I grew up on the campus of Hampden-Sydney College in Southside Virginia—an institution and landscape overflowing with unique and fascinating history. Some of my favorite memories involve walking my dog past neighbors’ homes, around the school’s academic buildings, and through the woodsy trails on campus. Over ten years ago now, for what would be the first of many times, I wandered onto one of those trails that led toward the college’s observatory and looped back to the woods behind my house. As a child who had always loved exploring and was set on becoming an archaeologist, I was elated to come across several run-down cabins, outhouses, and chicken coops, partially hidden by the trees and abundant in artifact scatters. Not knowing the proper excavation process of site mapping and artifact documentation, I immediately began scooping up old medicine bottles, broken ceramic pieces, and metal scraps. For years, I explored those woods with my parents and friends, ultimately coming across more cabins hidden deeper in the woods, a small cemetery with only two markers, and even a small barn. I spent those years wondering about those who had lived there—Who were they? Did they work at the college? Were they enslaved? Did they have families? I asked around campus, but few people had even noticed the cabins, much less knew who had lived there. It always struck me as unfair that the people who had clearly made their lives in those woods were simply forgotten, especially given the fact that Hampden-Sydney today is a tightly knit community that, in general, embraces and preserves its history. Those cabins and that cemetery are the physical remnants of real people, real lives, and real work.
As a sophomore archaeology major at Sweet Briar College, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Beneath This Hill” class/field school at Hampden-Sydney. I worked with my professor, Dr. Charles Pearson, and my classmates to excavate parts of Slate Hill Plantation, where Hampden-Sydney was founded. While Dr. Pearson has surveyed the land several times, he and his students have never been successful in finding slave cabins or a slave cemetery. However, the plantation owner’s will proves that he was, indeed, a slave owner.
My curiosity about those people who lived near the observatory and about the enslaved working at Slate Hill inspired the research for my master’s thesis, which led to this website and will eventually culminate in a museum exhibition and walking tour of campus. This project is my attempt to share their stories, as well as the stories of others long forgotten on campus, and to recognize them for their contributions to Hampden-Sydney.
Look around, explore, and thank you for visiting! [Follow us on Facebook]
–Elizabeth Baker, Project Researcher at Hampden-Sydney; MA in history and museum studies; BA in archaeology, anthropology, and arts management; H-SC kid at heart. Go Tigers!
A Tiger cheerleader for Halloween, age 2.
Cheering at an H-SC football game, age 4.
2012 H-SC football game with friends.