A Dig at an Eastern Shore Plantation Could Help Local Blacks See Their Past





Mary Tilghman watches from her window as archaeologists sift the earth of Wye House Farm, her Eastern Shore property. Buttons and an iron ring, pig bones and a broken spoon: Over three centuries, her family helped the growth of a new American economy and, on this plantation, built an empire on the backs of slaves.

This is where the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived for a couple of years, as a child slave of about 7. The work confirms his descriptions of the physical place to a fault, animating the landscape with his words: "Though crimes, high-handed and atrocious, may there be committed . . . it is, nevertheless . . . a most strikingly interesting place, full of life."

Tilghman welcomed this search of her land and family records. Now 87, the 11th-generation heir to Wye House has "always been interested in the history of this place," she said. But until now, the stories of hundreds of people who lived steps from her front door have lain under a carpet of emerald turf, their names stowed in boxes of family ledgers, with notes gauging their fitness for work.



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