Bringing archaeology to life through public interpretation at Montgomery Parks

Henson portrait line drawing

Josiah Henson

This week, volunteers and staff of Montgomery Parks Archaeology Program worked through the latest blistering heat wave in Maryland to continue excavations at the Josiah Henson site and progress towards the eventual goal of our work here – public interpretation of the past through a museum dedicated to the life of Henson and to slavery in the county. Henson led a remarkable life; he lived on this plantation for more than two decades, eventually escaping to Canada to start a new, free existence. After publishing his slave narrative, Henson became a role model for Harriett Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom” character in her best-selling novel. To say this one slave’s experience had an influence on the arc of history in the United States during the mid-19th century would be no exaggeration! Montgomery Parks has committed to making that story as widely accessible as possible – many people have heard of Uncle Tom’s Cabin but many fewer have heard of Josiah Henson.

tooth and WW

Recent artifacts



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Volunteer Fran sharing the latest finds with a school group

Other than continuing our excavations on the plantation where Henson was enslaved – we continue to find the typical trash and features of a 19th century farm – this week we also welcomed an independent filmmaker on a mission to create a documentary of this largely unknown man’s life. The filming team, comprised of two Canadian gentlemen, are following Henson’s travels around the country and we were happy to have them visit us and share our findings as well as the place where Henson experienced life as a slave.

Paul profiling

Volunteer Paul profiling a finished unit

This week also marks the start of next stage in the design process for the Josiah Henson Museum – both for the outside landscape design and the indoor exhibit spaces. This upcoming year will see designs finalized and I expect it to be a fantastic and exciting way to bring so much of what we’ve learned to the public. As archaeologists, we love to find the bits of the past that survive in the ground, but making them meaningful to non-archaeologists is how we can share our particular focus on reconstructing that past. It makes the past alive again and that is what public interpretation is all about!

henson portal

Preliminary design plans for some of the museum exhibits