Friday, December 4, 2015

Archaeologist Uncovers the Life of a Free-Black Philadelphian

Location of the home of James Oronko Dexter
I came across this great story today at  It is a story of archaeological research, historical detective work, and good old-fashioned perseverance.

Here is a taste:

In 2003, the National Constitution Center and Independence National Historical Park undertook the archaeological excavation of an obscure homesite just east of the center, then under construction.

t was the spot where, in the late 18th century, James Oronoko Dexter rented a modest brick house at 134 N. Fifth St., and where, with the house long demolished, a bus depot for the center was planned.
The excavation, undertaken at the urging of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church and the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, produced a wealth of artifacts. But Dexter, a prominent member of the nascent free-black community of that time, remained elusive. Like the vast majority of Americans, he simply vanished into the past.
Now, Douglas Mooney, an archaeologist involved with numerous excavations on Independence Mall, has found an obituary for Dexter that establishes his date of death, and raises numerous questions about who he was. .
According to an Aug. 14, 1799, issue of the Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, Dexter died Aug. 8 of that year at the age of 70.
For reasons that remain obscure, he is identified in the obituary as "Noka Kinsey." The obituary offers no hint about where "Kinsey" came from, though "Noka" clearly alludes to Dexter's enslaved name, Oronoko. But there is no question that the subject is Dexter.
Read the rest here.
HT: George Boudreau via Facebook