Wednesday, April 22, 2015

University of Maryland’s Anthropology Department Explores Irish Immigration in Baltimore, Looks Forward to Sharing on Maryland Day

Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephen Brighton
Archeologists from the University of Maryland unearthed a unique history of Irish immigrants in Baltimore from the nineteenth century in a series of field studies, called the Baltimore Archaeology Project. The Anthropology Department at the University is planning on sharing their findings in an exhibit at Maryland Day on April 25, 2015.

Early Irish immigrants to Baltimore were responsible for limestone that can still be found in buildings and monuments today.

The project took place in an abandoned village named Texas, in modern-day Baltimore C
ounty, about twelve miles north of Baltimore City. The archeology team from the University of Maryland worked on the site for three summers, exploring a quarry in the town.

University of Maryland anthropologist, Dr. Stephen Brighton, who became involved with the project through a descendent of the Texas village, runs the Baltimore Archeology Project. Texas was predominately a limestone-harvesting town; the limestone was used across Maryland and Washington, D.C.

As Dr. Brighton explains, the
bottom of the Washington
Monument has limestone from
Texas, MD, creating a color

The Irish laborers at the time were also predominately responsible for the construction of the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad in the nineteenth century.

Although the Irish laborers in Texas played a huge part in building the infrastructure of much of Maryland as well as supplying the Washington Monument and U.S. Captiol, Brighton says their voices are lost in history. The anthropologist even says he became interested in Texas simply because no one else was.

The excavation site in Texas, Maryland, is the first to explore the culture of Baltimore’s early Irish laborers.

According to periodicals from the time, Irish immigrants were pretty unwelcome when they migrated to the United States, and were met with much racial prejudice. There were many negative stereotypes associated with any kind of immigrant at the time, but the Irish were considered uncivilized, unskilled, and impoverished. They were forced to work the most undesirable jobs and live in the most undesirable places.

Although Brighton shares tales of finding Baltimore-sized rats during his excavation project, many of the artifacts recovered from the site show a unique side of the lives of the unskilled, poor immigrant laborers of the time.   

Artifacts from Texas, MD, including
ceramic pieces, a marble, a doll's head,
and a lice comb.
Some of the artifacts include:      
  • Ceramics (including pieces of bowls, teacups, serving pieces) 
  • Buttons
  • Religious items & medals
  • Doll parts
  • Dominoes
  • Marbles
  • Writing slates & pencils
  • Lice combs
  • Smoking pipes

      These artifacts, although seemingly useless, told the archeologists in Baltimore much about the private and community lives of the Irish immigrants.

      Brighton concludes that the items combat some of the stereotypes and proved that the Irish laborers of Texas did have a material culture. The ceramics and buttons show that the immigrants were more civilized than thought prior. The lice comb also proves there was a sense of hygiene in Texas.

      The uncovered artifacts also told the archeologist much about the life of Irish immigrant children during the nineteenth century. The time was pre-child labor laws, and children were largely expected to work, but the artifacts, like marbles and dolls, show that the Irish immigrants preserved at least some sense of childhood. Uniquely, there was a school in the Irish quarry, so young children were not expected to work until later, but instead learn.
     “The idea that we take for granted and don’t necessarily think about is a child in this environment having any kind of leisure time,” Brighton comments. 

The archeologist discusses his most interesting find from Texas.

Irish immigrants had a large impact on Maryland history, and the University of Maryland Archeology Department will share that history at Maryland Day.

Brighton explains that archeology provides the descendants of Texas with a medium to explore the culture of their ancestry as well as connect as a community. He says actually doing the archeology creates the attention necessary to join those descendants from across the country. 

One of the main philosophies of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland is continuing field work by collaborating with communities, and as a flagship University, it is incredibly important to see that field work positively affect the people of the state.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephen Brighton
The Baltimore Archeology Project will be featured at the Anthropology Department's tent at Maryland Day to share the huge impact that the Irish immigrants from Texas had on Maryland history. Brighton says the limestone from the Irish laborers can be found all over the state:

  • Every limestone stair in"quintessential" Baltimore row homes 
  • Porticos in Maryland State House and Capital Building 
  • Washington Monument in Baltimore 
  • Marble and limestone buildings at the University of Maryland 
At Maryland Day, visitors can look at the Baltimore Archeology Project's exhibit, which will show artifacts from Texas, Maryland. Archeologists from the department will also be there to answer questions and share a mock excavation site.