The Culture of Enslaved People

The archaeological research of outbuildings at Riverside has provided an opportunity for archaeologists to study buildings where people enslaved on the plantation lived and worked. Artifacts recovered from the investigation of these buildings have shed some light on the “hidden” lives of enslaved people during the Antebellum period. Archaeologists sometimes find objects believed to be associated with the personal and spiritual lives of the enslaved at sites throughout the southeast United States.

These artifacts include x-marked objects, pierced coins, blue beads, crystals, artifact caches, and ancestor shrines. X-marked artifacts, such as a pewter spoon handle recovered from the detached kitchen site at Riverside, are thought to represent the Bakongo cosmogram, an ancient spiritual symbol from western Africa. Such artifacts have been found in slave sites at other nearby plantations in Louisville, such as Locust Grove and Farmington (see Farmington website).

Archaeologists also find pierced coins and tokens, which were worn by enslaved people as amulets or good luck charms to ward off evil spirits. “It gives us insights into their beliefs, culture, some of the conditions that they lived under, or some of the ways they tried to connect with others under the oppression of slavery,” according to Jay Stottman, Archaeologist, Kentucky Archaeological Survey. “That’s an aspect of life that we can’t get with some of the historical documents. An aspect of their lives, that they tried to keep hidden from the people that enslaved them.”