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Correction to This Article
This article about an archaeological dig at a former plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore incorrectly described a belief of West Africa's Yoruba culture that may have been associated with a stone discovered at the plantation. It is Shango, the deity of thunder and lightning, and not Eshu-Elegba, the deity of fortune, who is believed to leave behind stones after lightning strikes. A University of Maryland anthropology professor quoted in the article mistakenly referred to the god as Eshu-Elegba.

Evidence of slave life found at Eastern Shore estate

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011; 10:08 PM

One day more than two centuries ago, a Maryland slave of West African descent took a smooth stone he had probably found in a plowed field and slid it between the bricks of a furnace he was building.

The slave might have believed, as West Africa's Yoruba culture held, that such stones had connections to Eshu-Elegba, the deity of fortune, and were left behind like mystical calling cards after a lightning strike.

The bond servant sealed the stone into the brickwork, where it would stay for generations, an artifact of the enslaved man as much as the god whose favor he sought.

On Monday, the University of Maryland unveiled, among other things, details of the stone's discovery at the Wye House "orangery" - a jewel of European architecture, now found to have imprints of the slaves who built it.

The discoveries were made over the past few years by a team headed by anthropology professor Mark Leone on an Eastern Shore estate where abolitionist Frederick Douglass once was a slave.

The team also found West African-style charms buried at the entrance to what turned out to be the slave quarters at the orangery, which was a state-of-the-art greenhouse, and pollen from exotic plants the slaves used.

The findings reveal cultural stamps left on the plantation by some of the slaves who lived there, Leone said, and give voice to their often anonymous lives.

"This is a uniquely American event," he said. "It is part of the creation of African American culture. So you can see that it is a wonderful set of anthropological discoveries."

Religious world

Leone said his team started work on the Wye plantation, outside Easton, six summers ago and has been working on the orangery for 21/2 years.

The estate is occupied by retired lawyer Richard Tilghman and his family, who are descended from Edward Lloyd, who first settled in the area in the 1650s. The Tilghmans paid for the orangery research.

"Our family . . . has lived on this property since it was acquired by my ancestor in 1659," said Tilghman, whose mother inherited the property in the 1990s.

"We encouraged professor Leone to do some archaeological work around the greenhouse for two reasons," he said. "One, to learn more about the slaves, and two, to learn more about what went on in the orangery."


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