Field Studies at Lick Creek African American Settlement
The Hoosier National Forest spent three field seasons partnering with Indiana State Museum at the Lick Creek African American Settlement. The Elias Roberts homesite was the subject of the first season followed by that of Mathew Thomas and finally the site of a tenant farmer.
Staff and volunteers from the Forest Service and Indiana State Museum are shown here working at the site.
Although Lick Creek was once a busy rural farm area, today it is now only forest. Now largely U.S. Forest Service-managed, the area is primarily archeological sites consisting of cemeteries, house and barn foundations, wells and cisterns, and old roads once used by free black farmers to transport their produce to market and their children to school.
Archeologists have a unique opportunity to conduct historical research and archeological investigations in areas which contain significant historical sites representing early African American heritage.
Extensive efforts have been made to locate house sites in the Lick Creek area using land records, old maps, aerial photos from 1938, and shovel testing. This map shows the extent of the settlement in 1876, and locates where farms were owned by African Americans (each brown block is an individually owned tract of approximately 40 acres).
Each house site was also identified, where we could find them, and sketches made of what was visible on the surface. On many sites foundation stones, collapsed chimneys, and root cellars were still visible. On some sites, surface artifacts indicate the site was still inhabited after the turn of the century. The drawing below is a sketch of the house site excavated in 2002 and discussed below.
In July and August, 2002, despite the incredibly high temperatures and humidity during the project, 24 volunteers participated the project. Angie Krieger, Hoosier Archaeologist said the volunteers ranged in age from 14 to those in their mid 60's. "We even had metal detector enthusiasts help identify concentrations of subsurface metal artifacts," notes Krieger.
The focus of the second year's work was a farmstead owned by a Quaker named David Thompson. Krieger said although Thompson owed the site, "We don't know for sure who was living there. It is possible the house foundation excavated was the remains of a tenant farmer." Krieger explains David Thompson owned additional parcels in the neighboring township where the population census recorded him living as head of household.
"The purpose of the excavation was to identify the type of structures represented, their size, function and method of construction," said Krieger. "In order to compare this site with the Elias Roberts and Mathew Thomas sites excavated in 2000 and 2001, respectively, we placed units in the same locations as those dug at the other sites." One unit was placed along the front wall to identify the porch and another was placed along one side to uncover the fireplace. In addition a trench unit ran across what appeared to be a root cellar and one unit was placed over a garbage dump or 'midden'.
Here staff from Indiana State Museum search for artifacts within an excavation unit at the old home site.
Krieger said the types of artifacts recovered include building materials such as nails and rock; domestic debris such as crockery and ceramic plates; and broken glass from bottles and windows. "Other objects recovered include tobacco pipe fragments, buttons, slate pencils, and an 1883 penny," reported Krieger.
Krieger said the results will be used in conjunction with what was learned in past years to provide a more complete history of the settlement as a whole. "It also provides a link with the public," she said, "and sparks, in some cases, a life-long interest in historical research with those who volunteer."
She adds that each year's work sheds a little more light on the individuals who called this place home and hopes to continue work in the future.
This cup plate found during an excavation at a Lick Creek home site, dates to pre Civil War times when cup plates were popular. It and many other artifacts uncovered here are on exhibit at Indiana State Museum. Sarah Arthur and Tayo Davis are shown below carefully examining a site for artifacts.
Return to Lick Creek African American Settlement page on historical background.