Benjamin Banneker, an African American who will be profiled in the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries, became famous in the 1790s as a scientist and writer. For most of his life, though, his intellectual gifts were known only to a small circle of family and friends. A free man since birth, during the American Revolution Banneker was a small farmer living near Baltimore, Maryland. He was over 40 when the Revolution began and, like most middle-aged men, did not fight in the war.
In the 1980s a team of archaeologists from the Maryland Historical Trust led by Robert J. Hurry conducted excavations at the Banneker Farm. This farm site is preserved now as part of the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, run by the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks. Archaeological excavations at the farm uncovered many artifacts dating to Banneker’s time there.
In order to illustrate Benjamin Banneker’s life before and during the Revolution, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation has acquired examples of complete 18th-century artifacts that match archaeological fragments recovered from the site. These artifacts show that Banneker was not a poor man by the standards of the place and time. In particular, the household ceramics from the site show that Benjamin Banneker could afford to live in modest comfort. He owned at least four teapots, including two earthenware teapots decorated with a lustrous black glaze called “Jackfield,” and more than 20 white salt glaze vessels, a type of ware that was very popular in late-colonial America. In the 1760s, creamware began replacing white salt-glaze stoneware as the preferred tableware in American homes, and the ceramics from the Banneker site reflect this change.
Benjamin Banneker’s way of life was not typical of 18th-century African Americans in general. Banneker, as a free man and landowner, was not just wealthier than the great majority of African Americans; he also had much more freedom to make decisions about how he would life his life. Nevertheless, the archaeological record recovered from the Banneker site gives us a unique and valuable insight into how one famous African American lived during the Revolutionary War era.