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Levi Jordan

The "Political Leaders Cabin"

These three objects which, although found one year apart, appear to have functioned as one object – a "fly whisk". It is made of intricately carved bone, and screws together in the order shown. Horsehair or some similar fiber would have been inserted into the top, round piece, creating a "whisk".

(for more pictures see bottom of page)

This cabin is located in the Block 1, just to the east of the Carver’s cabin (see map of quarters area). It contained a number of carved bone artifacts which, taken together with other indications of status, seem to indicate that the person who occupied this cabin functioned as an internal "political leader" for the other residents of the quarters. It is possible that this leader also functioned in the same capacity where the plantation’s owner was concerned. One interesting question is whether this person’s status was conferred by the plantation owner or, from "below", by the residents themselves. (see Ken's comments on self-empowerment towards the end of the part of my interview with him in we are also discuss Sallie McNeill's diary).

But who was this person? Ken Brown thinks that there are a couple of possibilities, but no one is really sure. First, it is possible that this person may have been Mr. George Holmes. Mr. Holmes was listed on the 1880 census records as living in this part of the quarters area. According to his death certificate (signed by his son), he was born in Africa (even though census records say that he was born in Louisiana in 1846).We hope to have a copy of both records to show you in the future. However, it is not certain that this person was Mr.Holmes. It could also possibly have been a person named John McNeill, who was also the carpenter. If any family members have thoughts about this, we would very much appreciate hearing from you.

Whoever it was, three objects found in this cabin seem to indicate that this was a person of high "political" status. One was the spur of a fighting cock – when viewed under a magnifying glass, it is apparent that the object was once worn as a pendant, and resembles the claws and spurs worn by leaders of some African tribes. Another is a set of artifacts which seem to have functioned as a single object – possibly a "fly whisk", used in some African tribes not only as a tool for whisking away flies, but also as a mark of authority and power. A third is a brick, inscribed with a "cruciform" pattern (see Curer’s cabin for another use of this "cruciform" pattern). The whitewash on the edge of this brick shows that the pattern would not have been visible to a person viewing the brick from the outside, whitewashed side of the cabin.

For Kenneth Brown's comments on this cabin (2):

"…the political leader functioned within the community as both an element for social control and as a mediator with the outside world. This individual has been defined within the archaeological record of the community through the fly whisk, a necklace comprised from glass beads and the fighting cock spur, several ebony rings, an elaborately decorated metal ring, and a large number of amber beads. The necklace has a central element that resembles the animal claw necklaces worn by West African nobility [see Ethnography]. Sub-floor deposits contained an additional cock spur pendant. The most intriguing aspects of the archaeological data from this cabin aiding in the identification of the occupant, however, is the recovery of a number of carpenter's tools, along with numerous items associated with sewing. Historical records demonstrate that the supervisor of the farm laborers on the plantation was an ex-slave who had been a carpenter and whose wife was a seamstress. These same records indicate that this individual was never paid for doing carpentry work, although others were hired during this time." [see Internal and External Economies].

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

This brick, with it's "cruciform" shape, was found in this cabin. Note the whitewash on the left side, showing that the symbol was not "displayed" on the outside of the cabin.

This is the top of the "fly whisk", pictured above at the top right of the page. Note the two pieces of carved bone which screw into the bone; one is inserted, the other fits into the other side.

This is the spur from a fighting cock. The hole that goes through the top portion, and the marks on the ends of the hole, indicate that it was worn as a pendant.

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Carol McDavid 1998