Take This into Account: The Cultural Landscape of African American Community Formation Post-Emancipation

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 23

Zada Law
Director, Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology
Department of Geosciences, Middle Tennessee State University

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires Federal agencies to “take into account” (emphasis added) the effects of their actions “on any district, site, building, structure, or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in” the National Register of Historic Places.

Part of our mission at MTSU’s Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology is to advance the use of geospatial methods for historical and archaeological research and conservation. Our goal is to add to our knowledge of Tennessee’s historic cultural landscape – both above and below ground – that ultimately can be “taken into account” in the Section 106 process and beyond by connecting primary source material with geographical locations in free interactive mapping applications for use by students, educators, archaeologists, preservationists, planners, and the general public.

Since 2014, we’ve focused on mapping Tennessee’s African American cultural landscape to raise awareness and elevate its visibility. Our initial effort, Landscape of Liberation, was a collaboration with the Tennessee State Library and Archives to show the locations of Civil War era sites in Tennessee such as contraband camps, freedmen schools, labor impressment locations, and recruitment and mustering locations for the United States Colored Troops.

But what about the African American geography of the post-Civil War period?

In  “Sacred Spaces of Faith, Community, and Resistance” (Nieves and Alexander, eds. We Shall Independent Be: African American Place Making and the Struggle to Claim Space in the United States, University Press of Colorado, 2008), Dr. Carroll Van West wrote: “Upon freedom, African Americans of the 1860s quickly sought to create new physical spaces that belonged to them and reflected their values. Besides homes for their families, they rushed to create three institutions in particular: churches, cemeteries, and schools. African Americans typically clustered these institutions close together, with the church invariably as the focal point (indeed, it often doubled as the school building) surrounded by their homes and businesses.”


Pruitt Hill African American church and cemetery (behind church). Steps to school that once stood on the site remain (2018).

West’s hypothesis – that the nexus of these three institutions, as well as fraternal lodges and businesses, was the basis for early African American communities in Tennessee – is the starting point for a project currently underway at the Fullerton Lab to develop a visualization tool for the African American cultural landscape of the post-Civil War period.

Funded by a grant from the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, “Places, Perspectives: African American Community-building in Tennessee, 1860-1920” project is a three-county prototype for a statewide historical geography of African American communities in Tennessee.

With a focus on one county in each part of Tennessee – Greene County in East Tennessee, Maury County in Middle Tennessee, and Hardeman County in West Tennessee – “Places, Perspectives” is developing an online, interactive and easily usable digital research platform that highlights the presence of these clusters of African American community institutions that emerged in the post-Civil War period and still dot the Tennessee landscape.

Primary source documents, photographs, and first-hand accounts are serving as evidence in the creation of a mapped landscape linked to primary sources that will be freely available to the public through the digital collections at MTSU’s James E. Walker Library.

Our strategy for the creation of this online collection and mapping platform includes filling out the historical record with additional research and contextual material and examining the locations of these institutional clusters through a variety of lenses–from military geography to transportation networks to economic imperatives.

In all three counties, community historians have stepped in to share knowledge based upon years of “boots on the ground” research. We’ve also met with community members and elders who carry first-hand information about these communities in their memories and have graciously driven with us to show us exact locations where churches, schools, cemeteries, and lodges once stood.


Community  members locating sites  in Greene County TN, September 2018.

For the past 10 months, my MTSU colleagues, Susan Knowles from the Center for Historic Preservation and Ken Middleton from the James E. Walker Library, and I have been “drinking from a firehose” trying to record, visit, photograph, research, and follow the historical threads embodied in these sites.

We’ve learned that while some communities have clear links to formerly enslaved individuals and some are near former locations of Civil War federal outposts, encampments, or freedmen’s camps, many may have been created in out of the way locations as expressions of resistance, while those in more prominent places may represent landowners, local school or church leaders, and outside supporters.

Whatever their origins, these separate African American cemeteries, churches, and schools bear witness to the formation of sustainable community bonds that survive in historical memory, if not on a current map.

However, these cultural sites can be hard to recognize. Cemeteries may be overgrown or the church or school building that once stood on the site has been demolished. And the histories of these African American communities are often not recorded in local histories or county cemetery surveys. As Michel-Rolph Trouillot observed in Silencing the Past (1995), whether “silences” concerning past occurrences are deliberate or inadvertent, they skew our perception of the past.


New Hope African American school, church, and cemetery cluster near Greeneville, TN shown on 1936 Greeneville USGS topographic quadrangle, 1:24:000.


New Hope African American school, church, and cemetery sites, 2018.

Tennessee’s historic African American cultural landscape embodies a uniquely American story – from Civil War to Civil Rights – from enslavement to liberty – that deserves to be recognized and “taken in account.”


Surprise! A Newly Discovered Civil War Earthwork in Bedford County, Tennessee

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 18

Paul G. Avery, RPA
Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc.
Knoxville, TN

As cultural resource management archaeologists, we never know what we will find when we conduct a survey. Often as not, we find small prehistoric lithic scatters or the remains of small farmsteads, or nothing. Every now and then, a project will produce a surprise. This was the case on a recent survey I directed on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) near Shelbyville in Bedford County, Tennessee. The initial survey was completed in April 2018. We knew going into the project that at least one large Civil War earthwork was situated within the proposed right-of-way, but were surprised to discover another.

Shelbyville had become an important supply depot by the end of 1862. Situated in an area of rich farms which were important in feeding the Confederate Army, it was served by a good system of roads and a spur to the railroad, which made it strategically important. Following his withdrawal from the field at the Battle of Stones River near Murfreesboro in early January 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg ordered his troops into defensive positions in Shelbyville, Wartrace, and Tullahoma. Once he determined he was not being pursued by the Union forces under General William Rosecrans, Bragg ordered his troops to remain in place and fortify their positions.  The Confederates at Shelbyville constructed a series of earthworks around the town (Figure 1).  Bragg knew the terrain east of Shelbyville on his right flank was composed of narrow gaps through steep, broken terrain, which would be difficult for Rosecrans’ army to cross.  He anticipated an advance would come from the northwest toward Shelbyville and prepared to defend against it.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Map of the Confederate defenses around Shelbyville, drawn by C. Dunham, 1863.

Although the opposing forces were camped only 20 miles from each other, both commanders elected to hold in place until the summer of 1863.  On June 23, 1863, Rosecrans sent one corps in a feint against the defenses at Shelbyville, but massed his forces for an attack on the Confederate right in the hills. The XXIV Corps under General George Thomas attacked Hoover’s Gap on Bragg’s right early on the morning of June 24. Confederate infantry was able to hold the gap until June 26 when word reached them that the troops on their flanks were withdrawing to Tullahoma. The Confederates reached Tullahoma just ahead of the Union troops, and were able to escape over the Elk River.  Bragg continued his retreat, crossing the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, Alabama, before moving into Chattanooga. The departure of the Confederates ended their occupation of Middle Tennessee.

Site 40BD148 is an extensive earthwork constructed during the Confederate occupation of Shelbyville in 1863. It was recorded by the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in 1989, along with a series of similar fortifications around Shelbyville. The site consisted of a rifle trench with fortified artillery redans on either end. The works covered approximately 2,500 feet in length and were oriented north-south.

Our project included the mapping of the earthworks at Site 40BD148 with a GPS, limited metal detection on portions of the site, and shovel testing within the proposed right-of-way. Although no artifacts were recovered which could definitively be attributed to the military presence on the site, we were able to produce a more detailed map and photograph the works (Figure 2). The earthworks within Site 40BD148 cross rocky slopes and are obvious in some areas, but are no longer visible in others. The redans include tall earthen berms with ditches at their base (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3

Figure 2. Segment of rifle trench.

Figure 4

Figure 3. Northern redan from outside the works.

Figure 5.JPG

Figure 4. Southern redan from inside the works.

A portion of the proposed right-of-way passed through the southern end of a wood lot north of 40BD148. As we worked through the area, we discovered a deep ditch within the right-of-way. The ditch extended from near the southern edge of the woods downslope to the north. An earthen berm was located on the west facing side of the ditch (Figure 5), and in places was all that remained. Additional exploration revealed the ditch ended near a small stream at the base of the slope, but resumed on the other side of the stream. This segment ended on the northern end of the woodlot. The southern segment was relatively straight, while the northern segment included two angles. Yes, we found another earthwork! This particular rifle trench, Site 40BD245, was previously unknown, even to the landowner! Shovel testing and limited metal detection again produced no artifacts attributable to the Civil War occupants of the trenches.

Figure 6

Figure 5. Rifle trench at 40BD245, facing northeast.

Both sites were recommended as potentially eligible for inclusion on the National Register, and TDOT is planning to avoid them. At this point, the identity of the units which constructed and manned the earthworks is not known. The role played by these positions during Rosecrans’s feint during the Battle of Hoover’s Gap also remains a mystery. In spite of the unknowns, the fact that these earthworks and others in the area have survived in a recognizable form is remarkable. They are a reminder of an important event in Tennessee history, as they mark the end of the Confederate occupation of Middle Tennessee. They also served as a nice surprise on this project!

From Historic to Prehistoric Significance at the Carter Mansion in Elizabethton, Tennessee

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 9

Cayla M. Cannon and Eileen G. Ernenwein
East Tennessee State University

Situated on the edge of the Watauga River, Carter Mansion (40CR5) is a State Historic site where Tennessee’s oldest frame house, built in the 1770s, still stands (Figure 1). Tourists who visit the site learn a great deal about Tennessee’s history and the Carter family’s prominent status within the region, but little about the people who lived there prehistorically. We know from surface artifacts and decades-old excavations that the site also holds a prehistoric component, which may be vital for understanding Native American settlement and coalescence in the region. Our research in the broader region, at Cane Notch and Runion discussed in previous posts, suggests that there may be a significant piece of Cherokee history here. With funds from a Tennessee Historic Commission, we began investigating the site in 2016 using geophysical survey. Results allowed us to identify buried historic and prehistoric features, including graves, and determine their level of preservation. This was followed by limited and targeted archaeological testing which helped us to better understand the geophysical results and take samples for radiocarbon dating. The park will use these results to manage the site’s buried cultural resources and protect human remains, including finding a suitable location for the repatriation of previously excavated human remains in compliance with NAGPRA in 2017.


Figure 1 Photograph of the Carter Mansion in 2016.

From October 2016 to April 2017, we surveyed 8,000 m2 (1.98 acres) of the grounds at Carter Mansion with Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) using a GSSI SIR4000 with 400MHz antennas, Magnetic Gradiometry (MG) using a Bartington Grad601-2 dual fluxgate gradiometer, and Electromagnetic Induction (EMI) with a Geonics EM38-MKII soil conductivity meter. The EMI instrument simultaneously measures Electrical Conductivity (EC) and Magnetic Susceptibility (MS) — two statistically independent datasets. The survey was conducted with lines spaced 0.50 m apart in 10 x 10 m squares to navigate around the mansion and other landscape features such as trees, gardens, historic cemeteries, etc.

Several historic and prehistoric features were identified in the geophysical data. Many of the most prominent anomalies identified in the MG data are due to modern construction, including steel-reinforced concrete sidewalks and parking lot wheel stops. Figure 2 shows what we interpret to be structures previously known from historic photographs. These include the modern privy, old kitchen/smokehouse, tenants/servants house, blacksmith shop, old road, corn crib, pig pen, chicken coop, calf shed, and barn. There is also a possible previously unknown structure in the southeastern portion of the survey area, close to Broad Street. These features were not targeted for excavation because they are rather obvious in the data, and we are confident in the interpretation; however, the possible structure in the southeast was not excavated because that area contains historic graves.


Figure 2 Annotated Magnetometry results (left). Annotated GPR results, 40-50 cmbs (right).

While magnetometry data were useful for delineating historic features, GPR proved to be especially useful for identifying prehistoric features, and allowed us to differentiate between prehistoric and historic occupation, including burials. Historic features identified in the GPR data include the modern privy, servants/tenants house, the old road, and barn. Potential prehistoric features are found throughout much of the GPR data but, unfortunately, do not collectively form a coherent pattern of prehistoric settlement.

Test excavations targeted potential prehistoric features to obtain Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) samples for dating. Two strong GPR features identified in radargrams located behind the mansion were thought to be prehistoric features based on their depth and, as a result, were targeted for excavation. These features turned out to be historic trash pits dating back to the 1920s. One of these trash pits also contained human remains, which may have been the target of looting and subsequently used for trash disposal. Based on these findings, we then targeted two smaller features in the GPR data, anticipating that more subtle reflections would more likely be prehistoric (Figure 3). These excavations led to the discovery of several prehistoric features, including fire pits and dumping piles. Based on the artifacts recovered and dates obtained, Native Americans occupied the site from approximately AD 1500-1770 — around the time of European contact. Although the date range is much later than expected, it does correspond to similar Mississippian sites located on the Watauga and Nolichucky rivers confirming our ideas of regional coalescence.


Figure 3 Prehistoric fire pit, divided into zone containing Lamar and Pisgah ceramics along with other artifacts.

One of the goals of this project was to locate unmarked burials at the site. GPR data collected over marked historic graves gave us an indication of what burials could look like in the data. This allowed us to identify unmarked graves in the survey area. The looted burial encountered gave us an indication of the depth of prehistoric burials, but is not a good model for how a typical, undisturbed burial would normally appear in GPR data. Prehistoric burials at similar sites in the region produce similar, but smaller hyperbolic reflections. In addition, while historic graves are generally extended, prehistoric graves were expected to be flexed and, therefore would appear in fewer adjacent radargrams; these are more subtle and smaller in lateral extent than historic graves, so they do not show up well in slice maps. In total, 18 potential prehistoric burials have been identified from radargrams, all situated between the house and river. This information allowed us to choose a location for a repatriation of remains at the site in October 2017.

This work confirmed the presence of several historic buildings at the Carter Mansion with the geophysical data, showing exactly where these features are located and can be used to create a revised historic map of the property. In addition, we now know much more about the prehistoric occupation of the site, including the fact that it was heavily occupied throughout the prehistoric and protohistoric periods. These data can be used for future archaeological work, historic preservation and restoration work, and have already aided the placement of repatriation of Native American remains on the property.

The Buchanan House Site in Bells Bend, Nashville, Tennessee

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 8

Kathryn F. Moore
Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc.

Figure 1. Portion of 1932 Nashville, Tennesse Quadrangle

Figure 1. Portion of 1932 Nashville, Tennessee Quadrangle

The Buchanan House is located at site 40DV246 in Davidson County, roughly seven miles west of Nashville in an 18 square mile tract of land called Bells Bend (Figure 1). Although the site has been documented, the house itself has never been; the site is listed only as a prehistoric lithic scatter on its site form. Despite the amount of work archaeologists have conducted in the Bells Bend area, most of the historic archaeology has been overlooked in favor of the prehistoric components. In addition, most of the conservation efforts in the Bells Bend park where the Buchanan House is located have been directed towards wildlife and landscape conservation with less attention on the conservation of buildings significant to the history of the area. I believe it would be beneficial to preserve the Buchanan House and its outbuildings (Figure 2 and 3) and open them to the public as a museum dedicated to telling the stories of the citizens of Nashville’s experience during the Civil War, specifically the Battle of Nashville.


Figure 2 and 3. (Left) Aerial image of Buchanan House and Outbuildings, 2009; (Right) Buchanan House and Outbuildings

Up until a few years ago the experience of civilian life during the Civil War was neglected in favor of stories from the battlefield. Recently some major national parks have included resources related to the civilians’ experience during the Civil War but there are none dedicated to the citizens of Nashville. The Buchanan House is ideal for housing this kind of resource because of its proximal location to an important battlefield.

Figure 4. Distance between Buchanan House and Battlefield

Figure 4. Distance between Buchanan House and Battlefield

The Buchanan House is located less than a mile across the Cumberland River from the Kelley’s Point Battlefield, as shown in Figure 4, making it likely that the battle impacted the residents of the Buchanan House. The Battle of Nashville at Kelley’s Point began the Battle of Nashville and took place over a period of two weeks (Figure 5). Confederate cavalry under the command of Lt. Col. David Campbell Kelley (Figure 6) blockaded the Cumberland River against seven gunboats and was one of the only units to drive Union forces to retreat during the Battle of Nashville.

Historic document research indicates that the house was occupied at the time of the battle. The Anderson family (Figure 7) acquired the land in 1850 and ran a successful farming operation on it until 1869 when the two sons of the original owner went their separate ways. The Civil War did have some effect on the Anderson family as they owned enslaved Africans who made up over 50 percent of their personal wealth before the War and one of their houses was burned down during the War. After the Andersons sold the land in 1869 the Buchanan family (Figure 8 and 9) acquired it in 1899 and ran their own highly successful farming operation on it until the last of the Buchanans sold their parcel in 1973. Over the course of their occupation a Confederate sword, cannon balls, and other Civil War items were reportedly recovered.


Figure 5 and 6. (Left) Timeline of Battles; (Right) Portrait of Lt. Col. David Campbell Kelley


While the historic documents indicate that the Civil War had some impact on the residents of the Buchanan House there were no obvious Civil War deposits at the site, despite its close proximity to a major battle. The only indication of any kind of disruption at the site was two separate concentrations of nails which suggest that there were two separate building episodes at the site (Figure 10). The cut nail concentration is likely connected to an initial build on the land while the wire nail concentration suggests a rebuild of only the main house after the War.

Figure 7. Anderson Geneology

Figure 7. Anderson Geneology

Figure 8. Buchanan Geneology

Figure 8. Buchanan Geneology

The Buchanan House offers a unique perspective on the experience of the citizens of Nashville during the War; one that demonstrates a long history of resistance and resilience. In addition, the Buchanan House is historically significant because of its residents’ century and a half long connection to and involvement with the farming community of Bells Bend. The house could add another source of interest to the Bells Bend Park and help illustrate the history of agriculture in the area. Having the house open to the public could also aid local efforts which aim to promote and protect the rural character of the area by creating an outdoor recreational, agricultural, and residential preservation district. The house and its outbuildings should be preserved to help draw public interest to these various initiatives as well as illustrate the history of agriculture in the area and the history of the Civil War and its impact on the free and enslaved civilians.

Figure 9. Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan, Sr. sitting on the front porch of the Buchanan House

Figure 9. Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan, Sr. sitting on the front porch of the Buchanan House

In summary, the Buchanan House has a great deal to offer the area already but I believe further research at the house would be beneficial in helping to understand why an event as cataclysmic as the Civil War, which resulted in a major loss in labor, seemed to have little impact on the residents of the Buchanan House and their agricultural endeavors. Mapping and surveying the rest of the acreage owned by these two families could provide valuable information in locating Civil War era deposits as well as adding more knowledge about the agricultural history of Bells Bend.

Figure 10. Nail Distribution

Figure 10. Nail Distribution

The Completion of the Tennessee Rosenwald School Survey

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 2

Sarah Eckhardt and Ben Nance
Tennessee Division of Archaeology

As previously mentioned by Ben Nance in his 2014 “30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology” post, the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA) began an archaeological survey of Tennessee’s Rosenwald Schools in 2013. This earlier post provides an explanation of what these schools were and how the survey began, so an in depth description is not provided here. Instead, we offer a brief description of the results of the survey, which was just completed in 2017.

The Rosenwald program can be summed up briefly as an enterprise that arose out of a 1912 meeting between Booker T. Washington, head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Rosenwald had just joined the Tuskegee’s Board of Trustees, and was approached by Washington about securing funding to build schools for black children in the south. Rosenwald loved the idea and thus was born the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which provided seed money to build schools throughout the south.  Between 1912 and 1932 the Fund contributed to the construction of 4,997 schools, 163 industrial shop buildings, and 217 teachers’ homes. By 1928, one-third of the South’s rural black school children and teachers were served by Rosenwald Schools. Tennessee had an estimated 354 schools, 10 shops, and 9 teachers’ homes.

The TDOA, in conjunction with the Tennessee Historical Commission, began a survey of these Tennessee Rosenwald Schools with the goal of finding and assessing each site for its archaeological integrity and potential eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, regardless of whether or not there was a standing building. We consulted several sources to locate these schools, which included the Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database, U.S. Geologic Survey topographic maps, county highway maps, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, Tennessee County Educational maps, the Tennessee Department of Education’s Application for Classification of Rural Elementary Schools, census and deed records, local and county libraries, and local informants, many of whom were former students of these schools.


Figure 1. Examples of school structures encountered. Top left is the fully restored Durham’s Chapel School in Sumner County, which is now used as a community center. Top right is the Antioch School in Crockett County, which is still standing, but is abandoned and in poor condition. Bottom left is the foundation and chimney remnants of the Center Star School in Maury County. Bottom right is the ruins of the Salem School in Gibson County, which has some standing walls, but the majority has collapsed and the roof has caved in.

The condition in which we found Rosenwald Schools during our survey ranged from completely restored and preserved to abandoned buildings and ruins and, in most cases they were gone (Figure 1). In those cases where no remnants of the building remained we searched for other indicators that a school once stood in a specific spot as determined by our research such as privies, wells and fountains, and artifacts like desk parts, brick, coal, assorted metal, stair remnants, etc. (Figure 2). These artifacts and features played an important role in helping us determine if a school actually existed at a site, especially if there were no other remnants of the school building. In fact, we were more likely to find these features and artifacts than the actual school structures.


Figure 2. Examples of additional features and artifacts encountered. Top left is the concrete foundation of the privy at the Farmington School, Marshall County. Top right is a fairly intact privy at the Chapel Hill School, Marshall County. Bottom left is the remnants of a water pump and fountain at the Durham’s Chapel School, Sumner County. Bottom right is desk parts found at two different sites.

With the completion of the survey, we can now offer some of the preliminary findings about TN Rosenwald Schools. A formal report is in process and will be published on the TDOA’s webpage in early 2019. This work will also be featured in this year’s Tennessee Archaeology Awareness Month poster, which will be released later this month.


Figure 3. Map showing the location of Rosenwald Schools in Tennessee. The dots in red denote a standing school building and those in green denote sites where the Rosenwald School building was no longer standing.

We were able to locate all but 14 of the 373 Rosenwald schools, shops, and teacher homes constructed in Tennessee (Figure 3). While many of the buildings were gone or in ruins, more standing structures were found than anticipated. They include 62 standing schools, one shop, and one teacher’s home equaling about 17% of the total buildings constructed in Tennessee. The National Trust estimates that 10% to 12% of 3,537 schools, shops, and homes built between 1917 and 1932 are still standing. This means that Tennessee has more standing schools than estimated. It also means that we have many that are in danger of disappearing or have already disappeared since being recorded.

A particularly heartbreaking example is the demolition of the only standing Rosenwald funded teacher’s home that we were able to locate. We recorded the site of the Millington School (aka Millington Jr. High School, Millington High School, E.A. Harold School) in Millington, TN (Shelby County), which consisted of a large school, teacher’s home and shop in March of 2016. Foundations of the school and shop remained, but the teacher’s home was still completely intact and appeared to have been abandoned, but still in decent shape (Figure 4).


Figure 4. Teacher’s home at the Millington School, Shelby County. It was the only surviving home we found and is now gone.

The school was built in 1923/1924 with the teacher’s home added in 1926/1927 and the shop in 1927/1928. A recent reexamination of the satellite imagery for the area, however, shows that the home was torn down within the last year or two due to road expansion.

Despite this example and others, there are still several schools that are still standing and in good condition. In west TN 29 buildings were still standing of the 183 built, in middle TN 25 of the 122 that were built still stood, and east TN we found 10 standing out of the 42 that were built. It is obvious that more schools were built in west Tennessee than in the other regions of the state and Shelby County had by far the most of any one county with 68. The next densest county was Montgomery with 23 Rosenwald funded buildings.  Sites with some structural remnants amounted to 137. At 38 of the sites, we located privies and/or privy vaults, and at 52 sites we found remnants of wells and/or fountains. Seven schools had already been added to the national Register of Historic Places and we plan to do a multiple property nomination for many of the school sites surveyed.

In addition to the survey, this past August we started a second phase of research, which will focus on limited testing of three Rosenwald School sites. Our first test site was the Lee Buckner School in Williamson County (Figure 5). It was just recently acquired by the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, which hopes to relocate and restore the school and use it for educational programs. We plan to test two more school sites within the year and will publish our results.


Figure 5. Limited shovel testing being carried out by TDOA staff at the Lee Buckner School in Williamson County.

The Bosley Cemetery Removal Project at The Dominican Campus of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, TN

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 30

Jared Barrett
TRC Environmental Corporation

Earlier in the month, State Archaeologist Michael Moore talked about the process of what you should do if you accidently discover a cemetery. This blog post highlights an example of when a cemetery was accidentally discovered and the steps taken in its eventual removal. In August 2016, during the construction of Siena Hall at Aquinas College on The Dominican Campus in Nashville, construction crews accidentally uncovered the remains of the Bosley Cemetery. The Dominican Campus, now owned by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation (St. Cecilia Congregation), had been the site of the Bosley Family home until its purchase by Joseph Warner in 1910. The sisters acquired the property in 1923. One of the most prominent headstones uncovered was that of Charles Bosley Sr. whose family was one of the earliest to settle Davidson County. On behalf of St. Cecilia Congregation, Aquinas College initially contacted the Davidson County Medical examiner who directed them to contact the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA). Historic archaeologist Ben Nance with the TDOA examined the find and identified two grave shafts and advised St. Cecilia Congregation to hire a private consulting firm to continue excavations and identify any remaining graves.


View of all nine uncovered graves after the completion of mechanical stripping of the Bosley Cemetery.

Archaeologist Jared Barrett with TRC Environmental Corporation (TRC) was contacted to assist and continue the mechanical stripping of the immediate area of the two graves initially identified by the TDOA. Additional work at the cemetery identified a total of nine graves most of which contained broken tombstones and other monument stones within the grave shaft fill. We also identified the remains of a rock wall along the southern edge of the cemetery. This rock wall would have surrounded the cemetery. After our initial work at the cemetery, Eleanor Whitworth, a Bosley family descendant, informed the St. Cecilia Congregation that the Bosley family had been disinterred and reburied in Mt. Olivet Cemetery on February 18, 1911 on a lot purchased by Mrs. Gertrude Bosley Bowling Whitworth. Today there is a family marker at the Bosley family plot at Mt. Olivet that lists the names of several family members including Charles Bosley Sr. and his wife Eliza.


Overall layout of the Bosley Cemetery.

Additional excavations were needed at the Bosley Cemetery due to the uncertainty of finding headstones and grave shafts and the question of whether or not the family members had been moved to Mt. Olivet. In November 2016, we conducted additional hand excavations in all nine graves to determine whether the graves contained human remains. Based on our excavations, we determined all nine graves were previously excavated during the removal carried out in 1911. Our hand excavations encountered limestone rubble, headstone pieces, machine made brick fragments, coffin hardware and wood throughout the fill of all nine grave shafts. Our additional work also confirmed that all nine graves still contained human remains. Once human remains were encountered during excavations of a grave shaft, work was halted and the grave shaft backfilled.

The St. Cecilia Congregation worked with Ms.Whitworth and weighed all options about the next steps regarding the treatment of the cemetery. After much discussion and due to the documented current condition of the nine graves, the St. Cecilia Congregation, along with Ms. Whitworth, decided that the best option would be to disinter the remaining graves at the Bosley Cemetery and rebury them on two grave plots located immediately adjacent to the Bosley Family plot at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.


Excavation in progress of graves at Bosley Cemetery, facing west.

The St. Cecilia Congregation and Whitworth went to the Davidson County Chancery Court and filed an order to terminate the use of the land of the Bosley Cemetery as a burial ground and to allow for the removal of the remains of the descendants to Mt. Olivet Cemetery. The order contained our approach and methods for the removal of the graves which helped satisfy the legal responsibilities with respect to the treatment of human remains, while providing a professional and respectful exhumation and reburial process. The order was granted on July 14th, 2017.


Broken monument stones encountered in grave fill of Burials 6 and 7.


Crushed metal coffin uncovered at base of Burial 7.

In August 2017, we returned to the Bosley Cemetery and began to remove the graves. According to the Bosley family bible, the following people were buried at the cemetery: Charles Bosley, Sr.; his wife Mrs. Eliza A. Bosley; Mary Bosley, child of Charles and Eliza Bosley; Henry Bosley, child of Charles and Eliza Bosley; Mary Eliza Bosley, child of Charles and Eliza Bosley; Infant daughter of Martha Ann and Charles Bosley, Jr.; Martha Ann (Carden) Bosley, wife of Charles Bosley, Jr.; Charles Bosley, Jr., son of Charles and Eliza Bosley; and Gertrude Bosley Bowling, granddaughter of Charles and Eliza Bosley and wife of Powhattan Bowlinig. The earliest burial in the cemetery dates to 1825 with the latest burial dating to 1873. We uncovered the remains of seven broken tombstones within the grave fill for all those listed in the bible except for the stones of Gertrude Bosley Bowling and Eliza Bosley. Based on the headstones recovered, items recovered from the burials, and human remains, we were able to determine the layout of the cemetery and who was buried in which grave. Most of the excavated graves had small amounts of human remains that were left behind during the initial grave removal in 1911. One grave had only been partially removed with the lower leg, mid section including their arms, ribs, and spine and lower jaw left behind. Another grave contained the crushed remains of a tin coffin at its base with small amounts of foot bones (phalanges and metatarsals) mixed within the fill.


Overview of the broken headstones recovered from the grave shaft fill at the Bosley Cemetery.


Overview of broken monument stones recovered from the grave shaft fill at the Bosley Cemetery

We also continued to find large amounts of broken monument stones and the rectangular bases of monuments dumped into the grave shaft fill. We also found limestone rubble and blocks from the stone wall that once surrounded the cemetery. It appears the people who removed the graves in 1911 took the monument stones and the stone from the wall and used it as backfill for the nine graves.  This made excavations difficult at times and we had to use heavy machinery to lift out the larger pieces of stones from the grave shafts.

Now that the graves have been removed, the plan is to reinter them at Mt. Olivet Cemetery within a layout that closely matches the original layout of the Bosley Cemetery. The uncovered headstones will be restored and will remain on The Dominican Campus. The restored headstones will be incorporated into a historic display on campus and will highlight the history of the Bosley family.

Bringing Back a Special Place: The Rutherford County Archaeological Society’s Old City Cemetery Project

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 27

Laura Bartel, M.A.,
Adjunct Instructor of Anthropology, Motlow State Community College
President Rutherford County Archaeological Society

The Rutherford County Archaeological Society (RCAS), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit association based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee will be three years old this November. 0A4290FD-65BE-48D1-ACE0-33BD052CA103We are a diverse group of varying ages and backgrounds, bringing together local professional archaeologists and community members to share, explore, and experience prehistoric and historic archaeology of the county and beyond. We serve to inform the public about the value of archaeology and the importance of archaeological research. We work together to promote stewardship and preservation of our historic and prehistoric archaeological resources and the cultural heritage that we all share.

Our monthly meetings are open to the public and feature a guest speaker. We host a yearly Archaeology Activity Day with displays and hands-on activities. We also participate in other middle Tennessee archaeology and history-related events and educational outreach programs.

This past year we have expanded our presence and engaged community volunteers with two new projects: our Conservation, Restoration, and Development of Public Programs for Murfreesboro’s Old City Cemetery project, and our short term Civil War battlefield cultural resource management mapping and recovery mission, the Trust Point Hospital Expansion Archaeological Survey and Salvage Project. This blog covers our cemetery project. We will be sharing information about the TrustPoint project when we complete our analysis.

The Old City Cemetery Site
The 3.5-acre site known as Murfreesboro’s “Old City Cemetery” encompasses the buried archaeological remains of the 1820 Old First Presbyterian Church, the church’s original burying ground, and the city’s first public cemetery, added on in 1837. The church was partially excavated in 2003 by Dr. Kevin E. Smith and because of his research and efforts, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was Dr. Smith who suggested to me that we consider adopting the Old City Cemetery for a community project.


The front entrance to the Old City Cemetery site. The 40×60 church stood to the right of the entrance and faced the street. 

This special place and hallowed ground represents the early days of “Murfreesborough” and Tennessee. The church was the location of significant social and political events and later Civil War-related activities.  Murfreesboro served as the capital of Tennessee from 1818-1826. The TN legislature met at the church in 1822, as the log county courthouse had burned down. In attendance were James K. Polk, David “Davy” Crockett, Aaron Venable Brown, and several other notable Tennesseans.  At this meeting, Andrew Jackson was nominated for his first run for president in 1824. (He later won in 1828).  During the Civil War, the church served as a field hospital, storehouse, encampment, and perhaps a stable. The church was destroyed by Union soldiers and its remains are now one of the best preserved historic archaeological sites in Tennessee.

Degradation of the Cemetery
There are close to 300 standing gravestones in the church burying ground and cemetery. Many more are partially buried or completely underground. Founding families and early leaders of Murfreesboro, as well as soldiers, enslaved, and other local citizens are buried here.  Hundreds of soldiers from both Union and Confederate armies were buried here temporarily or permanently during the Civil War.  We do not know the location of many of these burials.

The city-owned cemetery is fenced and closed. The Parks and Recreation Department maintains the property by regular mowing of the grass, but the site is in dire need of attention.  Gravestones are deteriorating from lack of care, many are damaged, and broken stones and box tombs lie about the property. There are sunken areas throughout. In 2008, the Tennessee Preservation Trust named the cemetery as one of the state’s most endangered historic places, noting that the gravestones were suffering from “neglect and improper care.” This special place has been forgotten. Its historic significance is not being shared with the community, school children, or heritage tourists.


The stones have been neglected and some have been damaged by caustic solutions such as bleach, have fallen over, and are partially buried. Several broken box tombs lie about the cemetery.

Our Project in Brief
In March 2017, with approval and a use agreement from the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, we began our revitalization project. RCAS and other community volunteers are helping to bring back this special place. I direct the project, Matthew Whitten serves as our cemetery fieldwork crew chief and GPS/GIS coordinator, Dan Allen is our professional cemetery conservationist, who is donating his time and materials for repairs, and Peggy Paulson serves as our prime genealogy researcher.

We have many objectives and have begun with non-damaging gravestone cleaning, repair and conservation of the stones, and advising the city on grounds maintenance. We will be conducting a re-survey of the stones, monuments, and other features and map their location with a high-resolution GPS to create a GIS data file. We will digitize existing maps and records and new information. Our public interpretation objectives include staffing open days, providing presentations and tours, erecting signage, and creating a brochure and a map for self-guided tours.


(Left) Cleaning day at the Maney-Murfree family plot. We use the safe and effective biocide, D/2.  (Right) Dan Allen and Matt Whitten repairing and re-setting a broken obelisk.

Other important objectives are planned and include having geophysical research done to determine the location of buried gravestones, unmarked graves, and empty burial shafts. We also want to erect a visual representation of the Old First Presbyterian Church, ideally with a “ghost structure” which resembles a basic frame. An advantage of this type of representation is that the bottom area is open, allowing for any future excavations.


Erecting a ghost structure over the archaeological site of the Old First Presbyterian Church, like this example from Old Salem, North Carolina, would have tremendous benefits for public interpretation, education, and heritage tourism.

Although we have many plans for this site, our first and foremost goal is to rescue it from further degradation. We accept the responsibility of preserving and protecting this special place and to remember and honor those who are buried there.  By providing the community with a public history and archaeology hands-on experience, promoting stewardship and preservation of local sites, and by providing a place where history can be experienced, we hope to make a meaningful difference. With the dedicated efforts of the members of RCAS, community volunteers, and support from the public, this earliest piece of Murfreesboro – a forgotten treasure in our midst – will become a place of which the city, state, and country can be proud.