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Dig reveals R.I. ties to slave trade

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Tannhäuser
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« on: July 12, 2009, 12:27:08 am »

Dig reveals R.I. ties to slave trade

01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, July 7, 2009

By Paul Davis

Journal Staff Writer


NEWPORT

Kneeling in a hole, archaeologist James Garman pokes through two centuries of soil, trash and treasures. After a few hours of digging, he and other researchers find a tarnished belt buckle from the early 1800s.

“We are so close to the 18th century,” says Garman, staring at a dark line of dirt at the bottom of the pit.

For the third straight year, researchers this summer will sift a 15-by-20-foot pit off lower Thames Street for items owned by Thomas Richardson II, an 18th-century merchant, captain and slave trader.

The team has found close to 10,000 artifacts, including pig’s jaws, pipe stems, and combs for Colonial-era wigs. The items will be analyzed in the next few months.

Researchers still hope to find a large distillery they believe Richardson’s slaves used to make rum. The operation –– one of several dozen in the state –– was part of the triangular trade, a dark enterprise where slaves, rum, molasses and other goods changed hands in West Africa, the Caribbean and the American Colonies.

During the 1700s and early 1800s, Rhode Island captains and their backers sold 100,000 Africans into slavery.

“Newport would never have reached its economic peak without rum and slavery,” says Garman, chairman of the cultural and historic preservation department at Newport’s Salve Regina University. “It’s the fuel that runs the economic engine.”

Electronic imaging suggests the rum-making apparatus is just below the four-foot-deep pit, in the rear of the Newport Restoration Foundation’s gift shop. Researchers say they have also found post holes from a possible wooden shed on the property, where Richardson lived from 1761 until his death, in 1782.

“Nobody has ever dug a Newport merchant’s house before,” says Pieter Roos, executive director of the Newport Restoration Foundation, which owns the property. “This is very important.”

The excavation is a joint project of the foundation, Salve Regina and the Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
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Tannhäuser
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« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2009, 12:27:29 am »

Researchers hope their work will help historians better understand Newport’s privileged merchant class. In the mid-1700s, they built big houses, held public office, entertained and owned slaves.

“We’re hoping to answer the question, what does it mean to be a merchant” says Garman. “How do you get in the club and how do you stay in the club?”

For instance, Richardson owned a lot of things, including 18 boats and two schooners. But many of his household items were made from common materials. Perhaps a merchant isn’t someone who owns the finest things, but a lot of things, says Garman. “It’s a quantity versus a quality thing.”

Richardson’s diet also reflects a lower-class status. Like many Newporters, he ate beef, mutton and pork, says Michelle G. Styger, a UMass-Boston graduate student who has written a paper about the family’s diet.

But he also ate turtle soup, a meal associated with wealthier residents.

“I call him the occasional merchant,” says Styger, who has examined bones, seeds and other items.

Researchers discovered the site in 2007 while working on another project.
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Tannhäuser
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« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2009, 12:28:07 am »

A probate list, letters and other records tell part of Richardson’s story.

A former Quaker, he left the group –– Quakers opposed slavery –– and prayed at Ezra Stiles’ Second Congregational Church on Clarke Street, a church favored by slave merchants and captains.

Before the war, he was listed as one of Newport’s top taxpayers.

That changed during the American Revolution, when British and Hessian troops occupied the city from 1776 to 1779. They burned or dismantled 450 houses and businesses. Richardson spent 18 days aboard a British prison ship.

After the war, Newport was no longer a busy commercial port and, by 1782, Richardson was broke, says Garman. “He’s a victim of bad luck and unforeseen circumstances and perhaps poor judgment.”

After his death, neighbors catalogued his belongings. “Every object,” says Garman, “was identified as old or broken.”

On a recent Wednesday morning, two Salve Regina students sift clumps of soil through a wire mesh, while another student seals a teacup shard in a plastic bag and labels it “trash pit, swest corner, EU (excavation unit) 14.”

Garman hopes the information will spur other digs and further study of the merchant class.

“We haven’t done nearly enough archaeology in Newport,” says Garman. The building boom during the last 30 years has made it harder to find the past, he says. Parking lots and shops blanket the waterfront.

Styger agrees.

“People forget Newport had an 18th-century past,” she says. “The city is known for its mansions. But at one point, it was the fifth-largest city in the Colonies.”

pdavis@projo.com

http://www.projo.com/ri/newport/content/NEWPORT_SLAVERY_DIG_07-07-09_EBEEC5K_v59.38ad7fe.html
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Tannhäuser
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« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2009, 12:28:41 am »



Among the 10,000 items found were a buckle, bone and pipe.
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