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African-American Archaeology of Massachusetts - Lucy Foster's Home and Garden

Lucy Foster represents a chapter in the untold and unrecorded history of Black Slavery and post-Slavery struggles in Massachusetts. Lucy's life straddles the emancipation of African-Americans in Massachusetts, speaks to perpetuated servitude and systemically-structured poverty, de-landing of free African-Americans, and neglect of African-American history. Lived out in Andover, Massachusetts, Lucy's home provides an early example of historical archaeology and archaeology of African-Americans.

First investigated by Adelaide and Ripley Bullen in 1943, the place inappropriately known and cited as "Black Lucy's Garden" was extensively reinvestigated and described by Vernon Baker in the 122-page work, "Historical Archaeology at Black Lucy's Garden: Ceramics from the Site of a Nineteenth Century Afro-American." The reference to Lucy Foster needs to be corrected to show respect and to remove the racist tag, since we at no time describe others as "White So-and-So."

You can read the full report here:

Other than inappropriate labeling, the report is thorough and revealing. One element missing from the investigation that could be richly informative about cultural continuity would be an inventory of dietary plant remains on site. Insight into what grew in Lucy's garden could give us knowledge of possible traditions in herbs and food stuffs, connecting in some cases perhaps to Africa and/or African-American community tradition.

It is not known whether Lucy was born in Africa or America. What is known is that Lucy was born in 1757, living 88 years, the last 30 of those years in her own home - at last. July 14, 1771 provides a baptismal record showing Lucy, described as a child, and Sarah, her own child, described as “given to Job” Foster, an upper-class farmer in Andover. The father of the child is never named, but the case is suspicious as Lucy would have been just 13 years of age at the time. Given her status as “a slave of Boston given to Job Foster,” it is unlikely that Lucy had unsupervised access to the outside world. In the pattern of those times, this alarming scenario is ignored both then, and in the 20th century report.

It appears that Lucy continued as a servant within the Foster home after emancipation of slaves in Massachusetts in 1780. Of course, there would be little option for a freed African-American woman without education, money, or significant contacts in the outside world. After the decease of Job Foster, Lucy remained with Foster’s widow, Hannah. It must be called out here that Foster imprisoned Lucy those many years within slavery and may have raped her as a child, while Lucy’s own child was never acknowledged by a father nor recognized in an estate.

Hannah Foster received 1/3 of her spouse’s unmovable possessions, including that portion of the house, while Lucy continued to reside and apparently serve Mrs. Foster there. Upon Hannah Foster’s decease, Lucy received an acre of land, a cow, 150 dollars in personal money, and sundries as bequeath. With the sum received and help from some others in the nearby community, Lucy built herself a home where she lived free another 30 years until her own passing. It is not clear how Lucy managed to support herself except that her possessions indicate she may have accomplihed a large degree of self-sufficiency. She was nonetheless in need at least some of the time.

Despite finally being free and landed, Lucy’s status remained impoverished, as indicated by records from the local church regarding assistance given to Lucy. It is not known is Lucy was able to emply herself. This pattern of low economic opportunity, locational marginality, and persistent poverty repeats at many historic places of individuals and enclave communities of Freemen African-Americans. There are some cases that illustrate in more detail why that is so, such as the Saxon Woods, New York case, which will be posted here soon.

What Lucy’s home does show, according to Vernon, is a continuity with an apparent African-American tradition of the 12-foot home, and commonality in diet and lifestyle with many Euroamerican overseers and poor folks. Vernon suggests that similarities between Black and White poor folks in the late Slavery and post-Slavery periods reflect economic status and exigencies more than cultural tradition. Vernon also suggests that Lucy’s lifestyle does reflect patterns seen in African-American communities. We will have a look at that in regard to the Parting Ways community soon.

Nohham R. Cachat-Schilling

African-American Archaeology of Massachusetts - Lucy Foster's Home and Garden
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