Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Arcadia Mill and Historical Research

Archaeology is a great way of finding out what the actual remains of a site can tell us about the people who lived there, and is used alongside the historical record to bring new insights to what was previously written about the events and people associated with a site. At Arcadia, we use primary documentary research as one tool in our toolkit to help us understand what happened there and what people thought about it during the time that the actual events were taking place.

Many documents from 19th century Escambia and Santa Rosa counties can help fill in gaps that exist in the archaeological record with regards to the lives of those living and working at Arcadia. The process of building the mills and structures that made up the Arcadia complex, and expanding the business from when Joseph Forsyth bought the property from Juan de la Rua in 1828 to the end of production at the Arcadia site in 1855, has left a lengthy documentary record in the form of deeds of sale, records of lumber shipments from shipping manifests, business ledgers, and newspaper articles chronicling the growth of the site and the controversy over using skilled slave labor in the mills and cotton factory. Information on the lives of the owners, employees, and stock holders at Arcadia can be gleaned from government records such as marriage and death records, census records, lawsuits and proclamations regarding land sales and the incorporation of the Arcadia Manufacturing Company. Some original documents from Forsyth and Simpson’s personal papers and records also provide interesting insight into their lives and business dealings.

As discussed in an earlier post, one area where the documents are often silent is on the lives and identities of the slave community that lived and worked at Arcadia for over 25 years. For this reason a particular focus of the UWF field school over the last few years and continuing in the 2012 season is to identify and study the archaeological remains of the dwellings and areas inhabited by the Arcadia slaves. Archaeology is able to illuminate what we know from the documents to create a fuller understanding of the people behind Arcadia Mill. 

Stay tuned for exciting highlights on this summers ongoing excavations, current historical research, and opportunities for public involvement! 

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