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Archeologists Discover Slave Barracks Owned by Francis Scott Key’s Grandmother

When a 30-month excavation project started digging around Rockbridge Academy in Maryland, archaeologists were hoping to find the camp Compte de Rochambeau erected on his way to Yorktown during the Revolutionary War. Instead, they found slave barracks that shed new light on African-American History.

The slave barracks are the largest ever found in Anne Arundel County, about 34 by 34 feet and structured almost like a dormitory. They’re unusual for slave quarters, many of which were about 20 by 16 foot sheds with a minimal amount of room.

Due to the size of the structure’s foundation, researchers suspect the barracks may have even had two stories. Items found inside included a button from a 19th-century navy uniform, a 19th-century ring, shards of pottery, glass and wine bottles and a stirrup.

A Transportation Enhancement Program grant funded the $300,000 excavation project to more fully understand the history of Crownsville and Annapolis so that the State Highway Administration will be able to make informed decisions about highway planning and development.

The project kicked off with a pre-investigation in April, with archeologists using metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar to scope out the area. Archaeologists around the world use GPR as a non-invasive way to investigate sites and highlight potential points of interest.

Rockbridge Acadamy stands on ground that was once Scott’s Plantation, or Belvoir, where Francis Scott Key’s grandmother once lived. Key, the lyricist of the “Star-Spangled Banner” visited Belvoir in the summer of 1798. Other famous residents included Ann Arnold Ross Key and John Ross.

But the current focus is on the barracks slaves whose history has been buried until now. Researchers were not previously aware of barracks of this nature in Anne Arundel. In fact, almost nothing was known about the 20-35 slaves that were most likely owned by the Scott family. The new discovery contributes to an understanding of what life would have been like for African-Americans in the era of Belvoir.

Archeologists are thrilled by the finding, which they consider to be even more historically significant than the Rochambeau encampment they were initially searching for.

The project will investigate six other sites in the area before it concludes, including Bunker Hill, Rising Sun Inn, Brooksby’s Point, Baldwin Crossing, Iglehart and the former Crownsville Hospital Center.

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