Former Hayti site is rich source of artifacts

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Former Hayti site is rich source of artifacts

March 10, 1994
By Pamela J. Cressey

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 This Rockingham ware teapot was unearthed in an archaeological investigation at 418 South Royal Street, once a free black home in the Hayti neighborhood.

By 1810, some free African American families had established independent homes along the 400 block of South Royal Street. Other newly freed families followed and helped create an antebellum neighborhood called "Hayti." 

Hayti (pronounced Hay-tie) is one of the oldest known urban African American neighborhoods in America and has offered the opportunity for extensive archaeological investigation. Several properties along the 400 block of South Royal Street have been excavated by the City archaeologists and volunteers with funding from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A brick basement was discovered under the soil and weeds of a vacant lot which was once 418 South Royal Street. Today a new townhouse sits on the property, but in the 18th century Joseph Coleman built his wood frame workshop in his backyard there. Coleman lived at 423 South Fairfax Street and operated his barrel making business at the rear of his property, which extended across the block to Royal Street. The building was turned into a rental property after Coleman moved his shop closer to the waterfront.

William Savoy was the first free black man to occupy the small building in 1823. Later Savoy married and moved to 412 South Royal with wife Mary, a grocer and Hayti resident until 1884. Other renters of the 418 South Royal Street included Fanny Campbell, Alexander Douglass, a ship carpenter and later trustee of the Davis Chapel (now Roberts Memorial). Over the years the three room house was occupied by single people and families numbering up to seven people.

The building was razed about 1882-83 and the basement filled in with dirt and thousands of artifacts. A Rockingham teapot of the "Rebecca in the Well" motif is one of the most complete items reconstructed from the basement artifacts. Rockingham is a glossy mottled brown ceramic ware made in America with plaster of Paris molds. The first Rockingham was made in Jersey City in 1830, but this teapot was probably made by Edwin Bennett in Baltimore (1846-1880). The ware was burned twice and glazed with manganese or iron salts and lead oxide to obtain a tortoiseshell lustre.

Rockingham teapots may have been prized possessions in free black homes. Fragments of Rockingham teapots often appear in African American sites in Alexandria. How many of them survived the years and are now preserved as heirlooms in the homes of Alexandrians today? Their stories are precious as well.

The Hayti history has been written by Ted McCord in Across the Fence But A World Apart available at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. Call 703.746.4399.