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Levi Jordan

The Interpretation of a Blacksmith's Cabin at the Levi Jordan Plantation

by Jorge Garcia-Herreros

Paper given at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, January 1998

See Maria Franklin's page on this web for her comments on this paper and the others delivered in this session.

Jorge Garcia-Herreros

The cabin area discussed on this paper is in Block Two, Row B, Cabin 2 (grayed area)


As has been described, research at on the Levi Jordan Plantation has focused on the African American resident community, and has revealed considerable information about the specialized crafts that were practiced by members of this community. Evidence indicates that the use of these crafts went beyond daily subsistence needs to include ritual use, and demonstrates multi-dimensional patterns of artifact use in their community: functional, social, and religious aspects are evident. It has been proposed that one of these crafts was the manufacture of munitions. As first argued by Brown and Cooper 1990 (4), one of the cabins excavated appeared to contain a high quantity of lead and other related artifacts that indicated the manufacturing of different types of munitions.

This so-called "Munition Maker's" cabin is located in Block II of the slave/tenant quarters. The size of this cabin was about seventeen feet by fifteen feet, with a hearth located on the Northwest corner of the cabin. There was a double hearth, which was shared by the adjacent cabin to the North (see map above). The cabin to the immediate north has been identified as the "Curer's Cabin".

My research involves examining this cabin in terms of three related questions. First, I hoped to see if the differential use of space would support the cabins use as a residence, and to demonstrate whether it had been suddenly abandoned as had been discussed earlier today. Second, involves its use within the context of occupation by a munition maker. Third, I wanted to examine the broader context of munitions making in terms of African and African-American beliefs, and to see how the "Munition Maker" participated in the internal structure of the tenant community on the Levi Jordan plantation. I will report on aspects of the first two sets of research questions on this paper; the questions relating to ritual will be addressed in a future forum.

Data presentation

During the field seasons of 1986 through 1988, a total of eleven units were excavated partially or completely in the area that had been provisionally labeled as the "Munition Maker's" cabin. Out of the total 255 square feet of this cabin, 206 square feet were excavated within the "Munition Maker's" cabin. This represents approximately 81% percent of the total floor space in this cabin. During the excavation the West and East brick foundations were uncovered. In this slide the West foundation wall was seen.

From the area that was excavated a total of 30,306 artifacts were excavated from the abandonment deposit. Of these 58.09% related to building materials, 1.15% were classified as ceramics, 30.78% were classified as ecological, .29% were classified as farmware, 3.02% were classified as glass, .56 % was classified as munitions, 1.6% as personal, .17% as general tools and 4.34% as utensils. The focal point of the following review of the data will be on the use of space in terms of foodstuffs, general working areas, and munitions working areas. First I will discuss the use of space in relation to the hearth and foodstuff related artifacts.

As can be seen in this slide [to be included in the future] a chain and some utensils were found around the hearth. A total of five separate chains have been found in front of the hearth and at the base and may have been related to the operation of the hearth. These chains could have been used to hang pots during cooking and/or for smoking meats. A cooking pot was found in situ on the southeast corner of the hearth, near the probable doorway.

As this distribution surface plot shows there is a concentration of utensils around the hearth area [chart of utensils will be included in the future]. Some of these utensils found in front of the hearth included several metal handle utensils, one carved utensil handle, a pot handle, and a pot fragment. Also in the vicinity of the hearth the base of a tumbler was found. All around the hearth there is a higher concentration of ceramic fragments as it can be seen in this distribution [chart of ceramics will be included in the future]. This includes a shallow bowl or saucer with a makers mark of the Edward Clark Company, circa 1878-1887. The highest concentration of glass bottles were found on the north wall of this cabin, including several whole bottles, some of which were "bitters" bottles or medicine bottles.

Around the hearth there is a concentration of faunal remains that includes a mixture of small wild game (58%), large wild game (4%), and some domestics (38%). The small wild game include rodents such as squirrels, also rabbits, some birds, fish such as alligator gar and turtles. The large wild game consisted primarily of deer. The domestics that are found include pigs and cattle, although some of these pigs could have been feral. The faunal remains also include oyster and rangia, along with chicken eggs. Faunal analysis still needs to be completed in order to fully comprehend the diet and specifics of the diet of the individuals who occupied this cabin.

The faunal remains seem to indicate a diet that was varied, but it seems that it relied heavily on small game. This will be discussed in more detail later in the interpretation of the data. Now I will discuss the use of space in relation to general working areas.

It can be seen that in this distributional map of tools [chart of tools may be included in future] there are two particular concentrations, possibly indicating two main areas where craft activities were conducted. As with food preparation, the area around the hearth shows the highest concentration of craft tools. This includes some folding knives, thimbles, and pins that could of been used for the creation and repair of clothing. This could demonstrate the necessity of working around the hearth possibly because it was a source of light and warmth.

In the middle and to the south of the cabin there is a concentration of tools that relate to manufacturing activities such as drills, fish hooks, and some artifacts that relate to sewing, including a pair of scissors, pins and one thimble.

Some of the tools found in this area.

Thus, it appears that there are two different areas that were utilized as work areas. One was the area in front of the hearth, and the other was in the middle of the cabin. By the concentration of artifacts that are described above, the hearth area was a multipurpose space that had different uses – one of them being possibly the sewing and mending of clothing. The work area in the middle of the cabin seems to be utilized again as an area for several different purposes. Probably also as the mending and creation of clothing, and the manufacturing and general repair work that would constitute a general living area, as indicated by implements of daily life. For example the drill, the folding knife, the fish hooks, and the scissors, that are found in this area.

Now, to discuss the use of space in relation to the manufacturing of munitions:

It is seen in this distributional map of the munitions that [chart of munitions may be included in future] there is a concentration around the hearth and on the Southwest corner in the cabin of this type of artifact. Some examples of these include percussion caps (fired and unfired), lead shot, bullets, and shell casings. On the Northeast end of the hearth there is a concentration of artifacts that pertains to munitions such as powder percussion caps, a high concentration of melted lead, 1 gun part pertaining to a musket, a shell casing, and 1 flint flake. This also includes one file that was modified for use as a cutter/ scraper.

A sampling of the munitions found in this area.

On the Southern end of the hearth in this cabin a very high concentration of melted lead was found, some shell casings, and a mold, possibly for a 32 to 34 caliber shot/mini ball. Thus, it appears that the Northeast and Southeast corners of the hearth were employed as the primary area for the processing of lead items, as seen in the high concentration of melted lead fragments and the presence of the bullet mold. This concentration of munitions around the hearth especially melted lead and the bullet mold is likely due to the necessity of having a consistent heat source in order to melt and mold lead. It also demonstrates the hearth was an activity area that was more than just an area for cooking, but also for a specialized craft.

In the Southwest corner of the cabin, a concentration of artifacts that pertain to the manufacture of munitions has also been identified. This concentration includes a high quantity of shell casings, some lead shot, some melted lead, and 1 flint tool. The difference in number of shell casings in this area in relation to others within the cabin seems to indicate that this was the area in the cabin where this individual refined and finalized the production of some of these munitions. Artifacts such as a folding knife, a drill, and a wedge would help in the refinement and completion of the munitions. Also it could have been an area employed during the alteration of certain metal objects; such as this metal button. Thus this area seems to have been the main work area where munitions were completed.

The flint tools discussed in this paper.

There appears to have been two main processing areas in this cabin for munitions. One area, interpreted as the main manufacturing area, is concentrated around the front of the hearth. The other area is found in the Southwest corner of the cabin, it was interpreted as the refinement and finalizing area, where munitions were completed. In this area munitions could also been modified or downgraded to the type of gun that was found here, specifically part of a musket rifle. Thus it appears that in the process of making shot and possibly bullets, the lead was melted in the hearth and molded into shot in front the of the hearth. This shot then would be later refined and completed in the Southwest corner of the cabin. Another possible explanation is that this area was used as a storage area for munitions, that later would be modified into munitions that the individuals in this cabin and/or community could use.

Interpretation of the data

In general, what has been found in this cabin is that its primary function was that of a residence – that is, a place where individuals spend a good portion of their lives and where their worldly possessions were kept and used. This is seen in the high density of artifacts such as tobacco pipes, utensils, ceramics, toys, cooking pots, that shows this cabin as a living area.

The Southwest corner of the cabin, besides being the finalizing area in which munitions were refined, was also used as an area where certain items were stored and possibly used, including two thimbles, one pair of scissors, and one pin.

Other items that seem to have been stored here were two spoons and one shell handled utensil, and, interestingly, a number of toys, including two toy guns and what appears to be the wheels of a toy carriage. The star seen here was not found in the vicinity of the other two artifacts represented here, but was found within the cabin and it appears to have been a toy star. Some of these items may have been stored in a chest without a lock, due to the presence of two hinges and some metal fragments that could of been part of the straps around a wooden chest.

Toys discussed in above paragraph.

Also within the archaeological deposit of this cabin there are artifacts that may have "decorated" the cabin. For example one porcelain figurine was found on the north wall of the cabin which separates the "Munition Maker's" from the "Curer's" cabin. Two ceramic figurines representing dogs were found on the East wall of the cabin, one of them seen here. It appears that a mirror was hung on the South wall of the cabin, or at least there was a hand mirror located there, based on mirror glass that was found there.

In sum, it appears that this cabin was occupied at some point by a family because of the artifacts found which pertain to the activities of everyday life. Artifacts, such as the scissors, sewing pins and needles, the children's toys, tobacco pipes, cooking equipment, hair combs, the top from a porcelain ceramic jewelry box, a toy trivet, and a small porcelain piano are all indications that this was probably used as a residence area. It is also a picture of an individual/family unit with a craft specialization. However, it is important now to examine the role of the individual within the context of this craft specialization. Overall interpretation of the role of the munitions maker's within the tenant community

Toy trivet, small porcelain piano, top from a porcelain box

As has been discussed elsewhere, postbellum African Americans had to face an equal, if not greater, number of restrictions on their freedom as they had to deal with during slavery. Because of their restrictions, the tenant farmers had to rely on themselves, their families, and their community in order to survive.

This communal feeling would have been intensified by its ability to be self-sufficient. This would have come about by being able to provide for the needs that otherwise they could not meet from the outside, either due to economic or social restraints. One way to provide for communal needs would have been by creating or having craft specialization, in order to provide certain goods to the community and possibly to others, including the external community. And, while it appears from the faunal record that people in this community did hunt, the historical record doesn't indicate that they purchased any munitions. Therefore, it becomes apparent that this tenant community made their own munitions in order to hunt.

The tenants appear to have found a way around the social and economic restrictions imposed upon them. Specifically, at least one individual at this plantation specialized in the manufacturing of the required munitions. If this was the case, this individual had two important roles in the internal community at the Levi Jordan plantation.

One role would have been to supply the goods necessary to procure wild animal food, and the second would of been as a form of protection. In part, then two basic needs would have been meet by the individual that made these munitions, and provided them to other community members.

By making munitions this individual is classified as a type of specialist. This specialist role; however, could have been seen in a negative light by white communities, as some literature suggests that there were restrictions on the tenants to hunt openly.

In conclusion, the data shows in this preliminary study that the occupants of this cabin did manufacture shot and other munitions-related artifacts. It is also evident that the cabin was used as a residence. The next phase of my research will examine the broader context of munitions making in terms of ritual belief. This will include the ritual behavior of having a metal pot by the doorway, and examining the metal button that was found for ritual content.

This version does not include references for the in-text citations, but they will be added at a later date.
Jorge Garcia-Herreros 1998

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