Brutal slave history unearthed at Frederick County's L'Hermitage

Experts discover what are believed to be remnants of two more cabins that once made up a small slave village in Frederick County, Md.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 26, 2010

From the old road that crossed the Monocacy River, you could plainly see the slave cabins of L'Hermitage.

They were lined up in front of the plantation house, not hidden out back, as was the custom. And passersby could see the implements of oppression -- whips and stocks -- that the owners used to control their property.

Even in 1800, this was extreme for Frederick County, this brutal, Caribbean style of bondage, with its French emigre masters, aggressive displays of subjection, and its 90 slaves.

Last week, in the midst of a summer-long archaeological dig, experts using surface-penetrating radar found what are believed to be remnants of two cabins that once made up the small slave village that served L'Hermitage.

And the National Park Service says the find adds another page to the story of the mysterious plantation, whose tropical-influenced main house still stands, an unlikely witness near the banks of the Monocacy, more than 200 years after it was built.

"It's a huge deal," said National Park Service archaeologist Joy Beasley, cultural resources program manager for Monocacy National Battlefield, outside Frederick, where the plantation is located. "It's an extraordinary site and very unusual, and I do not know of anything like it anywhere else."

(Archaeology helping to rewrite black history)

L'Hermitage, 748 acres at its height, was established about 1793 by the far-flung Vincendiere family. They were planters who probably fled from the revolution in France, whence they had gone before the slave revolts in what is today Haiti, where they had large plantations.

They were an unusual family: foreign aristocrats with many children, an absentee father, and a need for an inordinate number of bondservants whom they treated with singular brutality.

And they stood out amid the slave-holding farmers of German descent in central Maryland, where the land and climate called for smaller tracts and populations of 10 to 20 slaves.

The Park Service acquired land that had been L'Hermitage in 1993. In 2003, a survey found, just below the surface, a swath of artifacts that experts guessed marked the slave village. It was not until this year that there was funding for a dig, which began in June and is scheduled to run through September.

The stone foundations of four cabins have been unearthed, amid sweltering heat, and the mournful horns of trains passing nearby.

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