Socioeconomics in Freedman's Town

Numerous studies of African American archaeological sites have focused on data that seems to set African American communities apart from others. However, more recent Cuts of bonestudies of archaeological assemblages from urban African-American communities suggests that distinctions in socioeconomic status are far from clear, no matter the race or ethnicity of the inhabitants. For example, researchers at New Philadelphia found that it was often difficult to tell an African American home from a white European settler's home based on archaeological remains alone. Differences in assemblages were more prevalent between houses of people from different classes and socioeconomic positions. Within a multi-ethnic, working-class neighborhood - such as in New Philadelphia and Freedman's Town - the archaeological record shows evidence of socioeconomic distinctions, but not necessarily racial ones.

One way that archaeologists can examine determine the socioeconomic status of the inhabitants at a site is through the presence of different cuts of butchered meats. Finding bones from short loin and sirloin cuts of beef might indicate that a family could afford higher quality cuts of meat, at least occasionally. An abundance of lower quality cuts of beef and pork, such as shank cuts used in stews, is an indication that a family was probably of a lower socioeconomic status. Looking at the frequency of bones of different animals and different cuts, combined with an analysis of other artifacts such as ceramics, can give a sense of the socioeconomic status of the inhabitants of a site.

Pork cutsBeef cuts
The different cuts of pork and beef

Diet and Class in Freedman's Town

Previous studies done in Freedman's Town showed that residents consumed a typical urban Texas diet of beef and pork. Excavations done by Rice University at the R. B. H. Yates house, the J. Vance Lewis house, the Wilson-Victor property, and 1312 Ruthven confirms this, as the majority of animal remains found were cow and pig bones. Residents also sometimes consumed venison, fish, sheep, and chicken, as fragments of these bones were discovered across sites. However, pork and beef were the main staples in Freedman's Town households. Most bones found on site showed signs of professional butchering, such as sawing, so it is likely that animals were not often raised, killed, and butchered on site. In general, most sites contained remains of expensive cuts of meat as well as other middle-value cuts and lower-value cuts. It is likely that the inhabitants of these sites in Freedman's Town were of a high enough socioeconomic status to occasionally enjoy higher quality meats, but most of their diets consisted of more economical cuts of meat.

Bos taurus shank cuts
Professionally butchered shank cuts of beef

The Yates Family: A Growing Prosperity

The evidence at the Rutherford B. H. Yates house follows a slightly different trend. In general, the Yates family had a wider variety of meat in their diet than other residents, who relied primarily upon cow and pig. The cuts of these meats ranged from economical to high quality, like many of the other sites in Freedman's Town. They also ranged between levels of the excavated site. In one particular unit, the older levels contained lower quality meat cuts such as long bones, while the more recent levels had higher quality cuts such as sirloin and short loin. This could mean that the family grew in socioeconomic status over time. The faunal evidence at the Yates site combined with the porcelain dolls and the fine tea wares reveals that the Yates family attained a middle-class status in their household consumption.

Long bones of Gallus domesticus
Fragments of chicken bones. Chicken was not as commonly
consumed in Freedman's Town


Diet and Class in Freedman's Town

The Yates Family: A Growing Prosperity