Archaeology dig unearths bits of Oxford’s slave history

Posted on Oct 17 2016 - 8:01am by Mia Sims
Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner.

Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner.

Dozens of people filled the grounds of William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak on Saturday to investigate how slaves lived when Oxford was first settled.

An archeology class teamed with the university’s Slavery Research Group to look into the association between the founding of the university and slavery.

Tony Boudreaux, associate professor of anthropology and director of the center for archaeological research is co-teaching the archaeology course with Maurine Meyers.

“The course is aimed at giving students the experience of interpreting archaeology to the public and also experience with real world job applications of some of the knowledge we’re learning in the classroom,” Boudreaux said.  “We really want them to be prepared when they go into the job market to be able to encounter some of the tasks they associate with archaeology.  So, we’ve designed the course to be in the classroom once a week, and then to be out here once a week.”

Archaeology student Riley Anderson said there were originally at least nine slaves living on the Rowan Oak property. 

“The person who owned this property before Faulkner was Robert Sheegog, who lived about an hour away,” Anderson said. “He had about 70 slaves there, but, on this property specifically, he kept nine slaves; men, women and children.  We’re not sure if there were more.”

Anderson said the slaves lived in two structures on the Rowan Oak property.  Sheegog leased the slaves he owned to the university to build on campus.

“We’re out here looking for remnants of the structures they lived in, and those lives in general so we can make a connection between the university’s foundation and who helped build it,” Anderson said.  “That’s not a script that gets talked about often.  We usually only discuss those responsible for the establishment of those buildings, not the people who actually built it.”

“We’re trying to put students out into the field, and also accomplish the research goals of the research group,” Boudreaux said.

As the public looked on, the class surveyed the plot the ground at Rowan Oak to help them determine where to begin looking.

“We’ve found some artifacts, but it’s harder to put them in a bigger context right now until we excavate a little more,” Boudreaux said.

The class uncovered a number of nails, which would have been in buildings or fence posts, as well as some pottery shards, broken dishes and broken glass.


Dalton Capps, an anthropology graduate student, said the research done on the property will eventually be submitted to the historic preservation office, a faction of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

“Faulkner’s house already has a site file in the historic preservation office and we are going to be extending the file to include the Sheegog plantation era,” Capps said.

The class will be submitting a cultural research management report to the state historic preservation office. Students will also present their findings to university administration in the future, Capps said.

Capps said he believes recognizing the history of slavery on college campuses is an issue on more than just the Ole Miss campus.

“I personally believe it’s a subject that goes under-appreciated and also under-represented as far as what we learn about the university, or things that we hear about on campus,” Capps said. “A lot of universities do a great job of representing the history of themselves, but tend to gloss over the issue of slavery.”