Sorrel-Weed House: Part II

Kelly Westfield shares Sorrel-Weed House Archaeological Study: Part II in our next student blog post. Her original post can be found here from last semester.

This past September, we wrapped up our second round of excavations in the basement of the Sorrel-Weed carriage house. Unlike the first phase of our study, we were able to finish up over the course of one weekend, rather than spending four weekends in the field as we did in the spring. This was too our benefit for several reasons, not least of which was the humidity we were tackling in our underground workspace! We excavated two additional test units this time around. Test Unit 2 included the remaining portion of Test Unit 1’s pit feature found in the spring (perhaps we should call this the “coal-hole” due to the copious amounts of coal we recovered!), and in Test Unit 3, we excavated the northeast corner of the basement floor in an effort to locate builder’s trenches. The results of the study will be compiled into the original report (posted on Digging Savannah last spring, and with Professor Seifert’s guiding hand, hopefully again this fall), and a copy of the final report will be available in the permanent collection of Armstrong’s Lane Library sometime later this year. The results will also be presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference in January of 2018. I am also very excited to say that a portion of the report will be published in book format sometime next year.

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Excavating the second half of the “coal-hole”, likely a late 19th century trash pit.

But what kind of a blogger would I be if I didn’t tell you some of the highlights from the study? Not a very thoughtful one I would suspect. So here goes. For those of you out there still clinging to the possibility that we may have found an intact skeleton, possibly providing palpable, and I might add, horrific evidence to support the infidelity-suicide-murder-cover-up plot, we are three test units deep (pun intended) and have yet to find any human remains. The suspicious depression in the carriage house basement floor was the result of a deep pit (the “coal-hole”). The feature contained a motley assemblage of artifacts, including animal bones (lots of them!)  ceramics (from utilitarian to high style), glass bottle sherds, a seemingly endless assortment of heavily corroded metal artifacts, and a curious piece of jewelry that has yet to be identified. A piece of a pharmaceutical bottle recovered from Test Unit 2 and embossed with the words “hyp—-” is an exciting new lead. With further research and the identification of this artifact, we may be able to nail-down additional dates and perhaps learn something more about illness and early medicinal practices in Savannah.

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Metal artifacts recovered from the “coal-hole”. The smaller piece was recovered on top of the larger piece. It is possibly a pulley or large caster wheel.

Although we hoped to learn about the experiences of the enslaved individuals who were said to have once occupied this space, the artifacts recovered cannot be tied to Black lifeways or culture. These results are further complicated by the background research for this study, which does not establish the carriage house as an antebellum structure. The most promising lead that may speak of enslaved lifeways are perhaps the animal bones recovered, many of which contain butcher marks. If these can be dated and are antebellum faunal remains, they may tell us information about the foodways of the enslaved at the site. Even more interesting, the faunal remains may tell us more about the influences of Haitian foodways and culture in Savannah. Francis Sorrel was born in Haiti and lived on the island until he was a young adult. A search of the Laurel Grove South Interment Records at the City of Savannah Research and Municipal Archives shows that one of Francis Sorrel’s young bondwoman, Matilda Daois, was interred at Laurel Grove South on November 28, 1855 after dying of consumption. Daois is a surname that perhaps speaks of Creole or French origin. Overall, the artifacts recovered provide numerous opportunities for further research. I look forward to seeing these future studies and hope that I may be able to contribute at a later date.

Did I mention that I found a young woman named Molly owned by Francis Sorrel, sent by steamship to New York City in 1855? While this is far from validating the tale of her tragic fate just five years later, it does show that there was a woman named Molly who once lived at the Sorrel-Weed House. What was her life really like, and what other narratives can we derive from research about her and her fellow bondpeople to incorporate into the telling of Savannah’s history? Molly was far from being the only slave who lived and worked at the Sorrel-Weed House, and their stories, like hers, are about much more than tragedy and death. I hope to one day return to the enslaved history of the Sorrel-Weed House and focus research efforts on deriving these narratives. In the meantime, I challenge you (yes you!) to invest your research and academic efforts into shedding light on the untold number of enslaved lives that have come and gone in Savannah and help to incorporate their stories into the city’s tourism landscape.

 

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