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The African Burial Ground in the Age of Revolution: A Landscape in Transition

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Tales of Gotham, Historical Archaeology, Ethnohistory and Microhistory of New York City

Abstract

This chapter places the landscape of the African Burial Ground within the larger perspective of New York City in the years before and during the Revolutionary War. Although the 1991 archaeological discovery of the cemetery transformed the retelling of New York’s colonial history, the relationship between the burial ground and the American Revolution remains unexplored. Combining the archaeological findings with landscape analysis makes available a different narrative account that renders the black presence in New York before and during the Revolutionary War more accessible. The history of the long forgotten and obscured cemetery emerged along with the excavated artifacts and skeletal remains. The Burial Ground artifacts reveal both temporal dimension and sociocultural evolution from West African expressive forms to artifacts identified with the War for Independence. Mortuary objects reveal shifting forms of cultural expression associated with African captives who buried their dead throughout the eighteenth century. Although no names of individuals have been associated with the site, artifacts do lend individuality to specific burials. Maps and other documents help develop the historical narrative and fill the cultural landscape of the cemetery and the surrounding Common land with detail. Juxtaposing the active use of the Burial Ground by both the British and African Americans during the War years supports a unique and alternative view of New York’s historic colonial landscape history.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In 1991, the name was officially changed to the African Burial Ground.

  2. 2.

    Along present day John Street.

  3. 3.

    This refers to the 1846 construction of A. T. Stewart, the country’s first department store.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to express my appreciation to Emilyn Brown for her close, in-depth reading of the manuscript. I am particularly grateful for the breadth of knowledge that informed her critique. Her input has been invaluable and her generosity of spirit and intellect has made this a far better work. Any errors, however, remain the sole responsibility of the author.

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Correspondence to Cheryl Janifer LaRoche Ph.D. .

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LaRoche, C.J. (2013). The African Burial Ground in the Age of Revolution: A Landscape in Transition. In: Janowitz, M., Dallal, D. (eds) Tales of Gotham, Historical Archaeology, Ethnohistory and Microhistory of New York City. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-5272-0_9

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