In pursuit of full freedom: an archaeological and historical study of the free African-American community at parting ways, Massachusetts, 1779-1900
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African Americans living in the small community of Parting Ways, near Plymouth, Massachusetts, realized their newly achieved independence through the construction of homeplace using the material culture of respectability and socioeconomic integration into the community. I expand upon a previous study of this community, which identified evidence that the former slaves retained African cultural traditions, to analyze material evidence of consumption and subsistence. This study reveals that African Americans living at Parting Ways crafted identities that emphasized independence, refinement, and respectability despite living in a society that stereotyped African Americans as dependent members incapable of full social participation. The archaeological data come from five seasons of excavation, 1975-1978 and 1989, on the properties of two African-American families who lived at Parting Ways. I situate the artifacts together with deed, probate, court, town, and census records to construct a detailed historical context in which to interpret the material practice of daily life, identity creation, and community formation. Paternalism and dependence, features of slavery in New England, continued after emancipation and were seen at Parting Ways through the actions of town leaders who permitted the families to build houses on public lands and also assumed legal and financial guardianship of the families. Within their homes, however, the families participated in the material culture of respectability through the rituals of tea drinking, refined dining, formal clothing, and the use of orthodox medicines. The records reveal that they also participated actively in the town's economic life by exchanging their manual labor for agriculture products like cattle heads and feet. Through their household goods, their customs, and their labor, these families embodied respectability, integrated themselves into the community, and constructed a homeplace--a place of refuge, family building, and identity formation. At Parting Ways, African-Americans worked to negate the implications of their continued dependence on town leaders by developing individual personas that espoused the values of independence, freedom, refinement, and family unity - and in so doing defined their own participation in Plymouth, and American, society.