THE COURTHOUSE SITE
Uncovering diversity in Annapolis' historic populations is an important component of the Archaeology in Annapolis project's research. All too often people mistake the present-day Annapolis Historic Distric, comprised predominantly of affluent white families and single professionals, with that of Annapolis of the past.
Well into the 1950s the Annapolis Historic District consisted of a diverse population that included numerous African American neighborhoods dating from the mid- to late-19th century. Bellis Court and the surrounding houses comprised one such neighborhood with a mix of working-class and professional households. In 1994, Archaeology in Annapolis had the opportunity to investigate this neighborhood in association with construction of a new Anne Arundel County courthouse. More recently, expansion of the adjacent Banneker-Douglass Museum of African American History and Culture afforded additional opportunities in 2000 and 2001 to further explore the archaeological remainders of this once-thriving neighborhood.
The Banneker-Douglass Project
Archaeological excavations were launched in the summer of 2000 on a property located at 42 Franklin Street, on the north side of the current Banneker-Douglass Museum. The work was conducted under contract with the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, with oversight provided by the Maryland Historical Trust. The work had several goals, including the determination of site integrity, its possible eligibility for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, and certainly the desire to more fully document the residents of the Courthouse block.In the course of the 2000 excavations, archaeologists provided a great deal of information that will continue to flesh out the more sparsely documented understandings of Annapolis' rich African American history.
The newest phase of archaeological investigation on this site began in the Summer of 2001 in association with museum expansion at the Banneker-Douglass Museum. These excavations were open to the public, with onsite interpretation, signage, site tours, and open-dig days.
History of an African American Neighborhood
Residents of the Courthouse block led interesting lives that more fully flesh out our understanding of 19th - and 20th-century Annapolis. In 1832, Charity Folks a freed African American, purchased the majority of the tract that currently comprises this block. She subsequently subdivided the tract and the smaller lots were taken up by her descendants and other members of the town's African American community who lived there until the 1950's or 1960's. Documentary research reveals that these individuals represented a cross-section of social and economic classes and that past residents included ministers of the Mt. Moriah A.M.E. Church, barbers, watermen, printers, laborers, and professionals. Archaeologically, this block has the potential to provide a century and half's worth of information on an unexplored dimension of the city's history.
Future excavations and analyses will build on our baseline of knowledge gained from other Annapolis sites such as the Maynard-Burgess site. By expanding upon our understanding of African American history in Annapolis, we increase the sum total of our knowledge of Annapolis' past occupants and gain a better sense of the historical roots of challenges faced in the city today.
Excavations on the Courthouse Block
During the Summer of 2001, Archaeology in Annapolis resumed excavations at the Annapolis Courthouse site. Located at 42 Franklin Street, next to the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the excavations are generously supported by the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, the Maryland Historical Trust, and a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council. Excavations focused on the lives of late 19th and early 20th century African American residents of the site.