The Past, Present, and Future of Archaeological Research at The Hermitage: Legacies of Larry McKee and Sam Smith

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2018

Between 1804 and emancipation, hundreds of people were enslaved at The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's cotton plantation near Nashville, Tennessee. Extensive archaeological investigations between 1974 and 2004, led by Sam Smith, Larry McKee, and Elizabeth Kellar, revealed over twelve domestic sites of enslavement, explored plantation dependencies, and probed yard areas and landscape features. This sustained archaeological campaign commanded national attention in the popular press and the discipline of archaeology as it uncovered hundreds of thousands of artifacts related to a century of antebellum enslavement and Jim Crow-era service. Today, the Hermitage remains the most extensively excavated antebellum plantation. Two recent NEH grants have made archaeological data from these sites available to the public via The Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery. These papers look back at the unprecedented investigations and breathe new life into these collections, offering compelling insights into the economic, social, and cultural dynamics of The Hermitage plantation community.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-18 of 18)

  • Documents (18)

  • Archaeology and Interpretation at The Hermitage (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marsha A. Mullin.

    Archaeology has contributed to interpretation at The Hermitage in a variety of ways but two benefits particularly stand out: First, by increasing our knowledge about Andrew Jackson’s enslaved workers and their built environment, topics with very few written records.  This has allowed us to interpret a large part of the historic site and more aspects of the plantation where previously, the Hermitage mansion dominated the interpretation program.  Secondly, the archaeology program gave us the tools...

  • Beyond the Mansion: How the Archaeology Program at a Plantation Museum Changed so Many Lives (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Whitney Battle-Baptiste.

    Between 1988 and 2009, the Hermitage Archaeology Program trained students of archaeology, anthropology, history, and education. Summer after summer, as the excavation units were laid, the wheelbarrows lined up, the shovels and trowels counted and distributed, we were always excited about what was to come. I learned about who I was as an archaeologist, as a scholar of slavery and the African Diaspora, and a Black Feminist Archaeologist. This short reflection paper is to share some thoughts and...

  • Charlottes, Commies, and China Dishes: The Abundance of Children’s Toys from The Hermitage (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Colleen Betti.

    The lives of children enslaved on American plantations are poorly documented and often overlooked in the archaeological record. Excavations at the Hermitage have produced a large number of toys that can provide valuable insights into the lives of this understudied population. Over half of the toys in the DAACS database are from the Hermitage. This paper looks to compare the toys from the Hermitage to those from the other North American sites in DAACS to better understand why the Hermitage has...

  • Contextualizing the Exceptional: Understanding "Small Find" Abundance at The Hermitage (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jillian Galle. Lindsay Bloch. Lynsey Bates.

    The archaeological program at The Hermitage was exceptional in many ways, from the breadth and depth of its archaeological education programs and the square footage excavated across the plantation to the range of domestic slave housing types and diversity of artifacts found within and around these dwellings. The richness and diversity of "small finds" across Hermitage sites is particularly striking. Previous studies of Hermitage small finds have focused on individual artifacts as representations...

  • Exploring Material Change on Contemporary Pre- and Post-Emancipation Sites in the US and Caribbean. (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Khadene Harris. Jillian Galle.

    In the British Caribbean, archaeologists have documented notable shifts in material culture after emancipation in 1834.  Similar diversity and richness in material culture have been observed but not quantified on nineteenth-century sites of slavery in the United States. We compare artifact assemblages from contemporary post-emancipation sites from Morne Patat (Dominica) and Seville (Jamaica) with pre-emancipation sites from The Hermitage.  We highlight differences in how formerly enslaved...

  • Field of Dreams: Archaeology and Education Hermitage Style (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth J. Kellar.

      The Hermitage archaeology program fulfilled the dreams of many, from the children enrolled in the education program and the Earthwatch volunteers to the dozens of summer archaeology interns, many who now professional archaeologists working across the country.  The archaeological research program at The Hermitage was critical to understanding the social and working lives of enslaved individuals, their interaction with the Jacksons, and The Hermitage landscape. Yet, one of the true legacies of...

  • Following the Pattern: Using Transferprints to Refine 19th Century Site Chronologies (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lynsey A. Bates.

    Refining site chronologies on predominantly nineteenth century sites is a goal of many historical archaeologists. This paper analyzes transferprint colors and identified patterns recovered from Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage plantation as one analytical solution. The dataset consists of thousands of sherds excavated from yard spaces and structures built when Jackson acquired the property in 1804, in an area known as the First Hermitage. Using the same approach outlined in the DAACS Hermitage...

  • From Tennessee to Early New England: Larry McKee's Scholarly Reach in the Field of Africana Studies (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Tanya M Mears.

    I would first like to describe my experiences at the Hermitage.  I worked closely with Larry McKee for two summers.  I will then describe how these experiences; most importantly learning about Black people enslaved by the Jacksons; inspired me to go to graduate school for Africana Studies.  Ultimately, I earned my Ph.D.  Finally, I will mention my current work; fueled by interest in the early experiences of Black people whetted at the Hermitage; and unique in the area of Africana Studies.  My...

  • Hermitage Archaeology, The Early Years (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Samuel D. Smith.

    In 1969 the author, then a graduate student at the University of Florida, participated in the excavation of a slave cabin site on Cumberland Island, just off the Georgia coast.  This work (reported in the SHA journal for 1971) was directed by the late Charles H. Fairbanks and is generally considered one of the first two undertakings relevant to the development of what came to be know as "Plantation Archaeology."  In 1974 the author carried this experience forward to begin archaeological...

  • In Sickness And In Health: Well-being Of Enslaved Laborers At The Hermitage Plantation (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lori Lee.

    Prior to the nineteenth century, the practice of medicine was as much an art as it was a science in the Western world. By the antebellum period, European, African, African American, and Native American medical theory and practices intermingled on Southern plantations because of centuries of interaction. This study of the material culture of health and well-being at the Hermitage highlights the extent to which consumption, cultural beliefs, and incipient scientific discourse intersected to shape...

  • Lasting Legacies of the Hermitage Archaeology Program (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kevin E. Smith.

    With nearly 30 years of hindsight now available, my brief three years as archaeological field assistant at the Hermitage from 1988-1990 not only started what would become lifelong friendships with Larry McKee and Sam Smith, but also had significant and lasting impacts on how I approached the Middle Tennessee landscape, fieldwork, labwork, archival research, and archaeology in general over my career. Here, I will reflect on my personal "take away" from the distinctive methodological and...

  • The Multi-faceted Approach to African American Archaeology under Larry McKee’s Mentorship at The Hermitage (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nicole S Ribianszky.

    The historical archaeology internship program under Larry McKee’s leadership from 1988 to 1999 exhibited several key components which characterized it as one of the preeminent models in the Southeast. First, McKee grounded his vision of developing the program securely in the people themselves, the enslaved African Americans, whose lives and work made The Hermitage possible. An awareness and sensitivity to understanding and recovering their past contributions infused the structure of the program,...

  • Post-Emancipation African American Life in the Upper South and South Louisiana: insights from a comparison of material culture from the Hermitage, Tennessee, and Alma and Riverlake Plantations, Louisiana (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Palmer.

    The DAACS (Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery) database also includes data relevant to post-Emancipation, including Jim Crow era life of African Americans. DAACS facilitates comparative research, expanding the scale of archaeological inquiry. Through the use of DAACS, post-Emancipation assemblages from the Hermitage site in Tennessee were compared with those from Alma and Riverlake sugar plantation sites in southern Louisiana. Evidence of shared economic strategies related to...

  • Prehistoric Production or Enslaved Curation?: An Evaluation of the Temporal and Spatial Distributions of the Lithic Assemblage at The Hermitage. (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth Bollwerk.

    The Hermitage assemblage is a treasure trove of 19th-century material culture.  However, DAACS analyses have revealed that, in addition to hundreds of thousands of 19th century artifacts, over 23,500 fragments of lithic debitage, projectile points, and tools were unearthed from the plantation complex.  This paper examines this lithic assemblage and evaluates whether its presence and distribution is the result of prehistoric Native Americans’ activities at the site or production/curation by the...

  • Refining The Hermitage Chronologies (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Cooper Cooper. Jillian E Galle. Lynsey A. Bates. Elizabeth Bollwerk.

        Previous chronologies of site occupations at The Hermitage were based largely on historical documentation combined with observed architectural changes across the landscape. Here we use correspondence analysis of ceramic ware-type frequencies to corroborate and refine earlier chronologies developed by Smith and McKee. DAACS data from ten domestic sites of slavery at the plantation, with occupations spanning from the first decade of the nineteenth century to the 1920’s, allow us to develop...

  • Reflections in the Hermitage Spring, or How a Summer in Tennessee Drove me Underwater (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ben L. Ford.

    The Hermitage Archaeology internship program was a significant and formative experience for many young archaeologists. My career still reverberates with the summer I spent in the program. Like many of the interns, I learned how to do solid scientific archaeology where well-conceived, humanistic questions are addressed with rigorous methods. I also learned that some things are more important than science and that I had no natural talent for Public Archaeology. Much of my career since has been...

  • Revisiting Root Cellars at The Hermitage, Davidson County, Tennessee. (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Larry McKee.

    The Hermitage, a plantation owned by Andrew Jackson near Nashville, Tennessee, has been the site of archaeological investigations since the 1970s. Much of this work has focused on the large enslaved community living at the site, with the study of the remnants of their dwellings a key element of this research. Sub-floor storage pits, generally referred to as root cellars, have been found at nine Hermitage slave dwelling locations. These features are present in all three of the separate quartering...

  • What Did It All Mean? Archaeology at The Hermitage in the 1990s (2018)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Brian W Thomas.

    This paper provides some reflections on the archaeological program carried out at The Hermitage over a seven year period, from 1990 to 1996.  Under the direction of Larry McKee, the program became a training ground for archaeology students across the country and beyond, many of whom are now accomplished professionals.  It also was a unique setting in which to engage the visiting public in discussions about archaeology and the community that was enslaved on the plantation, a community whose...