The Ransom and Sarah Williams Farmstead: Investigating the Late Nineteenth-Century African American Experience in Central Texas
In the summer of 2009, Prewitt and Associates archeologists conducted extensive data recovery excavations at the Ransom and Sarah Williams Farmstead (41TV1051) in southern Travis County for the Texas Department of Transportation. The site, which will ultimately be impacted by the construction of State Highway 45, was occupied by an African American family—Ransom, his wife Sarah, and several children—from 1871 to about 1905. The archeological features and material culture associated with their tenure on the land are quite impressive, and history of this place and the people who lived there is strengthened by extensive archival and oral history research.
The project is a collaborative effort organized as a community-based historic archeological study. It has four integrated aspects:
Extensive archival research was conducted by Austin historian Terri Myers (Preservation Central, Inc.). One focus of the research has been on defining the history of Ransom and Sarah Williams, both ex-slaves, and their children throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Another focus has been to define the history of Antioch Colony, a freedmen community located in northern Hays County about 4 miles from the farmstead site. While the Williams family lived within a white-dominated rural community called Bear Creek, we know that they also maintained ties with, and had relatives living in, Antioch Colony.
A landscape archeology approach was used to examine the archeological features in relation to the geography, geology, topography, soils, and hydrology. The most prominent features are a complex series of rock walls and a pond constructed by Williams to maximize the usefulness of his 45-acre property for livestock raising and farming.
Archeological hand excavations focused on one area that included the main house (probably a log cabin or board-and-batten structure with a rock chimney), adjacent trash middens, and probable outbuildings. The fieldwork was directed by Prewitt and Associates staff archeologists but also included several young archeologists—African American, Hispanic, and Anglo—who are interested in African American archeology and history. The investigations recovered over 25,000 artifacts dating to the occupation period. It is an amazing artifact assemblage that will help illuminate the lives of the Williams family. (for more information, please see pages 8-15 in the April 2011 issue of Current Archeology in Texas)
The project involved community-based outreach and included oral history interviews with African Americans, many of whom are descended from the freedmen who settled at Antioch Colony in Hays County. These efforts were directed by Dr. Maria Franklin (Department of Anthropology and the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, University of Texas at Austin). Over 46 hours of oral history interviews have been taped and transcribed, and many historical photographs and documents have been copied for permanent archiving. The overall goals of the outreach and oral history are to better define the African American experience in central Texas and make this history relevant to people today. (for more information, please see this article by Dr. Maria Franklin)
As of July 2012, the data analysis and reporting are still in progress. The work promises to yield new insights into the lives of former slaves and how they adapted to the post-emancipation social realities in a white-dominated world. The community outreach has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the entire project. The Williams site was featured in the "Juneteenth Jamboree 2010" television program produced by KLRU, the public television station serving the central Texas area. The hour-long program aired on Thursday, June 17, 2010, and featured about 30 minutes on the archeology, history, and oral history of the Williams Farmstead and the nearby freedmen community called Antioch Colony. The program can be viewed online at the KRLU website: http://www.klru.org/juneteenth/video/2010/ransom-williams-crossed-state-highway-45-southwest/
Mr. LeeDell Bunton, a descendant of the Antioch Colony Buntons and a relative of Ransom Williams, holds an artifact found at the site. It is a letter "R" broken off of a branding iron. On April 4, 1872, Ransom Williams registered the letters "RA" with the Travis County Brand Registry, and the entry had a notation that this was his "horse brand."
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