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Levi Jordan

A Munitions Maker's Cabin: An Archaeological Investigation at the Levi Jordan Plantation, Brazoria County, Texas

Chapter 7, Conclusions

By Jorge Garcia-Herreros
University of Houston

Munitions found in this "Cabin" area

The study of patterning in and/or between archaeological sites allows for the inference of past human behavior. This patterning can be between sites, sites and artifacts, artifacts and other artifacts, and artifacts and features. In all, a study in archaeology in which patterning is seen permits archaeologists to infer a correlation between that pattern in the archaeological record and human behavior, which may have produced that pattern. This study of patterning within an archaeological context brings new information about the past and it creates a new understanding of past human behavior. This patterning is part of a framework in which

(1) the chronological association of artifact classes…(2) the associative-functional, artifact feature relationship; (3) the spatial associations; (4) meaningfully provenience horizontal and stratigraphic data in associations with site features and architecture; (5) historical documentation; and (6) the associated data reflecting cultural patterning as a contextual unit…have primary research priority. (South 1977: 209-211).

All of these categories or, as called by South, "information coins" give a site priority and must be investigated. This "priority" is given to a site due to its potential of yielding valuable information. This is the case with the Levi Jordan Plantation, it is a site which has all the "information coins."

The investigation of the Levi Jordan Plantation can give insight into different aspects of the lives of plantation owners, slaves, tenants and sharecroppers in the South. The current study from the beginning, attempted to see behavioral patterns which would permit some inferences to be made about the lives of the individuals that occupied the cabin labeled as the "Munition Maker’s." In order to accomplished this, the first hypothesis had to be tested. By establishing the hypothesis that the cabin had an episode of "forced abandonment" allowed for the investigation of patterns. This patterns in return aided in determining the activity areas within the cabin. At the same time, this study of patterning gave insight into the behavior behind a form of craft specialization; that of munitions making, and possibly metal working. Following will be the final analysis in regard to the presence of activity areas and the role of a munitions maker within the tenant/sharecropper community at the Levi Jordan Plantation.

The Relationship of Activity Areas


In examining the distribution of classes of artifacts concentrations of them tend to appear in particular areas of the cabin. These concentrations show correlations between artifacts and features or particular areas within the cabin. One of these areas is the hearth. Within the vicinity of the hearth certain artifacts appeared which show a functional relationship between those artifact classes and the hearth. As was described in chapter five, all around the hearth there is a concentration of ceramic fragments. These ceramics fragments pertained to, at least one bowl, and several plates and cups. Also within the area of the hearth, several concentrations of utensils were found. This utensils included forks and spoons, at least one ladle and a metal pot found in situ. These two artifact classes, ceramics and utensils, have a basic function, which is the preparation, serving, and consummation of foodstuff. At the same time, the presence of chains around the hearth and within it, aids in inferring their function. These chains were used for hanging pots and smoking meats. Although, this relationship between these artifacts and the hearth may appear logical. It is this logical relationship and pattern that allows for the inference on behavior.

The hearth of the cabin, was itself the heart of the cabin. This feature became the focal point for most of the activities that were performed within the confines of the cabin. Although, the hearth was a place where food was cooked, that was not its only function. Within the horizontal distribution of tools it is found that around the hearth there are concentrations of craft tools, some pertained to the manufacturing of munitions . At the same time, it included folding knives, thimbles, and pins that could have been used for the creation and repair of clothing. By examining the location of tobacco pipes and fragments it is seen that they were all concentrated around the hearth. The functional interpretation of these artifacts is that the hearth provided a source of fire for the pipes. At the same time, it was a source of heat on cold days an individual could seat and smoke a pipe by a warm fire. Other interpretations, however, can also be drawn. The presence of these pipes and other artifacts could be indicative of social behavior which is centered on the hearth.

Within the cabin, the hearth would have been the center of activity in the cabin. Aside from a source of fire, it provided light and warmth. It would have been a focal point where the family or individuals that occupied this cabin gathered to perform daily tasks. At the same time, it would serve as an area where news would have been shared and conversations about the day activities could have taken place. In some ways the hearth is the material representation of the nucleus of the individuals or family that occupied this cabin. Thus, this area was the "heart" of the cabin and possibly the family that occupied it.

Sleeping area

As was pointed out in several of the horizontal distributions of artifacts, an area was delineated on the East wall of the cabin. This area was semi-rectangular in shape and may have been where "the bed" was located. Some small bed springs were found within this area, and a post mold was located in this area which permitted for a wood frame bed to have been nailed. The surface plots of artifact distributions delineate this area, except for personal artifacts. Within this particular area, there is a concentration of personal artifacts. It can be infer that these artifacts may have been stored under the frame, thus leaving a concentration of personal artifacts in this area after the cabin was abandoned.

Although, it may not be proven that a bed was located in this area some of the artifacts that were found seem to suggest this. The delineation of this area shown in the distributions of different artifact deposits such as the abandonment deposit, glass deposit, and bone deposit seems to confirm that in this area some type of internal furnishings existed. At the same time, the concentration of personal items within this area seems to suggest that some personal artifacts may have been stored in this area. Therefore, even if this area was used as a sleeping area, it appears that some personal objects such as a slate board, clothing (due to the presence of clothing rivets and buttons) and belt buckles were stored in this area. In all, there is evidence which allows for the conjecture that this area may have been used for a sleeping area.

Working area

Within the cabin another working area is seen which is located in the south area of the cabin. In this area an accumulation of several different tools is found which shows that this area was used as a general working area. As was explained in previous chapters within this area tools are found such as folding knives, thimbles, pins, scissors, files, drills, and fish hooks.

. Figure 7.1 Photo of tools found within the "Munition Maker’s" cabin.
All of these artifacts seem to show that in this area clothes wear made or mended, fishing equipment may have been prepared, and munitions may have been modified.

In this area, the artifacts that are found indicate a behavioral pattern which is multifunctional. Several activities occurred within this area that were part of the lives of the individuals that occupied this cabin. The making and mending of clothing, fixing fishing hooks and creating lures, and the refinement modifications of munitions within this area may have occurred. All these activities, including the craft specialization, that is found within this area were part of the daily lives of the individuals that occupied this cabin.

Storage area

In the Southwest area of the cabin, a concentration of artifacts is found which seems to indicate, that this area was used for storage. As explained in previous chapters, within this area the remains of a wooden chest were found. Also within this area several artifacts were found which may have held some personal value, and thus be stored within this chest. The artifacts that appeared to have been stored seem to show the composition or make up of the family or group that occupied this cabin. It appears that this cabin was occupied by a family unit, that had children.

Within this area the artifacts that are found include, including two thimbles, a pair of scissors, a pin, two spoons, and one shell handled utensil. These artifacts are tools which are utilized in everyday activities, other artifacts that are found which help determining the composition of the individuals that occupied this cabin are the toys. In this area the toys that are found include two toy guns and what appears to be the wheels of a toy carriage (See picture below).

    Figure 7.2 Photo of toys that were found within the "Munition Maker’s" cabin.
    In all, the artifacts that are found within this area suggest a group composition which included children.

All the areas that are described above are seen through a functional and contextual analysis. The function of artifacts in relation with features found within the cabin and other artifacts show certain patterns of behavior. These patterns of behavior are interpreted through the context of artifacts. The main function of the hearth is that of cooking, at the same time by finding melted lead, a bullet mold and casings within the vicinity of the hearth, the hearth displays a second function. This second function pertains to a craft specialization; that of munition making. By examining the context of munition making, further inferences can be made in regards of the role that this individual may have had. Before examining this role the cabin as an entity must be examined.

The Cabin

A domestic unit is seen through the examination of the artifacts and specifically the area in which these artifacts were found. This domestic unit or cabin can bring different cognitive interpretations, but as a domestic unit, a cabin, a home; this area had an emotional value to the individuals that occupied it at one point. Within this cabin objects that were personal, objects utilized for farming, and those utilized for the production of munitions were stored. These objects are the material representations of feelings and emotions that the individuals in this cabin may have had.

The cabin represents an area of safety an area that primarily belongs to its occupants; the tenants. In essence the cabin becomes an area which brings comfort. As Bachelard explains within a house "we comfort ourselves by reliving memories of protection." (Bachelard 1969:6). Therefore, the cabin is not just a representation of the material remains of individuals that occupied it, but of their cognition and emotion. With this understanding, an interpretation that goes beyond an artifact can be attempted. An interpretation that explores the significance of the cabin and its possible dialectics. Although, within the discussion of dialectics many different avenues can be taken, within this study the cabin will be examined in the context of an African American community and the individuals that occupied it. These individuals being freedmen, who were tenant sharecroppers.

As stated earlier Bachelard proposes that we write a room and therefore read a room, in this context certain features and artifacts can be read within the cabin. By reading these features and artifacts, an insight into ideas and thoughts of the tenants that occupied it can be achieved. One of these features which may give some insight into the ideas and thoughts of the occupants, was the hearth. Earlier, the hearth was described as the heart of the cabin. This interpretation has a variety of meanings; (1) the hearth was the center of activity within the cabin; (2) the heart was the center for the social congregation of the individuals that occupied it. In this context a look at some ethnographies may show an understanding in what the hearth may have represented.

Ethnographies conducted on the Gullah of South Carolina has demonstrated the importance of a hearth or, today’s equivalent, the stove and the need to have a focal point where the community congregates and re-affirms itself as a community. One of these ethnographies was conducted in the Freemont plantation at St. Helena’s island. This community is of African Americans that managed to retain many of their cultural traditions. This ethnography was conducted by Patricia Guthrie and demonstrates the significance of a hearth.

Within the Freemont community an importance is placed on the owner of a stove. This importance is based on the ability to cook and provide food for the family, at the same time, the stove gives meaning. This meaning is based between being a dwelling or a household. As Guthrie explains "a dwelling does not constitute a household unless its occupants possess and utilize their own separate stove for cooking." (Guthrie 1996: 42). Here is possible to see the importance and meaning that a stove or a hearth may posses to an African American community. At the same time, aside of assigning meaning to a structure the stove assigns meaning to family dynamics.

As Guthrie explains, a newly married couple will not tend to have their own hearth, thus neither of them are considered to be the head of a household.

Once married, even though still a member of his parent’s household, a man stops eating from his mother’s pot and eats only from his wife’s. The sharing of a stove symbolizes common membership in a household. (Guthrie 1996: 44).

Thus although they are married they are not considered to be heads of household. The only manner that this title is earned is by owning a stove. At the same time, the women are the individuals in a household that keep and maintained a stove. Therefore a woman only becomes a head of a household when she owns a stove. If a woman does not own a hearth she is not seen the head of a household. Thus, "In the context of the household a married woman attains primary status as a keeper of the hearth." (Guthrie 1996: 43). The importance of a hearth can be seen within this African American community.

In essence the hearth represents a sense of family and community.

Another study conducted on the Gullah is by Margaret Washington Creel. Her study of religion within the Gullah gives insight into the praise houses that were built by these African American communities. She explains that "the Praise House was very much like the town hall where members of the plantation gathered…to comfort each other." (Creel1988: 177). These praise houses were also used to initialized members into the plantation community. Individuals were identified by their membership to a praise house. In this manner praise house also served as a focal point for the members of the plantation community. Thus, these structures served the same purpose as a hearth does in relation to bringing individuals together and creating a self identity.

I propose within this study, that the hearth uncovered within the cabin may have had a similar significance as the stove (hearth) and praise house did to the individuals that utilized them. The ethnographies mention above illustrate the manner in which two different structures formed and shape the identity of individuals and in a broader context the community. The hearth within the cabin would have aided in shaping family ties and communal relations. Therefore, the hearth gains a third meaning different from the one’s mention above. Consequently, (1) the hearth was the center of activity within the cabin; (2) the heart was the center for the social congregation of the individuals that occupied it and; (3) the hearth represented the cabin as a household. A place where individuals lived and created functional and cognitive space. A place described by Bachelard as the place that "allows one to dream in peace." (Bachelard 1969: 6).

A Munitions Maker

By demonstrating that the individuals or individual that occupied this cabin performed a craft specialization, questions can be asked regarding this craft specialization and the role that munitions making may have played within the tenant community at the Levi Jordan Plantation.

It has been shown, that munitions were being made within this cabin; specifically shot. The mold that was found within this cabin is for a shot/mini ball. It seems that this individual was making and modifying existing munitions in order to be utilized in the weapons that they had available. All the weapon parts that have been found in the slave/tenant quarters pertained to muskets and possibly flintlocks.

    Figure 7.3 Photo of firing mechanism for a musket found within the Tenant quarters.
    If this is the case, some of the munitions would have to have been modified in order to have been utilized in these weapons. This is due to the fact that by the late 1860 most muzzle loaded weapons had become obsolete, and were replaced by weapons that utilized cartridges. Thus finding ammunition for these weapons would have been hard, making it necessary to modify existing munitions. One of the primary uses for these weapons would have been hunting.

In examining a two percent random sample of the faunal remains from the cabin, a mixture of small wild game (58%), large wild game (4%), and some domestics (38%) were determine to be present. The small wild game include rodents such as squirrels, also rabbits, some birds, fish such as alligator gar and turtles. The large wild game consisted primarily of deer. The domestics that are found include pigs and cattle, although some of these pigs could have been feral. The faunal remains also include oyster and rangia, along with chicken eggs. Therefore, by seeing the percentages above it appears that the individuals that occupied this cabin aside of making munitions may have also been hunting. Within this study Hunting is defined as the act of procuring wild game through trapping, fishing, and firearms.

If this is the case, it is important to mention the atmosphere that existed in the South regarding hunting and the methods that were utilized in order to procure wild game. These methods were learned before the post-bellum period, and were continued to be utilized after emancipation. One of the best descriptions comes from the autobiography a former slave, whose name was Solomon Northup. With regards to hunting "coon and possum" he states that "They are hunted with dogs and clubs, slaves not being allowed the use of fire-arms." (Northup 1969: 335). Although in this description he states that slaves were not allowed to use firearms, other narratives state that hunting was allowed from which there was "deer meat to eat." (Dawson 1988: 425). Within this reference there is no indication that fire-arms were employed, but to hunt deer some type of firearm had to have been used. Everett Dick states that "only one slave on each plantation was permitted to hunt with a gun…" (Dick 1948: 95). These references demonstrate some of the variability that existed in attitudes regarding to the used of firearms by slaves. Although, the attitude towards the use firearms by slaves to hunt may have varied from plantation to plantation, the like hood is that slaves did hunt.

At the Levi Jordan Plantation, historical documentation such as the diary of Sallie McNeill, makes reference to "the negro hunter" (McNeill 1861; document in possession of family member). This diary entry was made before emancipation. At the same time, within this plantation, archaeological investigations show that hunting continued even after emancipation. If this was the case, the hunters from this tenant community would have to have been careful in where and in what manner they hunted. Attitudes after emancipation towards African-Americans continued to be hostile. In Texas laws were passed which restricted the mobility and freedom of African-Americans. Some of these laws included the separate-coach bill, the poll tax, and the Terrel election law. All of these laws were made in order keep the African-Americans disenfranchised (Barr 1971). These restrictions, forced the African-American and tenant farmer to rely on themselves, their families, and their community in order to survive.

Several groups in Brazoria county made life particularly difficult for the African-American. After emancipation groups were formed to "regulate" the chaotic circumstances which reigned at the time. In particular, groups like the San Bernard Mounted Rifles under the command of Captain Calvin McNeill and the Prairie Rangers under the command of Captain Harry Munson were active in Brazoria County (Creighton 1975). Although these groups were created to regulate the law, they were vigilante groups. An incident that demonstrates the attitude which promoted these groups was the reaction that a Union Colonel had when given information pertaining to the Ku Klux Klan. A list was given to the Colonel with the names of the members of the Klan. He proceeded by destroying it and explained that the individuals on the list were good citizens and Masons like himself. (Creighton 1975: 262). Thus if a top ranking officer of the Union forces accepted these vigilante groups. African Americans had to depend on themselves and their community for support.

Although hunting may have had several implicit dangers for an African-American, it would have served a purpose for the tenant community at the Levi Jordan Plantation. Hunting in essence was a marketable skill (Hudson 1994b). Such hunting may have provided goods "for the exchange in the underground economy…" (Beoku-Betts 1994: 213). This ability to have an underground or internal economy would have aided the community to be self-sufficient. This would have come about by being able to provide for the needs that otherwise they could not meet from the outside, either due to economic or social restraints.

In essence, having a craft specialization in which munitions and fishing weights were manufacture in order to procure food, in a certain manner, made the tenant community at the Levi Jordan Plantation self-sufficient. As stated by the historian Jacqueline Jones, "Black settlements in remote areas-especially those that remained relative self-sufficient through hunting and fishing-experienced the mixed blessings of semi-autonomy." (Jones 1995:101). It helped to identified the community as a unit which would be able to support itself. This identification was also seen with the other craft specializations that were found within this community; that of a conjurer, a shell carver, a political leader, and a munitions maker.

At the same time, the role of the munitions maker may have gone further than simply making munitions. By having a firearm he may had served as an internal police "force", which regulated conflicts or kept the peace within this community. Archaeological indications suggests that one of the cabins may have been used as a "jail" for the plantation community (Brown personal communication). Thus, he or she may have helped in keeping the social integrity within the internal community. It appears that in some cases, keeping internal problems within the community would have been a better alternative that by using the "white" justice system. Therefore, the role of the munitions maker may have gone further than just that of making munitions.

Significance of the study

At the beginning of this study several goals were planned. One of the goals was to test the abandonment hypothesis, in testing this hypothesis several patterns were seen. These artifact patterns within the cabin determine several activity areas which gave insight into the behavior of the individuals that occupied this cabin. Within this study a craft specialization was determine which showed a behavioral pattern. These goals could not have been determine if the hypothesis that this cabin had an episode of "forced abandonment" was not tested. Although one of the goals was to find ritual activity within the "Munition Maker’s" cabin, this goal was not achieved. At the same time, other more important goals were.

In anthropology, the paradigm that cultures and cultural patterns are in a stasis in which change and fluidity rarely occurred is no longer accepted. Today, the idea that culture and cultural patterns are constantly changing prevails in anthropology. Although in archaeology the same argument can be made regarding the material culture which we observed it comes to a point in which the material culture becomes "frozen" in time. This point is where the material culture goes from a systemic context and becomes part of an archaeological context. As has been described in previous chapters, even though the material culture enters the archaeological context, it still changes due to site formation processes. The slave/tenant quarters at the Levi Jordan Plantation are particularly important in this regard.

When the "forced abandonment", which sealed the cabins and the material culture within them occurred, it placed the material culture in an archaeological context. As explained above, in this context as in any other archaeological site, the material culture becomes frozen in time. What makes this site particularly important is twofold: (1) the material culture that entered the site was "whole," in essence it was the complete material possessions of the individuals that occupied these cabins. (2) Due to several factors such as the locking of the cabins, and the non-disturbance that occurred aside of natural transforms, it sealed the material culture that was deposited at this site. Thus, in this case, culture stopped being fluid and became completely frozen in time.

These two factors allow for a behavioral study of the daily lives of African-American tenant/sharecroppers. Furthermore, it allows for a contextual study of space within each cabin. A contextual study in which the relationships between features and artifacts, artifacts and other artifacts can be read. By reading these relationships and correlations, an idea of the behavioral and possibly cognitive patterns that these individuals had can be infer. In doing this, a deeper understanding of the culture and lives of these individuals can be made. In addition, it can aid in interpreting the roles that some of these individuals had within the community. Such as the role of a munitions maker, and how this role may have aided in the subsistence of this community.

Therefore, in examining the cabin and the behaviors that are found within, a portrait is obtained that shows the life of a tenant sharecropper. A picture that historical documents do not fully provide (because so many ex-slaves were not literate). A picture of the private space of African-Americans is provided which shows behavior from the inside. The type of behavior that was not recorded in history books, a behavior that particularly pertained to the daily lives of the tenant sharecropper. In this context, this thesis contributes to the historiography of African Americans by giving an inside picture.

In conclusion, the significance of the study is based on determining the presence of activity areas within the outlined cabin and determining that a craft specialization was practiced within the cabin. By determining these factors, a patterned behavior is seen in regards towards the use of space. The activity areas that were found demonstrate the importance of the hearth in performing daily tasks. At the same time, it shows how the hearth becomes a focal point for the residents of this cabin. By finding a craft specialization, it gives an insight into the needs that the members of this community had. In this process, the particular behavior that pertains to the making of munitions is seen. In all, this study is significant, because it studies a people that had no voice, and allows to see some of their behavioral patterns in regards to a domestic unit and its activity areas. It also demonstrates the presence of a craft specialization within the cabin and the community. Thus, an avenue is opened from which questions can be asked in regards to the presence of an internal community.


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