J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stories from Old Homes

This month the Boston Globe published a couple of articles in its local sections that might be of wider interest for folks interested in eighteenth-century history.

From Plymouth came word of an archeological dig that might include evidence about the lives of enslaved people of African descent:
An excavation this summer in a small shed and nearby grounds on North Street has yielded more than 30,000 artifacts dating back 1,000 years. But the prized finds have been the bits and pieces that “might point to an African origin and [dwellers’] desire to maintain a physical, spiritual, and [m]ental connection with their origins,” said archeologist Craig Chartier. . . .

The project began in April, with a $15,000 Community Preservation Fund grant spurred by historian Rose T. Briggs’s typewritten reference to Colonel George Watson’s slave house in a 1967 Massachusetts Historical Inventory Form that she submitted on behalf of the Pilgrim Society. . . .

In addition to slaves named Cuffee and Esack, the household had Quassia, said to be “full of fun and drollery.” His owner, Judge Peter Oliver of Middleborough, had been driven out of town by residents for his Tory sympathies, according to a passage in Thomas Weston’s “History of the Town of Middleborough,” written in 1906.
From the western suburbs came a story about people living in historic houses as caretakers, to maintain them and their furnishings.
It is an arrangement played out in historic houses across the state, one that can benefit both caretakers, who pay little or no rent, and the groups that own the properties but have little money to pay for upkeep.

In Milton’s Suffolk Resolves House, Steve Kluskens walks past a letter from Thomas Hutchinson, a Colonial-era governor of Massachusetts, on his way to the kitchen every morning. When he types on his Macintosh laptop, it sits on a 200-year-old table, near an 1823 Springfield musket propped up against a wall.

As caretakers, Kluskens and his wife, Sheila Frazier, eat at a table beside a display of delicate dishes that were ordered from China in 1775. The house also holds a 1641 Bible written in classical Greek, a Jacobean oak chest more than 300 years old, and assorted dour portraits of prominent, but deceased, Milton residents.

Kluskens and Frazier, like other caretakers in historic houses, cannot change the house to fit their lives. They don’t remodel or paint or add media rooms. They must adapt themselves to fit in the house.

“It gives you a unique perspective on how short a life span is,” said Kluskens, who is also curator. “We’re just passing through this house.”
The Suffolk Resolves House, owned by Daniel Vose in 1774, is shown above.


Susan said...

I'm glad they mentioned Deetz's work with Parting Ways. However, I did not find his studies speculative at all, I found them well-grounded (forgive the pun) in accepted archaeological procedure and a necessary adjunct that rounds out the library-type work that the rest of us do.

J. L. Bell said...

As I read the newspaper article, Deetz was following the scholarly standards of his time and producing respected and ground-breaking [puns need no forgiveness] work, but those standards have shifted somewhat. Especially on the question of what constitutes a link to African culture.