Features, Visitors, and Chamberpots: Montgomery County Archaeology at the Josiah Henson Site


This week Montgomery County Archaeology Program is working at the Josiah Henson site in North Bethesda, MD. This site is where Josiah Henson was enslaved in the first decades of the 19th century. After escaping to Canada and publishing a narrative of his life, Henson went on to become a celebrity and role model for the fictional character Tom in Harriett Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

As most archaeologists know there is never enough funding to complete the work we need to do. We are incredibly fortunate in MoCo to have wonderful volunteers who work with us in the field and lab, to give tours of the house and site, and to just all around enjoy archaeology.

We are focused on excavating several features in two areas behind the main house – one in the supposed location of the 19th century meathouse, and the other in an area where an unidentified 19th century structure once stood. One feature – a lovely posthole – is being bisected, and several pieces of a chamberpot are revealed in the fill. Someone clearly threw the ceramics into the backdirt when setting this post, leaving them for us to find.

in situ ceramics F49b

chamberpot F49b

As we are a public archaeology site, we often have walk-up visitors. This week was no different, with several groups – parents and kids, couples – coming on site and wanting to know what exactly are we doing. I show them the site, the house, and tell them the story of Henson and how we are looking for the traces of his life and that of the other enslaved who were here.  Most visitors are surprised that this resource is in their backyard. And that’s why we do public archaeology!