Being Present to Explore the Past

Standing on the smooth stones of Ballycastle beach in Co. Antrim. The sea spray makes the colors incredibly vivid. (Photo by the author)

Standing on the smooth stones of Ballycastle beach in Co. Antrim. The sea spray makes the colors incredibly vivid. (Photo by the author)

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English Archives and the Allen Family of Bacon’s Castle: Seeking Answers, Finding Questions

This July, with generous funding from a Charles Center Summer Research Grant and additional support from other William & Mary sources,[1] I traveled to the United Kingdom to undertake archival and field research toward my doctoral dissertation project. The primary subject of my work is a site in Surry County, Virginia, which includes Bacon’s Castle, best known as the oldest surviving brick dwelling in [English] North America, and the plantation household associated with it. While I am interested in the entirety of the site’s life-history, including its “afterlife” as a historic landmark and museum, my current focus is on the relatively elusive seventeenth-century phase, marked by early English settlement including construction of the brick house and formal garden attributed to the Allen family. [2]  I hope to both shed light on the identities and lived experiences of the diverse people who built and inhabited the site—including indentured and enslaved members of the extended household alongside the plantation owners—and to connect them to wider local, colonial, and transatlantic contexts. As a historical archaeologist, I take a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the past, drawing on theories and methods from anthropological archaeology, history, and other fields, and considering artifacts alongside documents, as well as other sources like architecture, works of art, and environmental evidence.

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