An opportunity to have high school students excavate the site of a freed slave community from the 1700s in Virginia proved to be a valuable lesson in historical research.
Students from Richmond High School discovered artifacts in eastern Henrico County that had been owned by a group of African Americans who were freed back in the 18th century. They were working with members of the Urban Archaeology Corps, Groundwork RVA, and National Park Service archaeologists.
The community they discovered is Gravel Hill, one of the earliest communities of freed slaves. The community was formed when a Quaker, John Pleasants, freed them in his 1771 will.
There was opposition to the will being carried out, but Pleasants’ son argued that they be observed with the assistance of lawyer John Marshall, who became the fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Several years later, 78 slaves were legally free and owners of 350 acres.
The students prepared maps and researched written accounts before the dig. They also interviewed a Gravel Hill descendant.