Because the funding for the project focused on determining whether the shed had been a slave house, items that may reflect an African-American presence generated initial excitement. But Chartier cautions that a tamarind jar, for example, would not be unusual in the home of a merchant.
The earthen ceramics known as colonoware, too, are now known to have been produced by Native Americans as well as slaves, according to Mrozowski. And the pestle resembles one that seems to have been used in the Royall House kitchen, indicating the slaves’ use of indigenous people’s artifacts, Chartier said.
There are also alternative theories on the use of the building, whose shed-like exterior is at odds with the carefully plastered and wainscoted interior walls.
Stephen O’Neill, curator at Plymouth’s Pilgrim Hall Museum, hypothesizes that it was an outhouse, while Colonial Williamsburg historian Cary Carson conjectures that it may have served as a debt-collection office that allowed Watson to keep business matters out of his home.
Chartier is continuing to gather information, such as written mention of an additional slave in the Watson household. In addition to slaves named Cuffee and Esack, the household had Quassia, said to be “full of fun and drollery.” His owner, Judge Peter Oliver of Middleborough, had been driven out of town by residents for his Tory sympathies, according to a passage in Thomas Weston’s “History of the Town of Middleborough,” written in 1906.
According to Chartier, the house was purchased by the Jackson family in 1818, and soon afterward, the first bananas imported into Plymouth were hung from a tree in the backyard.
Some of the uncovered artifacts are clearly not African-oriented, such as a silver-and-lead cartouche engraved with the Jackson name. The prettiest find, according to historian Curtin, is a 17th-century silver button engraved with a War of the Roses emblem.
And perhaps the most historic is evidence of the pre-Pilgrim Native Americans who farmed fields in their village of Patuxet, as well as stone tools and broken arrowheads dating back 1,000 years.
There may even be further evidence of a slave site in the framework of a significantly larger structure that runs eastward from the corner of the shed. Chartier said that could point to a building configuration similar to one on the grounds of the Royall House.
Chartier’s group will also excavate the property toward the back of the old Russell Library. Part of that area has been destroyed by bulldozers, but Chartier will work on the surrounding area.
These findings, like all that archeology brings to light, matter, Chartier said, “because it’s everyone’s past — not mine, not some developer’s, and not some special-interest group.”
Constance Lindner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.