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Historical Archaeology

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 19–37 | Cite as

Clay Faces in an Abolitionist Church: The Wesleyan Methodist Church in Syracuse, New York

  • Douglas V. Armstrong
  • LouAnn Wurst
Article

Abstract

For many years, a group of sculpted clay faces, in desperate and immediate need of conservation, tenuously clung to the walls of the dug-out space called a “tunnel” beneath the former Wesleyan Methodist Church, the home of a noted abolitionist and social-reform oriented congregation in downtown Syracuse, New York. Archaeological and historical research indicates a 19th-century origin for the faces. The church openly participated in abolition and the Underground Railroad, and housed a national abolitionist press. However, even in a pro-emancipation community such as Syracuse, the dangers for refugees fleeing bondage were real, and the consequences of capture were life threatening. This was particularly true after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. This study presents evidence that the clay faces may have been created by African American refugees from slavery. Moreover, it describes a community’s efforts to conserve and protect this resource.

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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas V. Armstrong
    • 1
  • LouAnn Wurst
    • 2
  1. 1.Anthropology DepartmentSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologySUNY College at BrockportNew YorkUSA

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