Archaeologists working on the Slave Wrecks Project, a long-term collaboration between the National Park Service and six other entities, presented Thursday at the University of the Virgin Islands summaries and results of three years of work at sites on St. Croix.
Among those sites are Christiansted National Historic Site, Buck Island Reef National Monument and Estate Little Princess. Collaborators with the NPS include Caribbean Centers for Boys and Girls Virgin Islands, Junior Scientists in the Sea, the Nature Conservancy, Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism, Diving with a Purpose and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The purpose of the Slave Wrecks Project is to build local capacity in the field of heritage and cultural resource management and to provide experience and training in heritage resource protection for future generations, said Meredith Hardy of the National Park Service
The project introduces UVI student interns to archeological science and cultural resource management, and they are given first-hand experience in NPS cultural resource research, protection and preservation.
The project’s mission is to combine research, training, capacity building, and education to create new scholarship and knowledge about the global slave trade, particularly through the lens of slave ship wrecks, and now archeology on land.
The shallow waters at Buck Island were surveyed for two years. During those surveys artifacts found included anchors from the 1830s and 1840s .
There are 37 recorded shipwrecks dating from 1523 to 1917 in Christiansted Harbor according to research provided by historian George Tyson. There are a total of nine recorded wrecks from the same period in the waters off of Buck Island.
According to Hardy two of the wrecks that carried enslaved persons are the English vessels the Mary (1797) and the General Abercrombie (1803), both now found in the waters off Buck Island. The Mary traveled from the Cameroon carrying 266 enslaved people, of whom 244 survived the journey. The General Abercrombie traveled from St. Helena Island with 377 enslaved people, with 339 surviving the journey.
During their involvement in the Slave Wrecks Project, students are trained as scientific divers. They are given one week terrestrial training and one week maritime training, available to anyone interested.
On Thursday, Justin Dunnavant, Alicia Odewala, Ayana Flewellen and William White discussed the project’s land-based archaeology at Estate Little Princess. Their 2016 field investigations provided training and hands-on archaeological experience for 12 students from the Boys and Girls Club.
During the opening ceremony, Dr. Chenzira Kahina blessed the archaeological site, saying it is important everyone involved understand why it is sacred. Students were given extensive training on mapping, measuring, and meticulous handling, sorting and washing artifacts and knowing the importance of marking where they came from.
Black women’s clothing and adornment are of specific interest to Flewellen. Buttons, buckles and other artifacts give insight into what life was like for the people who lived on the estate and did the work everyday, she said.
At the Society for Historical Archaeology’s 2018 annual meeting the Estate Little Princess Field School was awarded first place in the GMAC Diversity Field School Award given by the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee.
The student success rate from pre-evaluation to post-evaluation showed a 100 percent overall success. Participants liked digging and diving, and found it to be fun according to the survey results. Some also said they felt they could use diving in their own lives outside of the research. They also said participating in the project gave them insight into their own lives and to those of their ancestors.
During Thursday’s presentation the audience was encouraged to become involved, to partner and to ask or communicate their own oral history.
“This is the best experience of my entire life,” said UVI student intern Tiara DeCosta. “In school, I learn American History. I learn about everyone’s history but my own. Now I am learning so much about my own ancestors. It all comes from historical purposes, from accurate facts.”