Black History (and Archaeology) Month: A Micro-History

Black History and Archaeology in My Small Town

Calvin T. Swan was born a free person of African-American origin in 1779 and lived as a carpenter and sawmill operator until his passing in 1875. Swan and their family lived and worked in present-day Northfield, building some of the homes included in the town’s historic district. The family’s resting place with a family monument stands in the town cemetery. Swan’s home sits just below the high ridge on Brushy Mountain, a place of Indigenous spiritual importance. Two stone foundations (one 24’ x 28’ and the other 10’ x 30’), referred to as cellar holes, remain on the site, alongside the spring that served as the family’s well and continues to flow today. Swan apprenticed through Calvin Stearns, known regionally as part of the Stearns Brothers builders. Along with Samuel Dyke, Swan built today’s Montague Grange Hall, formerly a church.

An active abolitionist, Swan served as a member of the Greenfield abolitionist group and as secretary for the Mountain Chapter of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. The Swan family children ostensibly attended the No. 6 School, the remains of which are located quite near the home. Swan was also active in the local Methodist Church and a trustee.

The community where Swan lived is notably separate and at some distance from town center, where the main population of Northfield lived. Brushy Mountain and environs supported a small mountain community separated by distance and woodlots from the farming plots of the main town. Locational marginality is a feature of enclaves and homes of period African-American freemen.
MEAS supports comprehensive ethnohistorical narrative of African-American Massachusetts and the its archaeological heritage.

Nohham R. Cachat-Schilling

Black History (and Archaeology) Month: A Micro-History