When driving through Houston's Fourth Ward today, one can still see pieces of the history of Freedman's Town, a community founded by free African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scattered between modern houses and Houston's downtown skyline. These remnants of history enable us to imagine what life was like for the early inhabitants of this town. People rode the trolley along the brick-pRow Housesaved streets into the center of Freedman's Town, passing by local businessman Rutherford B. H. Yates's house and turning right near J. Vance Lewis' house, "Van Court." Children played in front of the Gregory School and stopped by the store on the corner of Wilson and Victor Streets on their way home after school to buy some candy and soda. Although only pieces of history remain at Freedman's Town, these help us understand more about those who once lived there.

Called the "mother ward" of the African-American community in Houston, Freedman's Town is the only remaining post-Civil War, freed slave community of its kind in the United States and therefore provides valuable insight into the lives of urban African-American communities in the post-emancipation south. With few written sources on the history of Freedman's Town, one important way to reconstruct the community's past is through looking at the material remains of past households - mundane items like glass, ceramics, and animal bones - to investigate past consumption patterns.

Just as the things we purchase tell us a lot about who we were, the inhabitants of Freedman's Town made choices about what they consumed, and those choices reveal much about who they were and the life and identities they were trying to create. Other archaeologists who have looked at the material goods of post-emancipation urban, African-American communities have found great complexity in these community's consumption practices; people of many different socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities made choices to resist and to conform to social conventions and beliefs of their time. In this regard, the inhabitants of Freedman's Town were no different.

This project looks at consumption patterns across four sites in Freedman's Town: the Rutherford B. H. Yates House, built by a local businessman; the property at 1312 Ruthven; the house of J. Vance Lewis, a prominent African-American lawyer; and the Wilson-Victor property, upon which a general store, a barbershop, and two houses once stood. By looking at what the community members of Freedman's Town left behind, we can examine their consumer choices to work to reconstruct social identities and contexts.


Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum

Rice University Archaeology

Yates Community Archaeology Program (YCAP)