Archeologists Excavate Pre-Civil War Home in Miller Grove - A Community Founded by Freed African Americans

Release Date: Jul 6, 2017  

Contact(s): Tracy Fidler, 618-253-1031

Group of 7 archaeologists excavating ground in a forest

HARRISBURG, Ill. (JULY 6, 2017) – Student archeologists recently excavated a pre-civil war home in Shawnee National Forest. The home is located in historic Miller Grove, a community founded in the 1840s by freed African Americans from Tennessee.

“Compared to other field sites, working on the Miller Grove site is a truly authentic archaeology experience,” said student Dakota Street, who was one of 14 students with Southern Illinois University Archeology Field School.

The students measured, documented and dug for artifacts at Bedford and Abby Miller’s home and smokehouse. They learned how to read the soil and identify artifacts.

Bedford Miller, for whom the community was named for, came to Illinois as a boy. He traveled with his parents, Henry and Lucinda Miller, his grandmother Hannah, and a number of brothers and sisters. Miller Grove — located in Pope County near Glendale, Ill. — consisted of about 24 houses, a church and a cemetery.

At the excavation site, remnants have been discovered, including broken bottles and dishes, nails, harness pieces, bits of animal bone representing food remains, buttons, coins and jewelry.

“It’s the small things that tend to tell you the most. Like buttons, for example, a really personal item, because it's probably the first thing they were allowed to choose for themselves,” said Forest Archaeologist Mary McCorvie.

Small white button on tarp with corner of paper sharing information of the button

Mark Wagner, director of SIU's Center for Archaeological Investigations, says the artifacts create a better understanding of how emancipated slaves lived after securing their freedom. "A lot of this are things that are never written down in history books," Wagner said.

This is the first time in a decade the Miller Grove site has been the focus of an archeological dig. Shawnee National Forest appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with SIU's Center for Archaeological Investigation.

About Shawnee National Forest

Administered by the USDA Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest is one of 155 national forests nationwide. As the only national forest in Illinois, the Shawnee offers numerous avenues for connecting with the natural world through its 280,000 acres of varied landscape. Whether your interests lie more in outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking or camping, or include learning about the unique natural and cultural heritage of southern Illinois, the fields, forests and streams of the Shawnee welcome you. To discover more about the Shawnee National Forest, visit Follow us on Twitter  and Facebook .

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Forest Service’s Eastern Region includes 20 states in the Midwest and East, stretching from Maine, to Maryland, to Missouri, to Minnesota. There are 17 national forests and one national tallgrass prairie in the Eastern Region. For more information, visit the Region 9 website.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit