Archeologists to dig at Roxbury site that may have housed enslaved

by Liz Hughes

A team of archaeologists is set to start a dig at a site in Roxbury that’s likely to have housed enslaved people who lived and worked at the property back in the 1800s. 

The property at 42-44 Shirley St., was designated a landmark in July of 2021 and sits at what is believed to be the location of the former Shirley-Eustis House which moved across the street in the 1860s. Researchers believe 42-44 Shirley St. is the location of a former stable on the grounds of Royal Governor William Shirley’s family’s country home 

Boston’s archaeology program team hopes the dig will answer a lot of questions. They discovered the home may have moved across the street in the 1860s. If true, the original foundations, kitchens and slave quarters may still be at that location. 

“Either we find the foundations of the other half of 42-44 Shirley Street, or we find the foundations of the original mansion footprint,” said city archaeologist Joe Bagley. “Either way, we will learn more about this important place in Boston’s Black history.”

Documents were discovered on the property of at least five enslaved Bostonians, according to a press release, who were, among others, “present at the household in the mid-late 1700s.”

Bagley said the stable likely included living quarters in or above it, as was common at the time. 

“It’s possible that Thomas Scipio or other enslaved people lived in this building,” said Bagley. “The kitchen had slave quarters, later used and recorded as a dungeon, with bottle glass windows and thick plank doors.  It is likely that if we find the original basement of the mansion house on the property, we will also be able to find these quarters, too.”

The excavation of narrow trenches across the yard was set to begin Sept. 13. Archaeologists are hoping to intersect the foundations of one or more buildings from the 1700s on the property. They say that once found they can determine if they are parts of an old stable building or are the foundation of the original mansion.  

Then their location and alignment should reveal if they are parts of the old stable building that is still standing on the property, or if they are the original mansion foundations. That’s when the digging will end. 

“Our goals are not to dig up the whole site,” said Bagley. “We just want to better understand what kinds of spaces are preserved under the ground on the property so we can better manage any changes that happen on the site.”

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