One was a large, copper 1794 one-cent piece, bearing an image of “Lady Liberty” and a freedom cap. Such caps traditionally designated a slave’s emancipation, said U-Md. doctorate student Stefan Woehlke.
In this case, the cap signified U.S. freedom from Great Britain, Woehlke said at the dig site Wednesday. But he wondered: “Is it something that, to the free African American community, had a deeper significance than just the national independence from Britain?”
He was also intrigued that the coin was found in the 1850s soil layer. “It’s very interesting that we find this coin, so many years later, still in this neighborhood,” he said.
Another item of interest was a length of “nail stock” — a piece of metal that was used in the low-tech trade of nail making. That might be a job that recently freed slaves could have turned to, he said.
A third find was a large patch of oyster shells, which Woehlke said might have been used to nourish chickens.
“You’ve got a lot of unsung heroes here,” Green said. “Everybody knows about Frederick Douglass. He’s a household name. He’s a native son here. But well in advance of Frederick Douglass, we have persons like Grace Brooks.”
The former slave became so well regarded in Easton that she merited a rare obituary when she died in 1810, he said. She had earned enough money as an enslaved midwife, serving blacks and whites, that she could buy her freedom as well as her family’s.
She moved to the Hill in 1788 and bought a home. “She’s amazing, to be quite frank,” Green said.
The three-week dig here, which concludes Friday, was focused on a property where three anonymous African Americans lived, according to the U.S. Census of 1790, Green said.
“We knew that if we could get to this site, we could get to some earlier 1700s material culture,” he said.
But little is known about the trio.
“We don’t know if they were women,” Green said. “We don’t know if they were men. We just know they were free and they were black.”