2004-2006 Archaeological Investigations at the Rufus King Manor
Center for Public Archaeology
Christopher N. Matthews, Ph.D.
Three seasons of archaeological excavation and analysis at the Rufus King Manor site were completed by Hofstra University between 2004 and 2006. This fieldwork was designed and directed by Dr. Christopher N. Matthews, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Executive Director of the Center for Public Archaeology. Field and laboratory research was supported by Hofstra University faculty and students as well as community volunteers.
Research was guided by an interest in documenting changing patterns in labor practices and landscape at the site in the period between 1760 and 1900. A main focus was transformations after the end of slavery in New York State, which are reflected at King Manor in a transfer of ownership from the slave-owning Colgan-Smith family to the anti-slavery King family in 1805. The namesake of the site, Rufus King, was a well-known American political figure, serving as a US Senator and Minister to England before and during his ownership of King Manor. He was also famous for his anti-slavery stance, especially during the Missouri Crisis in 1819.
Archaeological fieldwork consisted of shovel test surveys in areas not previously investigated and unit excavations in areas known or predicted to be productive of historic deposits based on previous research. Three areas were intensively investigated, and a total of 21,820 artifacts were collected. Eleven units were excavated in the East Kitchen Yard. This work showed the area to be used for routine household support labor in the 18th century but not used at all after around 1800. This finding parallels the dates of slavery at the site, and the deposits in this area are connected to the period of enslavement. Recovered artifacts have revealed patterns associated with African Americans, who are believed to have directly deposited at least some of the materials recovered in this area. Specifically, evidence of the use of hidden spaces for social and perhaps ritual purposes is proposed.
Nine excavation units were excavated in the northwest yard where previously research identified the site of the privy. Remains of the privy shaft and its surrounding landscape and superstructure were defined. The privy shaft was constructed of dry laid natural stone, presumably the work of enslaved laborers as the Kings noted the property had a privy in place at the time of their purchase. The contents of the privy consisted of early 20th century materials. These included an impressive set of bottles, ceramic vessels, leather shoes, animal bones and other household refuse. The presence of burned materials and charcoal-laden layers, indicate these materials were introduced after an early 1960s fire in the manor house. A small section excavated below these deposits indicates that earlier material may be found at deeper levels. The use of mechanical excavation equipment will be required to provide safe access to these layers.
Four excavation units were partially excavated against the north wall of the north kitchen in the location of a bread oven and work area. As these excavations are in progress, summaries are not yet completed.
Archaeological research at King Manor has recovered significant deposits associated with occupation of the site in the 18th, 19th,and 20th centuries. These excavations show the transformation of the from an early slave-based plantation to an early American farm to a rural estate and then into a modern historic museum. Findings associated with these transformations are discussed in the fuller report available at the museum.