facing the camera as the focus of the image – a rare position for an enslaved person. (Image courtesy of Davidson College, Archives, Special Collections and Community)

“In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate…”[i] So begins the first sentence of the 1831 autobiography of Omar ibn Sayyid (c. 1770-1863), a man enslaved in North Carolina.[ii] This Arabic-language handwritten manuscript, currently housed at the Library of Congress, is the only known autobiography of an enslaved person that is written in a native African language. At sixteen pages of text, it is the longest document of the fifteen that Sayyid left behind. In it, he details his life in both Futa Toro – the land “between the two rivers”[iii] in what are today Senegal and Mauritania – as well as the United States. The autobiography tells the story of Sayyid’s life, his religious beliefs, and his views on slavery in his own, unfiltered words.


The first page of Sayyid’s autobiography (folio 1a) on which he writes the Qur’anic Surat al-Mulk, beginning with the Basmala. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

This document is only part Sayyid’s rich life story, and it showcases one of the most striking and ubiquitous aspects of Sayyid’s writings: his use of Arabic as a means of resisting his enslavement. In an era when it was illegal for enslaved persons to read and write, not only was Sayyid encouraged to do so by his enslavers, but he also found within the practice a space of personal power to directly question and challenge his captivity.

Sayyid’s autobiography is not the only place he comments on themes of faith and forced servitude. His handwriting also adorns an Arabic-language Bible, currently housed at Davidson College, that he received from his enslavers around 1819. He wrote the Basmala – the same Qur’anic phrase that begins his autobiography – above the Book of Genesis, and his marginalia sprinkled throughout the Bible offers praise to Allah. His notations are most prominent in the Old Testament, where he creates new titles for some of the books by transliterating them into English – a practice that appears in many of the documents he wrote.[iv] Focusing on these books speaks to Sayyid’s interest in how slavery is presented in the Bible, particularly concerning the legal status of enslaved persons, treatment of the enslaved, and manumission.


This opening page of Book of Lamentations shows one of Sayyid’s alternate titles. Rather than the printed “al-Marāthi Irmiyā al-nabi,” (Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah) (line 1) Sayyid writes (line 2) “Lmntsn Zrmāy,” an Arabic transliteration of the English “Lamentations of Jeremiah”. (Folio 536, Arabic-language Bible of Omar ibn Sayyid, Courtesy of Davidson College, Archives, Special Collections and Community (DCs 0211-4,5,6))
 

Sayyid moves further into an examination of enslavement in his own writings. The Qur’anic verse he quotes in his autobiography, Surat al-Mulk (67),[v] can be read as a commentary on his enslavement – and a challenge to it. It asserts that the absolute power of dominion belongs with Allah alone, not man, thus subverting the social power of his enslaver. Neither the slavery of the Qur’an nor the slavery of the Bible, which both include provisions for kind treatment and manumission of the enslaved, align with the brutal race-based chattel slavery Sayyid experienced in the United States.


Image of the “Illegal to Preach” case in Slavery and Freedom at the National Museum of African American History and Culture showing Sayyid’s Bible (far right) opened to the final page of Revelations where Sayyid writes “al-hamdu lillah hamdan kathiran” (“Praise be to Allah much praise”). He also includes his name, as well as that of his mother, ‘Umhan Yasnik. (Photograph by John Lutz)

For the first time since Sayyid’s death in 1863, both of these manuscripts are in the same city, Washington, D.C. The autobiography at the Library of Congress, and the Bible on loan to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. One can only assume that Sayyid would appreciate how the work of an enslaved African Muslim resides in the capital of a country that once denied both his humanity and religion – a final act of resistance that writes African Islam into the religious, social, and political fabric of the United States.

*Ayla Amon is a Curatorial Assistant at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and Visiting Lecturer at University of North Carolina Greensboro. She studies African Islam, the African Muslim Diaspora, and the African Muslims forcibly migrated to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade.

**The Sayyid Bible will be on display in the Slavery and Freedom Gallery of the National Museum of African American History and Culture through July 24, 2021.  

[i] Called the Basmala, this phrase, “bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim,” is the first line of the Qur’an and is recited before every chapter (or sura), save the ninth.

[ii] More information on Sayyid’s life, including a page-by-page translation of his autobiography, can be found in Omar ibn Said and Ala Alryyes (trans.), A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar ibn Sayyid (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011).

[iii] Sayyid writes, “bayn al-bahrayn” (folio 14). Omar ibn Said. The life of Omar ben Saeed, called Morro, a Fullah Slave in Fayetteville, N.C. Owned by Governor Owen. Manuscript. 1831. From Library of Congress, Theodore Dwight, Henry Cotheal, Lamine Kebe, and Omar Ibn Said Collection, https://www.loc.gov/item/2018371864/ (accessed January 14, 2021).

[iv] A full exploration of Sayyid’s Biblical marginalia is the topic for another blog post, but some additional examples can be found in Jeffrey Einboden, “Davidson Marginalia,” Northern Illinois University, https://www.niu.edu/arabic-slave-writings/davidson-marginalia/index.shtml, and Allan Austin, African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles (Routledge, 1997): 136-137, 140.

[v] The Arabic word “mulk” derives from the tripartite root “malaka” – to own or have dominion over. Sayyid writes the entire sura though he erroneously omits 67:29 and repeats 67:30 twice.