Calvert County Archaeologist Kirsti Uunila presents “Competing Identities: Methodist and Voodoo Practices in a nineteenth century African-American family” as part of the United Methodist Historical Society’s Schell Lecture Series. Light refreshments will precede the talk at 1:30 PM.
In 1790, over half of Calvert County’s population was African-American, free and enslaved. Today, the county seeks to explore and preserve early African-American sites as urban sprawl takes over and demographics shift. On a site known as Indian Rest sits a log cabin which was home to African-Americans for fifty years after the Civil War. The site is part of the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary, acquired by the Nature Conservancy in 1957, managed as a County Nature Park since 1977, and opened to archaeological research in 1995. Uunila led a team of archaeologists in a dig on the site over several years, unearthing artifacts showing competing religious identities in the same family. Caches of beads, called bundles, point towards voodoo practices, though family members were also faithful members of an African-American Methodist Episcopal Church in the community. This lecture, originally presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology, will explore the findings and their significance in understanding the heritage of Antebellum African-American communities in the mid-Atlantic. A Maryland native, Kirsti Uunila is fascinated by the history, anthropology, and archaeology in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic. She has worked on dozens of projects, including Sukeek’s Cabin, the Old Wallville One-Room Schoolhouse, and this site at Indian Rest throughout her time as a Public Archaeologist with the Maryland State Highway Administration, the Maryland Historical Trust at the Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, and the Calvert County Historic Preservation Program. Even on “vacation” she is engaged in archaeology—for many years she worked on a dig at the Strawbridge Shrine, a United Methodist Heritage Landmark in Carroll County.
Uunila holds a BA in Anthropology from the University of Arizona and a MAA in Anthropology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She believes that “the past can be a powerful tool for building better, more just communities in the present…[to inform] local public conversations on race, social relations, and education among a diverse population.” The lecture series honors the legacy of the late Rev. Ed Schell who served as Archivist and Historian of The United Methodist Church’s Baltimore-Washington Conference for 50 years through lectures focusing on the history of United Methodism in the Baltimore-Washington area.