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Archive for March, 2013

By Vikki Bynum

Here’s another region of the South with a fascinating history of mixed-race ancestry. I discovered the Chowan Discovery Group after Steven Riley, creator and moderator of Mixed Race Studies, introduced me via email to the Group’s Executive Director, Marvin T. Jones. The “Winton Triangle,” located in Hertford County, North Carolina, encompasses the three towns of Winton, Cofield, and Ahoskie. Here, people maintain a distinctive identity rooted in Native American, European, and African ancestry.

According to Marvin Jones, the Triangle traces its origins to before the 1584 arrival of the English to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where Chowanoke (Choanoac) Indian settlements were prominent along the Chowan River. After the English invasion, diseases (to which Native Americans lacked immunity) and territorial disputes decimated and disrupted the Chowanoke settlements of present-day Hertford County.*

Choanoac Village marker

During the early 1600s, England continued its relentless effort to gain a stronghold in North American, successfully planting settlements on the James River in Virginia.  Again, disease and war displaced native populations. Indians traveling down the Meherrin River eventually settled in the Chowanokes’ previous home of Hertford County, North Carolina. In the century that followed, interactions between these Native Americans and English and African immigrants would produce the mixed-ancestry people of today’s Winton Triangle.

The mixed-race people of the Winton Triangle did not live far from those of Gloucester County, Virginia, the subject of an earlier essay on this blog. In both these regions, outward migration by Europeans, funded by Crowns and merchants in search of new lands, precious metals, and cash crops, brought a collision of continents, especially those of Europe, the Americas, and Africa. Within each, there were winners and losers. Those with wealth and power benefited from expanding empires. Others, such as England’s “sturdy beggars,” were forced into indentured servitude, or, like Africa’s captured villagers, into slavery. Many Native Americans were also forced into various systems of bondage.

In the Winton Triangle, however, as in Gloucester County, a number of people designated non-white escaped slavery. Legally defined as “free people of color,” people of mixed ancestry (particularly before the American Revolution) often maintained “interdependent relations” with local whites, which enabled them to buy land and to learn marketable skills.  Equally important, they founded schools and churches and built communities of mutual support that endured the centuries.*

The Winton Triangle and Gloucester County share similar characteristics, yet each region has its own unique history. Their  common features, however, speak to the social and economic forces that shaped the Atlantic coastal history and eventually enabled England to lay claim to its Thirteen Original Colonies. Often overlooked in the panoramic history of empire and bondage in the Americas are the new peoples who emerged, and the mechanisms by which they survived, even prospered, by building tightly-knit communities amid eras of slavery, segregation, and white supremacist laws and customs imposed by the dominant society.

During the Civil War, Parker fought for the Union with the 2nd Cavalry of U.S. Colored Troops. Photo courtesy Benj. Gary Robbins and Marvin T. Jones

During the Civil War, Sgt. Parker D. Robbins fought for the Union with the 2nd Cavalry of U.S. Colored Troops. Photo courtesy Benj. Gary Robbins and Marvin T. Jones

Elf and Annie Jones Family, circa 1914. Photo courtesy of Alice Jones Nickens and Marvin T. Jones

Elf and Annie Jones Family, circa 1914. Photo courtesy of Alice Jones Nickens and Marvin T. Jones

The history of the Winton Triangle is too long and too complex to do it justice in a short essay such as this. Luckily, Marvin Jones and the Chowan Discovery Group’s Directors, Laverne Jones and Dr. Harold Mitchell (all of whom were born and raised in the Triangle), are dedicated to collecting, preserving, and presenting materials relevant to that history. They hope to coordinate their efforts with other individuals, community leaders, organizations, and institutions that share like interests. Check their organization out at Chowan Discovery Group!

*See Marvin T. Jones, “The Leading Edge of Edges: The Triracial People of the Winton Triangle,” in Carolina Genesis: Beyond the Color Lineedited by Scott Withrow (2010): 181-209.

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The following announcement recently appeared on the H-Net Southern History forum. My thanks to Prof. Christopher Fennell for allowing me to repost it here.  

Note: Edgefield, South Carolina, as well as the craft of pottery making, was an important link between the Randolph County area of North Carolina, the upcountry of South Carolina, and migration from Edgefield, South Carolina, to the Mississippi Piney Woods.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

From: Fennell, Christopher [cfennell@illinois.edu]
Sent: 04 March 2013 03:21
Subject: Archaeology of Edgefield, South Carolina Pottery Communities

This six-week field school (May 26 to July 8, 2013) will focus on investigations at the Pottersville site (also called Landrumsville) and nearby John Landrum and B. F. Landrum kiln sites within the area of the Old Edgefield Pottery District, and will provide training in the techniques of excavation, mapping, artifact classification and contextual interpretation. Students will work in supervised teams, learning to function as members of a field crew, with skills necessary for becoming professional archaeologists. Many students from past University of Illinois field schools have gone on to graduate study and professional field-archaeology positions. Laboratory processing and analysis will be ongoing during the field season. Evening lectures by project staff, visiting archaeologists, and historians will focus on providing background on how field data are used to answer archaeological and historical research questions.

The first innovation and development of alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery in America occurred in the Edgefield District of South Carolina in the early 1800s. Our 2011 field school also discovered that the earliest of these production sites also utilized industrial-scale “dragon” kilns never seen before in the Americas. It remains an enduring mystery as to how these new ceramic methods were developed in that place and time, and how the techniques of kiln design and choices of clay, temper, and glaze ingredients developed over the following century. These potteries employed enslaved and free African-American laborers in the 19th century, and the stoneware forms also show evidence of likely African cultural influence on stylistic designs. Edgefield potteries thus present fascinating research questions of understanding technological innovations and investigating the impacts of African cultural knowledge and racial ideologies on a craft specialization during the historic period in America. This project entails an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and archaeological study of the first development in America of alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery forms, the development of that South Carolina industry over time, and the impacts of racism and African cultural influences on those processes.

For additional information about this field school opportunity, please contact Chris Fennell by email at cfennell@illinois.edu. To apply for participation in this field school, please download and complete a short application form and submit it by March 25, 2013. Students will be notified of acceptance no later than April 10, 2013. Accepted students should register for six credits in the University of Illinois summer session. Students from colleges other than the University of Illinois can register through our exchange at program and receive transfer credits. Additional information and application forms are available a http://www.histarch.uiuc.edu/Edgefield/

Watch a documentary about our 2011 field school at Pottersville by StoryLine Media at http://vimeopro.com/storylinemedia/thcsc-pottersvile

Best wishes,
Chris

Christopher C. Fennell
Editor, Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage (JADAH)
Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies, and Associate Head
Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois

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