We at the Louis Berger Group are very excited to begin work on our alternative mitigation of the Dale Site and the archaeology of African Americans in St. Georges Hundred. The Dale Site, 7NC-F-134, first appeared to archaeologists as so many sites do, as a scatter of artifacts on the surface of a plowed field. Walking the field and picking up potsherds and pieces of glass, using a GPS device to record where each artifact came from, the archaeologists mapped out what looked like three separate house sites in a single small field. The artifacts dated to the 1800s. The site is near Armstrong Corners, a few miles north of Middletown.
A little research showed that this field was part of a 20-acre property purchased in 1854 by Samuel Dale, an African-American farmer. Dale may have already been residing on the site for some years, since he is listed as a farmer in the neighborhood census for 1850. This Samuel Dale seems to be the same person as Reverend Samuel Dale, minister of Trinity AME Church in Middletown. Samuel Dale died some time before 1882. His property was divided among Samuel Dale, Jr., William Dale, and Temperance Shockley, who were mostly likely his children. This was a striking discovery, since the archaeological site seemed to contain three separate houses; one for each child? Samuel Dale, Jr. died in 1882, and his share of the property was divided between William Dale and Temperance Shockley. This deed was recorded at the county courthouse, unlike most of the others concerning the property, and it is only from this one record that we know about Dale’s death and the division of his farm. In 1915, the Dales sold land to the Armstrong family and moved on. Archaeologists went back to the site in the spring of 2012 to do more testing. They found hundreds of artifacts dating to between 1800 and 1910, divided as before into three separate concentrations. One of the three had many fewer artifacts than the others, but bricks and nails showed that buildings stood in all three spots. No foundations or cellar holes were found, so the buildings probably stood on brick piers. One well was discovered, but it was mostly filled with sterile sand. Because of its connection to the Dale family and the African American history of Armstrong Corners, the Dale Site was considered to be significant. However, the archaeology did not seem very exciting. The artifacts found on the site were all broken into small pieces, and no foundations or artifact-filled pits had turned up. So it was decided to explore the site in a different way, by investigating the history and archaeology of African Americans in St. Georges Hundred. Over the next six months, Berger archaeologists, along with faculty and students from Delaware State University, will be combing through the archives to write a history of African American communities from Middletown to the Canal and assembling all that is known about their archaeology. Because this is an archaeological project, it will focus on the material side of life – houses, farms, food, furniture, dishes, and so on. The goal will be to produce a document called a “historic context,” which will be used to help understand and evaluate any future sites in the region where African Americans lived. It is a fascinating project, and we can’t wait to get started.