Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Future highway offers glimpse of county’s past

Archaeological dig at former slave’s home on ICC land yields more than 100,000 artifacts

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Archaeologists Susan Peltier and Jillian Smith excavate the Jackson Family Homestead site, which officials are calling one of the best-preserved archaeology sites ever found in Maryland. The site, the former home of Melinda Jackson, a black woman born into slavery in 1828, lies in the path of the Intercounty Connector near the intersection of Route 29 and Briggs Chaney Road and will be paved over after archaeologists remove artifacts.
More than 100,000 Civil War-era artifacts were recently unearthed from a small, wooded stretch of land in Silver Spring that is slated to be paved over and made part of the Intercounty Connector.

Archaeologists called the former home of Melinda Jackson one of the best-preserved archaeology sites ever found in Maryland. Jackson, a black woman born into slavery in 1828 who gained her freedom and raised a family, has descendants still living in the area.

Artifacts ranging from a crystal used in African spiritual practices to an 1860 medallion bearing the portraits and campaign messages of President Abraham Lincoln and his first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, were unveiled by state highway officials on April 23.

Pieces of a baby doll, marbles, a jack and other items presumed to have belonged to the five children Jackson raised alone on about 9 acres of land in her two-story, 23-by 13-foot house near the intersection of U.S. Route 29 and Briggs Chaney Road were also recovered.

Through research, officials were able to find Jackson’s descendants, several of whom attended a small ceremony last week.

‘‘This is truly a humbling experience for us and the family,” said the Rev. Spencer E. Jackson, the great-great grandson of Melinda Jackson, who preaches at Abyssinia Baptist Church in Silver Spring, less than two miles from his ancestor’s former home. ‘‘Melinda was an American, and she fulfilled the American dream. She went through the most horrible conditions, but came out to be free.”

Land records obtained by researchers show that Ann M. Downs, believed to be Melinda Jackson’s former owner, sold the land to Jackson in 1869. The 1870 U.S. Census says that Jackson was 42 at the time, that her property was valued at $200, and that her 15-year-old son, George, was a farm laborer.

Jackson is believed to have died before 1879, and family records suggest she is buried, along with several other family members, at Round Oak Baptist Church in Spencerville.

Archaeologist Mechelle L. Kerns-Nocerito was able to track down Jackson’s descendants through records at the Montgomery County Historical Society in Rockville, the Maryland state archives and ancestor.com.

‘‘For them to meet me here and confirm my research, it’s very gratifying,” she said.

The site was discovered in 2004 by surveyors for the ICC, a planned toll road meant to improve traffic between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties by linking Interstate 270 with Interstate 95. After testing the soil, archaeologists found an 8-inch ash layer left behind when the house, then occupied by Melinda Jackson’s children, burned down in 1917. SHA follows a process to determine potential historic or cultural value of sites before construction of any major projects.

The site will not be preserved, however. Officials said the land, the planned location of the Route 29-ICC interchange, will have no historical value after archaeologists dissembled the house’s stone foundation and removed all the artifacts.

‘‘This site will be definitely paved over,” said Julie Schablitsky, chief of cultural resources for SHA.

The artifacts will be sent to the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in St. Leonard in Calvert County. The first seven-mile phase of the ICC is scheduled to be complete in late 2010.

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