Please wait...

Celebrating Juneteenth

Discover untold stories through interpretation and archaeological artifacts

June 17 By Meredith Poole

This Wednesday, June 19, while people across the nation commemorate the anniversary of the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans in America, guests to Colonial Williamsburg can discover untold stories about the men and women of color who lived in 18th- and 19th-century Williamsburg. Actor Interpreters and Archaeologists will team up to celebrate of the lives of African Americans who lived on three sites presently under excavation: the Archibald Blair Storehouse (home of the DIG! program), the Robert Carter House, and the John Custis Site.  Named for prominent 18th-century owners, these properties were also home to generations of enslaved and free people of color. On June 19, we will highlight their stories through interpretation, artifacts, documents, and conversation.

Visitors familiar with Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area may hear some unfamiliar names on Juneteeth.  Here’s a glimpse at the stories you will find at various sites throughout the Historic Area.

Archibald Blair Storehouse Site, 9:30 a.m.-12p.m and 1-4 p.m.

on Duke of Gloucester Street, just west of Colonial Street (beside the Prentis Store)

At the Archibald Blair Storehouse site, meet Julia Minson and Margaret Parsons, enumerated in an 1860 census as free “mulatto” women running their own business. Their house and tailor shop replaced Blair’s storehouse in the 19th century.  Recently discovered court records suggest that the household included a third, “legally invisible” member whose story is just now emerging: Edmond Parsons was Margaret’s husband, enslaved at the time of the lot’s purchase.  On Juneteeth, Actor Interpreters Hope Wright and Willie Wright will examine ways in which the law confined and limited enslaved people, both before and after emancipation. Archaeologists will be on hand with artifacts and documents that support this unfolding story. 

Custis Square Dig, 9:30 a.m.-12p.m and 1-4 p.m.

at the corner of Francis and Nassau Street (enter on Nassau)

Of the 200-300 people enslaved by John Custis IV, several are known to have connections to his Custis Square town home. Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeological team is presently working to uncover more information about that enslaved population. Come discover what preliminary research reveals about Cornelia, Beck and Peter, and perhaps most poignantly about the enslaved child, Jack. In 1748 John Custis writes “my dear black boy Jack is sick; which makes me very melancholy; and if please God he should do otherwise than well, I am sure I should soon follow him; it would break my heart, and bring my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave my life being wrapt up in his.” John Custis’s interest in Jack, and the gifts bestowed on him, have led some historians to conclude that Jack was Custis’s son. At this site on Juneteenth, join us in exploring interracial relations in the 18th century with interpretations by actors Mary Carter as “Aggy of Turkey Island”, Katharine Pittman as Martha Washington, and Deirdre Jones as Alice, the mother of Jack. Active excavation of John Custis’s landscape, including his celebrated garden, will serve as the backdrop to this program.

Robert Carter House, 9:30 a.m.-12p.m and 1-4 p.m.

on Palace Green, just to the left of the Palace if you’re looking at the front gates

In early July, archaeological excavation will resume at the Robert Carter House, next to the Governor’s Palace. Robert Carter III, late 18th-century owner of the Robert Carter House, is known for having executed a deed of emancipation for 500 enslaved people in 1791—the largest release of slaves people in North America prior to the Civil War.  Over several summers, archaeologists have explored areas adjacent to Carter’s brick kitchen, a dependency that served as housing for some of these individuals prior to 1791, and in the 19th century when the when the house was owned by Robert Saunders. Discarded oyster shells, animal bones, ceramic plates, bowls, cast iron cooking pots, utensils, glass wine bottles and glass tablewares speak to the work carried out in that space. Excavation has also yielded personal possessions: cowrie shell and several small glass beads – relatively rare finds that were frequently used for bodily adornment among the enslaved in eighteenth century Virginia.  On Juneteenth at the Robert Carter Kitchen, come explore some of the artifacts that archaeologists have found to have reliable ties to the work and world of enslaved people.  Emily James as Edith Cumbo, James Ingram as Gowan Pamphlet, and Stephen Seals as James Armistead will bring life to this interpretation.  

More about Juneteenth

Also known as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” June 19 is a long-standing commemoration of the end of slavery, in 1865, at the last outpost in the United States. Who celebrates and how they celebrate has changed over the years but the central focus of Juneteenth is education and self-improvement. This year’s Juneteenth Interpretations coincide with Colonial Williamsburg’s recognition of 40 Years of African American Interpretation.

Visit on June 19

Visitors interested in Juneteenth interpretations may visit these sites throughout the day on Wednesday, June 19th from 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1 p.m.-4 p.m.. Interpretive programs occur in 30 minute cycles, beginning at 10:30, 11:00, 11:30, 2:00, 2:30, 3:00, and 3:30.

Get your tickets to experience these one-day only interpretations.

About the Author

Meredith Poole

Meredith Poole is a Senior Staff Archaeologist, and has been at Colonial Williamsburg for more than 30 years. In addition to working in the field, she is in charge of public programs and interpretation including DIG! (the Kids Dig), and several blogs. Let her know what you’d like to hear about as we move forward with the Custis project!