Reconstructing the History and Lifeways of Miller Grove, a Freed-Slave African-American Community
Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, 1999
by Elizabeth L. Fuller, FS Archaeologist
Study of the Miller Grove Community began two years ago with help from a grant from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Cooperative Program. Each year two students from Tennessee State University come for the summer to help us conduct historical and archaeological research on African-American sites on the forest. This was the first year the Shawnee NF has conducted a PIT project at the Miller Grove Community. A total of 19 volunteers ranging in age from 9 to 85 came to help. Many were from Illinois, but some came from as far as Maryland, Texas, and South Carolina. We had teachers, students, government employees, retirees, and an Underground Railroad researcher.
The excavations took place at the farmstead of William Riley Williams, a free-born African-American from Tennessee who moved to Illinois in 1851 because of Tennessee’s restrictive laws for blacks during that period. He bought land near other African-American farmers who had recently arrived from Tennessee, and a community was formed. During the excavation in and around the remains of the home, we found buttons, hand-painted and sponge-decorated ceramics, glass, doll parts, a shoe sole, tableware, table scraps, wagon parts, and lots and lots of nails. We uncovered the fireplace and what we believe was a “hidey hole,” a place where the residents would have kept their most precious items.
As part of the program, we provided evening lectures by professor of Black American Studies Dr. Nancy Dawson from Southern Illinois University. She spoke about the cultural continuity that has carried over from Africa to America.