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Levi Jordan

The "Curer's" Cabin

See also the interview with Ken Brown in which he discussed how his interpretations of this cabin area developed.

See also an excerpt from a paper published by Ken Brown, Material Culture and Community Structure: The Slave and Tenant Community at Levi Jordan's Plantation, 1848-1892, which includes a description of the "Curer's Cabin" data.

See also our pages on the Kongo Cosmogram, on the Yoruba amula, and David Bruner's paper on the Juden Cemetery, which draws some comparisons between the materials found in this cabin area and the cemetery that was used by the slaves and, later, tenants.

For more information on curing practices used by African-American communities living on this plantation and others, see the information from the oral history research that Cheryl Wright conducted.

The carved shell button on the upper left of this photograph was carved in the manner shown on the right. (The penny is added for scale). This symbol is found in "curing" contexts, in some Africa and Afro-Caribbean cultures. The image was carved on the inside of the button, indicating that it was not used for "decoration", but for some other, more private purpose.

More pictures are at the bottom of this page.

This cabin area has been referred to more recently by Ken and Kris Brown as the Conjurer/Midwife’s Cabin. See also Words.

This area has been a primary focus of Jordan Plantation excavations since very early in the project. The archaeological remains indicate that someone was living on this plantation practiced healing techniques that were very closely tied to African beliefs for curing, conjuring, and medicine. This person could have been a doctor for the people living there, or a healer, or a midwife – or all of those things. Therefore, the area this person lived in is now referred to as the "curer's cabin".

One key to interpreting the artifacts from this area is in looking at the context of the artifacts to each other – where they were located in the ground when they were excavated. Examined separately, many of the artifacts would appear to be everyday objects used by pretty much anyone in rural 19th century Texas. Indeed, they WERE very likely used in the ways that we in the late-20th century might expect, for part of the time in which they were in existence. But, when looked at together, the artifacts start to mean something else entirely.

In order to begin to understand the Jordan archaeology, Ken Brown had to learn to look at how these artifacts might have functioned FOR THE PEOPLE WHO USED THEM – and he had to find ways to do this from outside his own western, modern, European American point of view. He had to find look for ways in which these objects might have been used by enslaved Africans and African Americans..

When Africans were enslaved, they brought with them beliefs and ideas which they could – and did – use to survive the harsh conditions of enslavement (and, later, tenancy). In drawing on their beliefs to survive, they had to use "western" objects, but they could, and apparently did, used them in "African" ways. Therefore, Ken had to look at how similar objects were used in Africa and other parts of the African Diaspora, and to then look again at the Jordan artifacts and artifact contexts to see if there were any similarities, either in the objects themselves or in the ways that they were used.

One compelling feature of this archaeological deposit is that many of these objects appear to have been used in very African ways well into the late 19th century. How could this have happened?

For one thing, according to census records, many people in Brazoria in the 19th century had very direct African connections – they either came from Africa themselves, or their parents did. Attached is a partial listing of families with African connections, compiled by Barbara Taylor (one of Ken Brown's students) using data he has collected over the past 13 years. Although the importation of slaves was made illegal in the United States, and in Texas (when it joined the union) in 1836, not all slave owners stopped importing slaves. Some continued to do so illegally, and there is some evidence, in fact, that Levi Jordan brought slaves into this country as late as the middle of the century. As Ken commented during an interview in the summer of 1998,

"I think some of the really good records on what Jordan was doing [in terms of importing slaves] are lost in Havana – because I think Jordan was importing Africans through Cuba. I suspect that’s why he owned that schooner of his. That boat clearly could go long distances at sea, if the records that Ginny [Raska] has are right. There is a mention in these records of a sighting of the boat running the blockade off the coast of Texas in 1860-something, and two weeks later it ran the blockade off of Belize with loads of cotton. It made it through two blockades and a lot of open water.

Jordan did have a fairly large, seagoing boat (called the "Sarah Jordan") which went regularly to Galveston and beyond. As mentioned above, family records indicate that it went as far as Belize at least once. Therefore, he certainly had the capability to import enslaved people directly from the Caribbean.. [The records which Ken refers to are not available for publication on this web site at the present time, but we hope to include them someday.]

Description of Site
Architecture and Preservation
African Retentions and Symbolism

Internal and External Economies
Summation of Cabin Data
Shell and Bone Carver's Cabin
Magician/Curer's Cabin
Political Leaders Cabin
Munitions Maker/Blacksmith


Inside cabin floor of Curer's Cabin, during excavation. Note the whitish objects in the back right wall of the cabin (facing you). These are the pieces of a ceramic bowl, which was later reconstructed. It is shown below.

Inside of cabin floor, during excavation. (This is farther down into the deposit than the picture above). The round objects are the kettle bases, picture below.

The kettle bases, found stacked on top of each other, on top of the chalk pictured here. The chalk could have been used to draw the "cruciform" pattern during healing ceremonies.

This is the inside of the curer's cabin area during excavation. The circular "rim" on the top left of the photo is the top of the kettles which were buried under the floorboards. This is described in Ken Brown's interview, and in another page describing his work on the curer's cabin. Similar objects are described by Robert Faris Thompson and are included here.

Close-up of chalk, found with kettle bases, and one of the bullet casings. There is something inside the casings, but we do not know what it is.

Thermometer Fragment

This calabash drinking cup is not from the plantation,but from the collection of the Rio Museu de Policia in Brazil. It was used by an Afro-Brazilian group, and is incised with the "ponto riscado", a "black Kongo ancestor of special power and insight" (30). It is similar to the five-pointed star on the button on the top right of this page, with the additional symbol from Christian iconography

This is the reconstructed ceramic bowl mentioned in the caption for the first picture in this column. Note the radiation pattern, with the middle fragments in the center of the bowl. This is what we might expect if the bowl had been whole when it was left behind – it almost looks as if it was hit by a falling object (such as a brick?). We are still analyzing the remains from this cabin, and may find the missing pieces soon.

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Carol McDavid 1998