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Archaeology and the Silver Screen

Nineteenth century frame house that would have stood in back of the main house at Maplewood.The movie and book Beloved, about a runaway slave who killed her infant daughter to save her from growing up in slavery, have a Kentucky connection.  They were based partially on events in the life of Margaret Garner, who grew up and worked as a slave at Maplewood, a farm in Boone County.

On January 27, 1856, Garner and her family escaped from Maplewood and crossed the frozen Ohio River to freedom.  It was a short-lived freedom, though, for their owners captured the family in Cincinnati the next day.  Garner's owner eventually sold her, and she died in Mississippi of typhoid fever in 1858.  The full story of Margaret Garner's life is told in a recent book, Modern Medea, by University of Kentucky English professor Steven Weisenburger.

Bone button and mid-19th century ceramic fragments.For two weeks in November 1998, KAS carried out archaeological research at Maplewood, in hopes of finding the building(s) in which Margaret Garner lived and worked.  Research activities focused on a standing, 19th-century frame building.  Local tradition identified it as the kitchen for the main house and the place Garner would have worked.

KAS archaeologists uncovered the remains of the main house, which burned in 1850.  They also found a stone foundation or hearth from an earlier house or detached kitchen, and mid-19th century domestic trash deposits (cut nails, an 1842 penny, porcelain and other ceramics).  But was this Garner's house and trash?  Only more excavation and analysis will be able to answer that question.

Foundation or hearth from an earlier structure or outbuilding (slave cabin?).Many individuals and institutions worked with KAS and the Kentucky Heritage Council on the Maplewood Project.  They included the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission; Anne Butler and the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans at Kentucky State University; the Boone County Office of Historic Preservation; Jeannine Krinebrink; college students from Kentucky State University and Georgetown College; and volunteers from as far away as California.


Last Updated 5/19/2008