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How Archaeology Began on The Hill

In 2012, archaeologists from the University of Maryland, College Park, first broke ground on The Hill at a house first occupied in 1879 by John Green, a black Civil War veteran, and his wife Eliza. Later residents included relatives of Sergeant William Gardner, a buffalo soldier whose discharge papers had been found in the house several years earlier. Carlene Phoenix and Priscilla Morris from Historic Easton, Inc., and Dale Green from Morgan State University had invited us to study the Civil War and Buffalo Soldiers’ Home because of the importance of the memory of African-American military service and because the house was deteriorating and slated for demolition. Our brief excavation accomplished two things: we proved that the site was intact below ground and therefore could sustain research, and we recovered two U.S. military uniform buttons dating to John Green’s time in the U.S. Colored Troops. These discoveries bolstered efforts already underway to raise awareness about the house and the importance of its preservation. As we have worked in Easton over the past six years, archaeology has also been for us a very intimate way of connecting with the past residents of The Hill. Unearthing the remains of family and church dinners, buttons and shoes once worn by people no longer with us, the tools of work, and children’s play-toys brings their experiences to life in a very visceral way.

What Is Archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of past culture through the objects that people leave behind. These artifacts become clues to the experiences, beliefs, and values of those who have gone before. And, in a place like The Hill that has been omitted from the written histories of Easton and Talbot County, archaeology enables us to fill gaps in the written record. Land records provide evidence of people’s presence, but archaeology gives us a window into their daily lives—what they ate, how they played, what they bought, and how they worked each day to meet the joys and the challenges of life. Artifacts also become touchstones to stir memories and oral histories. Marbles reminded one Hill resident of his childhood games; a sewer pipe reminded another of her visits to her grandmother’s house in the country before indoor plumbing. Archaeology is also a great equalizer. Because everyone, rich and poor, black and white, male and female, leaves physical traces of their lives. In this way, the material world brings us together and our excavations on The Hill have given glimpses of a diverse array of activities that made this place what it is.

As we work to preserve the legacy of The Hill for the future, archaeology is also a tool of preservation. What lies beneath the ground can help to re-establish the significance of a site even when what is visible above the surface has been erased or forgotten. The Hill is part of Easton’s historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The sites we have excavated contribute to The Hill’s national significance because, in the language of federal preservation law and regulations, they “have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory” and because the sites are sufficiently intact to maintain the integrity of the stories that what is buried can teach us.

University of Maryland Field School

Every summer since 2012, the University of Maryland, College Park, has excavated on The Hill as part of our archaeological field school, a program in which we teach undergraduates the methods of exaction and recording information by involving them directly in research. We collect artifacts, record the stratigraphy of the layers in the soil, and make detailed notes and maps of the locations of every artifact, post hole, foundation wall, and garden bed—because context is 90% of the information an artifact has to teach us. The students gain valuable experience and several have gone on to become professional archaeologists. Our field schools have also brought together students from various backgrounds to increase the diversity in the field, including students of color from UMCP, Morgan State University, and from Easton itself. A few community volunteers have also joined us and we always welcome anyone who wishes to get involved.

Sites and Research Goals of Each

So far, we have dug at five sites across The Hill, including three residences and both of the neighborhood’s historic churches. At each site, we have aimed to document the daily lives of people on The Hill and to look into the symbols and activities that knit individuals and families together into a community. At the Civil War and Buffalo Soldiers’ Home, we studied the remembrance of military service in the continuing use and laundering of John Green’s uniform. At the Talbot County Women’s Club site in 2013, we studied the roles of enslaved and free African-American domestic servants and cooks in the nineteenth century and the living conditions of white tenants in the early twentieth. At the James and Henny Freeman site in 2017 and 2018, we looked into the contributions of Easton’s first free black landowners to the development of Easton as they built an urban farm on the outskirts of the growing town in the 1780s. We also learned a great deal about the lives of working-class African-American tenants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church from 2014 to 2015, we studied collective land use through the institution of the church, which built several houses on its land in the nineteenth century, while at Asbury Methodist Episcopal (today United Methodist) Church, our excavation focused on the Tabernacle’s role in serving younger community members as a gymnasium and playing field for students during Segregation. All of these sites produced children’s toys that can tell us about how community is continued down the generations and animal bones that provide insight into public and private dining and the role of cooking in maintaining African-American culture. The artifacts from these sites make up an assemblage that provides a variety of avenues of continuing analysis as we tease out the stories that they have to tell us.

The Civil War and Buffalo Soldier Home

The Civil War and Buffalo Soldier Home is also called The Home of the Family of the Buffalo Soldier in our 2013 archaeological report. The lot was first developed and the house built in 1879. John Green, a black Civil War veteran, and his wife Eliza Skinner Green were the first residents. The house later came into the hands of the Gardner family. A Gardner family member went through the house in and discovered reenlistment papers for Sergeant William Gardner in a trunk. Sergeant Gardner had served as a Buffalo Soldier in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and served in the West and in the Philippines. He never lived here, but some of his family members did.

In 2002, after many years of neglect, the house was listed for demolition by the Town of Easton. Historic Easton, Inc., and the Housing Authority attempted for many years to raise money to restore the house but were unsuccessful. At their invitation, archaeologists selected this site as our first excavation in 2012 in order to learn more about the property and bolster efforts to save it. We recovered two U.S. Army uniform buttons dating to John Green’s time of service, along with household goods, children’s toys from the side yard between the house and the one adjacent to it, and other artifacts.

After the excavation, the Easton mayor’s office granted extra time for securing restoration funds before the building was to be demolished and, in 2018, through a grant from the State of Maryland, the standing house at this site was restored as a part of the Housing on The Hill initiative. During this time, the house was raised and a full foundation was put in place of the brick piers on which it was originally built. The raising of the house revealed an abundant collection of late 19th-century pharmaceutical bottles and animal bones, both butchered food waste from the house’s previous occupants and the remains of animals living under the house while it was abandoned. All of this sat on the surface under the house. Archaeologists collected samples of these surface artifacts before the remainder of the site was excavated by machinery to build the foundation. The site no longer has integrity beneath and around the house, but the collection continues to be fruitful for research. This site is designated 18TA440 in the Maryland Historical Trust archaeological site registry.

The Talbot County Women’s Club Site

What is now the home of the Talbot County Women’s Club was purchased as a larger parcel by James Price in 1795, at that time running all the way from Talbot Lane to Hanson Street. Price worked as the county’s register of wills. He employed a free black nurse in the care of an orphan girl who was placed in his custody. In the first years of the 19th century, Price added a large brick house to the frame dwelling already standing. He married, raised children, and bought several enslaved African-Americans, most of whom worked land he acquired outside of town. After the Civil War, the Price family sold the lot to Mordecai and Deborah Dawson. This family continued to employ African-American servants, who were now free and paid rather than enslaved. From 1891 to 1946, William Wright owned the property and rented apartments in the house to middle-class white families. The Women’s Club acquired the property in 1946 and renovated the house in a Colonial Revival style.

Archaeology here in 2013 focused on the rear and side yards of the house, areas where both enslaved and free African Americans would have worked. Part of a kitchen was identified in the rear yard that enslaved cooks would have used preparing meals for the Price household. The Dawsons employed an African-American cook, who lived at the house with her family. She also would likely have worked in this kitchen, especially in the summer months when work in the house’s basement kitchen because stifling.

During the renting portion of the house’s history, from 1891 to 1946, residents contributed to a large sheet midden, or trash pile, spread out across most of the backyard. This midden includes large amounts of coal and coal ash from the heating of the house, as well as household trash and children’s toys.

This site is designated 18TA439.

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Organized in 1818, the congregation of Bethel A.M.E. Church purchased this property in 1820. African Methodism is very strong on the Eastern Shore and Easton’s congregation held prominence in the local network of churches during the 19th century. The current church building dates to 1877 and Frederick Douglass dedicated it in 1878 on a return visit to the county of his birth. Much of this original lot was lost by the church in the late 1820s because financial hardship forced them to sell their land to one of the church’s trustees, Joseph Chain, who then was forced to declare bankruptcy. Several houses were built on the property in the mid-19th century while it was out of church hands. The identities of residents during this period are unknown. When they reacquired it, piece by piece, in the late 19th century, the church left the houses standing and these became black homes by 1910 (when the census first makes it possible to trace the race of tenants). One of the houses was used as a parsonage for the minister and oral histories indicate that weddings were held there rather than in the church. In the 20th century, all these houses were razed and the church used part of the lot as a playground while running a Head Start day-care center out of the church fellowship hall. Today, the church uses the grassy lot mainly for parking.

Archaeologists worked at Bethel Church in 2014 and 2015. Portions of two mid-19th-century houses were excavated, including the one used as a parsonage. Bethel A.M.E. Church is designated as site 18TA441.

Asbury United Methodist Church

Asbury United Methodist Church began its life as a Methodist Episcopal church. This congregation was organized in the 1830s when the black members of an integrated congregation in Easton at Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church walked out and formed their own congregation. They purchased this property in 1849 and had a wooden church before building the current brick one in 1876. Frederick Douglass also dedicated this in 1878. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the church constructed a separate hall called the tabernacle. Although there are reports that the mid-19th-century church burned during construction of the brick church in the 1870s, it is possible that the Tabernacle actually was the earlier wooden church. During Segregation, students at the Moton School did not have gym facilities and used the Tabernacle as a substitute. Kids played basketball and had dances and school ceremonies in it and played other sports on the church grounds around it. The Tabernacle was torn down in the 1960s.
Much of the archaeological excavation in 2016 focused on the Tabernacle. There was also an unsuccessful attempt to locate a privy that older church members remembered standing between the two buildings in the early 20th century. When the Tabernacle was torn down, the site was used as a bottle dump. However, parts of the foundation blocks still lie in or close to their original positions. Asbury Church is designated site 18TA442.

The James and Henny Freeman Site

James Freeman appears to have purchased a half-acre of land on the outskirts of Easton in 1787 when the lots were first auctioned off. This makes him one of, if not the, first free African-American landowners in Easton. The Freemans built a house and barn for several horses, cows, and pigs, as well as a large kitchen garden. They also had a second house on the property, which they rented out to another free black man named Hercules. After Henny Freeman’s death in the 1830s, the property was sold and it was eventually subdivided and several houses were built on it in the 1870s – 90s. Some of these still stand. Two of these were demolished in the late 20th or early 21st century.
Archaeologists worked on this site from 2017 to 2019, focusing on the western half of the original Freeman lot. This would most likely have been the rear of the lot at their time, since Hanson Street was a more major road than Talbot Lane. Excavations uncovered portions of the kitchen garden and also recovered a barn door hinge from the Freemans’ livestock-keeping. The majority of the archaeological material at this site, however, dates to the later period of occupation, from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. During this period, the several houses on what was originally one lot were predominantly rented by working-class African Americans. This site is designated 18TA445.

Eliza Skinner Green Dobson House

Eliza Skinner Green Dobson was born in 1856 and worked as a domestic servant for a local doctor.  In 1879, Eliza married John Green and began living here. Green was a “hod” carrier by trade, a very specialized, skilled vocation that involved mixing mortar for masonry and may have contributed to the construction of  Asbury and Bethel churches.

When John Green died in 1895, his widow married William Dobson, whose nephew was Sgt. William Gardner, a Buffalo Soldier in the U.S. Army,. and was a veteran of the Spanish American War.

Dig Questions

Digging for Answers 

The Hill’s free black community dates to the late eighteenth century. However, documentary and oral history indicated that the standing built environment at the site dated only to the period of the first African American owners of the site, from circa. 1879. Shedding light on the development of the community through time, archaeological remains documented at the site suggest that this period was the first inhabitation of the property, despite the inhabitation of other properties nearby for the one hundred years prior and reveal evidence of activities including gardening, play, and trash disposal.


US Military Button 

The 1907 military discharge papers of  Sgt. William Gardner were found in the attic of this house after it was abandoned. The documents detail 26 years of“honest and faithful”service in the Ninth Colored Regiment,Troop E from 1890-1907 and note a post in Kansas and combat duty in the Philippines during the Spanish American War.

Archaeologists discovered two military buttons Circa. 1900 and an Army knife on the site that may have been connected to William Gardner.

Site History

William Meluy sells land to Joseph Haskins
John Green Dies without a will leaving Eliza with a $10 per year lease on the property.
Eliza dies and leaves the property to her nephew who sells it to Malcar and Elizabeth Gardner for $500.
Jogn Green leases property from Robert Walker for $10 per year with an option to buy for $100.
Eliza pays off mortgage to Walker and owns the property outright . She has recently remarried and moved while likely renting the home out.

James Price House

In 1800, the household of James Price, who acquired the property in 1795, included three free African Americans. By 1790, already more than one thirteenth of the Talbot County population were free African Americans but very few of them owned the land on which they lived. Most, therefore, rented space. Typical of these manumitted men and women were three free African Americans living here with James Price in 1800.  We can assume though listed as members of his household, they were not his blood relatives. 

Dig Questions

Digging for Answers 

Researchers excavated 13 shovel test pits (STPs) at intervals of 20 feet in both side yards and the back yard of the Women’s Club property Following this testing, archaeologists excavated six five-foot-by-fivefoot and one 2.5-foot-square test units in areas of interest in all three yards. Both STPs and units were tied to the house and the town grid and were placed by measuring with tapes from a corner of the Women’s Club building. Excavators recorded horizontal positions for all points and, because the ground is very flat onsite, measured elevations from ground level.


1794 US Penny

Archaeologists usually use coins mostly for dating purposes. They bear stamps of the year in which they were produced and motifs that can be readily identified to help determine the dates of soil  deposits. The penny recovered from under the kitchen, shows a different side of coins. The coin deposited in the late nineteenth century bears the stamp of 1794 and one of the first images ever pressed onto a U.S. penny, that of Lady Liberty holding a cap on a pole.  This symbol illustrates Revolutionary era ideals of American freedom and equality.

Site History

David Nice transferred property to James Price, northern half of lot 28.
James Price dies; to brother Joseph Price’s children
Renovation; front porch removed and used to floor room above kitchen; filled in the alley between the two houses; gardens replanted.
Price built brick section and move into it; not then connected directly to frame section, though adjoining; would have required exiting and then entering
Dawson to William T. Wright; separated the frame and brick portions again by boarding up the doors and blocking fireplaces. Rented out each separately

Bethel AME Church

In 1818, the African-Methodist Episcopal convention in Baltimore sent Reverend Shadrack Bassett to Easton. He preached to about 100 people from atop an oxcart about beginning a new African-american church. The new congregation first met in a blacksmith shop before purchasing this property and the lot to the south in 1820 and building a church.  The current building was built in 1877 and dedicated by Frederick Douglass in 1878.

Early on, churches fostered mutual aid societies through which black communities redistributed resources to those in need to insulate one another against a racist “free” market.

Dig Questions

Digging for Answers 

Researchers excavated 18 shovel test pits (STPs) at intervals of 20 feet in side yard and the back yard of the Bethel AME church property. Following this testing, archaeologists excavated seven five-foot-by-five-foot and one 2.5-foot-square test units in areas of interest. Archaeologists found the foundations of three buildings including the church parsonage that was built in the mid 19th century. They also found evidence of a clay deposits on the site used to make bricks for local homes possibly the Poney House on Hanson Street built in 1790 and once owned by a prominent African American family.



Soldier’s Belt Buckle

Archaeologists discovered a belt buckle believed to be from the Civil War era among the remnant of the church’s parsonage building prompting questions about the Military belt buckle with Maryland State insignia is awaiting cleaning and conservation. Research revealed a similar belt buckle in a private collection with a similar stamped image. Belts with this type of buckle were typically worn across the chest on and used for carrying ammunition caps.

Site History

Reverend Bassett preaches from an ox cart at the corner of Hanson and South Stree
A July 27 1830 newspaper note is evidence of an early church building.
…Joseph Chain, situate lying and being in the town of Easton on which the building called the Bethel Church now stands….
Frederick Douglass dedicates new Bethel AME and Asbury church buildings on the same day.
Joseph Chain and Henry Catrip secure the Bethel AME church property for $250.
The present day Bethel AME church building is erected.

Stop #1


When you arrive at the corner of Harrison Street and South Lane, stop for a moment and note the church at the end of South Lane. Asbury Methodist Church is one of the landmarks on The Hill, a beacon of freedom for African Americans throughout the centuries. You’ll learn more about this church at Stop 10.

The survey stone marked XXIII that sits by the white fence at the corner of Harrison Street and South Lane was placed here in 1786 to mark the corner of Lot 23. This was the location of the Friends School which was operated by the Quakers.

The rose brick house you see at 28 South Harrison Street was considered one of Easton’s grandest homes when it was built in 1790. Temperance Skinner lived here with her son Walter while employed by the Hambleton family. Like Temperance, many African American women throughout Easton’s early history worked as domestics.

Temperance (1850) and her sister Ann Eliza (1843) were born to free parents and were raised with four other siblings near Bloomfield Road outside Easton. The Skinner family was associated with the Joseph Bartlett family, steadfast anti-slavery Quaker elders.

While neither Temperance nor Eliza could read or write in 1870, they both negotiated for employment and living quarters from Easton’s most prominent professional families. Both young women used these positions to better their families over time. Eliza retired to keeping her own house by 1880. You can find out more about her life at Stop 9. Walter became a successful Chicago maître d’hôtel and inherited real estate from his Aunt Eliza.