The 19th Century Unfolds
Publication Date: 7/10/2007
A group of Rhodes students and faculty are digging into the past—literally—and discovering that there may be some widely held misconceptions about the everyday life styles of black and white plantation residents in the antebellum South.
Nineteen Rhodes students spent three weeks this spring excavating the manor house of an 1840s plantation. They have access to more than 1,000 documents from the 19th Century, including the diary of a plantation owner and deeds that will help locate boundary markers to determine who lived where and which artifacts belong to which people. As part of the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies, three students are continuing the research for eight weeks this summer and the work is expected to continue for several years. “By the time this project is finished we will have tracked the African American population from the time of the first settlement in 1820 up to the present day,” says Professor Milton Moreland, co-director of the project.
Ames Plantation, 18,600 acres of land in Fayette and Hardeman Counties about 60 miles east of the Rhodes campus, is virgin territory for archeologists. The tract is actually many small plantations on one property. In all, there are 26 slave cemeteries, dozens of homestead plantations and more than 200 archaeological sites on the land.
The estate was purchased incrementally throughout the early 1900s by Hobart Ames, whose Boston-based Ames Tool Company manufactured the shovels used to dig the Panama Canal. An avid sportsman, Ames used the land to hunt wild quail, and the land base is now the permanent home of the annual National Field Trial bird dog championships. Run by a foundation, the plantation is also used by the University of Tennessee forestry program.