During the week of February 16 to 20, archeologists from the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the Lakeport Restoration Team members flocked to Lakeport to try to answer burning historical questions about the antebellum layout of the plantation. Skip Stewart-Abernathy, a survey archeologist stationed at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute atop Mt. Petit Jean, led the project. Dr. Stewart-Abernathy, who first visited Lakeport in 1984, specializes in historic archeology.

Lycurgus Johnson constructed Lakeport ca. 1859, just at the end of the antebellum period. Lycurgus built his house just north of Joel Johnson’s house—his father. Joel Johnson arrived at that location in 1831 with 23 slaves. By 1860, Lycurgus, after consolidating his father’s holdings with his own. had over 4,000 acres of land and 155 slaves.

An antebellum cotton plantation like the Johnson’s is typically centralized with enslaved labor (i.e. slaves) occupying the “quarters” and the master occupying the “Big House.” The master employed an overseer who supervised gangs of labor who worked to grow and then pick cotton. A post-Civil War plantation looks a lot different. Land ownership usually didn’t change (as was the case with Lakeport), but labor arrangements to grow cotton did change dramatically. Now free, the labor that once grew and picked cotton in gang labor transitioned into family units of tenant farmers and sharecroppers. These families, in a contract with the owner, farmed and lived on smaller sections of land.

On this archeological “dig,” no digging was necessary. All the land around the house is still in cultivation and had been recently plowed, giving high visibility. Crews walked the furrows looking for significant artifacts—bits of dishes, marbles, bottles, agricultural parts, etc.—all of which can be dated. Artifacts collected during the “dig” have been labeled, numbered and cataloged and will remain in the permanent collection at Lakeport Plantation. Most artifacts around the plantation dated to after the Civil War and usually represented the former tenant farmer homes that dotted the land after the Civil War until mechanization; however almost all of the antebellum artifacts, were found south of the Lakeport home around where Joel Johnson began building his plantation out of the wilderness in 1831. This leads us to believe that Lycugus kept the location of his father’s “quarters.”

This week of archeology is part of the on-going research at Lakeport Plantation and helps fulfill the mission of interpreting the people and cultures that shaped plantation life in the Mississippi River Delta during the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods.  We’re open Monday thru Friday with tours at 10am and 2pm.  Visit our website for directions.

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