Although preliminary excavations and surface collection have aided in documenting and dating the sites of many of the individual farmsteads, most of the archaeological activity has focused on the central neighborhood, and a secondary area of settlement located one half mile west, where most of the residents lived. The settlement was founded between 1871 and 1874 and originally included an AME church, a school, and assorted log and frame structures. It was completely destroyed and the land drastically reshaped in the 1950s; as mentioned, only the cemetery remains.
Intense surface collection at this site has yielded a significant number of artifacts, primarily ceramics, dating to the period of the original settlement. An examination of the ceramics suggests that the residents of Little Africa used a variety of wares; ironstone, blue-glazed, and blue and white patterned porcelain as well as pottery of local manufacture and a large variety of stoneware crockery. Other artifacts found at this site include nails, colored glass (green, clear, dark blue and white) and sizable fragments of what were the fieldstone foundations of the various dwellings. The bulk of the glass recovered is common window glass, but the collection includes fragments of jars and bottles as well. The surface evidence not only provides insight into the material possessions of the residents, but has allowed me to speculate on the original placement of their dwellings and various outbuildings.
Today, two fieldstone-lined wells, and a subterranean fieldstone foundation of an icehouse along a wooded hilltop, are all that remain of the Murrell farmstead, which served as a secondary neighborhood. Here, surface evidence includes bricks, nails, and glass fragments. Formal excavations at various locations on the site provide more substantial material insight. Work at the icehouse uncovered excellent examples of local pottery (in various forms), two kinds of stoneware, assorted glassware, and metal hardware (including one of the massive strap hinges of the original door). The icehouse, rare for Missouri, is situated adjacent to a small pond and is thought to have provided cold storage for the entire community until the time that the site was abandoned, around 1920. Similar artifacts, though not as plentiful, have also been excavated from the two wells, one of which was used as a refuse pit after the turn of the century.
Collectively, the artifacts suggest that both sites were inhabited from as early as the 1870s, when the community was initially established, through the early years of the 20th century. Although the information provided by these artifacts is incomplete, and represent only a small portion of the activities that actually occurred on the site, the artifacts have played a key role in identifying the location and general architectural arrangement of the settlement. Perhaps more importantly they contribute to our general understanding of African-American life in these secluded rural communities and everyday life in post-Civil War Missouri. Further excavation at the Little Africa site is planned for early next spring.
A portion of this paper was presented at the THIRTY-NINTH MISSOURI CONFERENCE ON HISTORY in April, 1997.