Ancestors of Worthy Life
Plantation Slavery and Black Heritage at Mount Clare
Teresa S. MoyerForeword by Paul A. Shackel
- Series: Cultural Heritage Studies
Recognizing the lives of the enslaved at the historic site of Mount Clare
“Teresa Moyer’s book serves as an important bridge between the work of history, archaeology and modern activism: it gives a structure of how to begin to change the telling of the past.”—Anthropology Book Forum
“Moyer’s case study of the historic house museum of Mount Clare plantation is a boldly put, compelling call to action that embeds in its traditional site interpretation a more fully developed narrative of its black enslaved occupants. Her premise is that access to black heritage within the context of plantation life and its aftermath is a social right.”—Journal of American History
“In addition to being a well-defined case study, this volume has wide implications for the field of public history. Moyer does a fine job situating the history of Mount Clare within larger historical contexts, and, most importantly, shining a light on the social justice imperative of sharing more inclusive historical narratives.”—Public Historian
“This valuable book joins . . . other works calling for a more inclusive and just tackling of race at American historic sites.”—Journal of Southern History
“In this well researched and pointedly critical book, Teresa S. Moyer has brought into view a failure that affects many museums, particularly those of the Southern United States, but also anywhere that slavery was part of America’s economic base.”—Museum Anthropology Review
“A moving and meticulous black history at Mount Clare, and a thorough and convincing analysis of the role of power in the production of history.”—American Anthropologist
"A tour de force. Moyer goes beyond critique to give us a richly contextualized study, demonstrating that inclusive interpretation of plantation and other historic house museum sites can be done and that the failure to do so is a political act rooted in systemic racism."—David T. Palmer, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
"An uncommonly detailed, frank, and balanced discussion of racialized practice at a historic site museum."—Kirsti Uunila, historic preservation planner, Calvert County, Maryland
Enslaved African Americans helped transform the United States economy, culture, and history. Yet these individuals' identities, activities, and sometimes their very existence are often all but expunged from historically preserved plantations and house museums. Reluctant to show and interpret the homes and lives of the enslaved, many sites have never shared the stories of the African Americans who once lived and worked on their land. One such site is Mount Clare near Baltimore, Maryland, where Teresa Moyer pulls no punches in her critique of racism in historic preservation.
In her balanced discussion, Moyer examines the inextricably entangled lives of the enslaved, free Black people, and white landowners. Her work draws on evidence from archaeology, history, geology, and other fields to explore the ways that white privilege continues to obscure the contributions of Black people at Mount Clare. She demonstrates that a landscape's post-emancipation history can make a powerful statement about Black heritage. Ultimately she argues that the inclusion of enslaved persons in the history of these sites would honor these "ancestors of worthy life," make the social good of public history available to African Americans, and address systemic racism in America.
Teresa S. Moyer is an archaeologist with the National Park Service and coauthor of The Making of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park: A Devil, Two Rivers, and a Dream.
Publication of the paperback edition made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- Sample Chapter(s):
- Table of Contents
Through careful study of historical records and evidence from archaeological records, Moyer identifies some important areas where black enslaved laborers played significant roles. . . .[and] she points out the ways in which the experiences and contributions of the Carroll family slaves were deleted from the conversations with tourists about the Carrolls.
In this well researched and pointedly critical book, Teresa S. Moyer has brought into view a failure that affects many museums, particularly those of the Southern United States, but also anywhere that slavery was part of America’s economic base.
--Museum Anthropology Review
Teresa Moyer’s book serves as an important bridge between the work of history, archaeology and modern activism: it gives a structure of how to begin to change the telling of the past.
--Anthropology Book Forum
Moyer has written a compelling book that accomplishes her goal of shining light on the history of the enslaved and free people of Mount Clare.
--Journal of Anthropological Research
This valuable book joins . . . other works calling for a more inclusive and just tackling of race at American historic sites.
--Journal of Southern History
Show[s] how much information a historical archaeologist can supply about the lives of enslaved.
--Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute