Book Reviews -- A Chesapeake Family and Their Slaves: A Study in Historical Archaeology (New Studies in Archaeology) by Anne Elizabeth Yentsch

By King, Julia A. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July 1995 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews -- A Chesapeake Family and Their Slaves: A Study in Historical Archaeology (New Studies in Archaeology) by Anne Elizabeth Yentsch


King, Julia A., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


A Chesapeake Family and Their Slaves: A Study in Historical Archaeology. By ANNE ELIZABETH YENTSCH. New Studies in Archaeology. COLIN RENFREW and JEREMY SABLOFF, Series Editors. Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1994. xxxiii, 433 pp. $24.95 paper.

ALTHOUGH historical archaeologists argue that their discipline potentially offers a different way of understanding the past, few studies have emerged that cast genuinely new light on historical interpretations. Part of the problem can be attributed to archaeological methods and categories; the latter often bear little resemblance to categories of social and cultural phenomena. In A Chesapeake Family and Their Slaves, Anne Elizabeth Yentsch overcomes this fundamental problem by expanding the definition of what constitutes archaeological evidence. The focus of the book is eighteenth-century Chesapeake culture, not artifacts, although artifacts are integral to the book's purpose. As a result, this fascinating "study in historical archaeology" is an especially important substantive and methodological contribution to the literature on colonial life in the Chesapeake.

A Chesapeake Family and Their Slaves focuses on the Calvert household in eighteenth-century Annapolis, Maryland. In 1715, young Charles Calvert, the fifth Lord Baltimore, inherited the proprietorship of Maryland, and he depended heavily on his relatives in the colony to represent proprietary interests. These relatives, composing an extensive kinship network, maintained a townhouse in Annapolis beginning in the late 1720s. As many as three Calvert men and their families had access to the Annapolis house in the decades preceding the Revolutionary War, and thirty slaves were living there in 1734. This large household resided on a spacious lot adjacent to State Circle, within view of the colonial statehouse.

Using kinship charts, documents, secondary historical research, paintings, architecture, and artifacts, Yentsch assembles a detailed ethnographic narrative showing how black and white members of the Calvert household used material culture in the negotiation of social identity and social relationships. For example, while the Calvert house provided shelter for the proprietor's kin in the colony's capital, it also served as a powerful symbol to its occupants and to other Maryland colonists. …

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