by Bernard K. Means

Seneca CCC crew excavating at the Sugar Run Mound and Village Site in Warren County, Pennsylvania.  Image courtesy of Mark McConaughy

Seneca CCC crew excavating at the Sugar Run Mound and Village Site in Warren County, Pennsylvania. Image courtesy of Mark McConaughy

Last week (May 19 to May 23, 2014), I spent many hours at the American Philosophical Society (APS), pouring over their documents related to New Deal archaeological investigations in Pennsylvania.  This research effort was funded by a grant from the new Humanities Research Center at Virginia Commonwealth University.  I had four basic goals in mind:

  1. Find sufficient information about a manuscript created by Francis Cresson on the WPA excavations of Monongahela village sites in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, that would enable me to publish this unfinished document in some fashion. This I was successful in doing.
  2. Learn what role, precisely, Edgar Augustine played in New Deal excavations in Northwestern Pennsylvania.  He directed the WPA excavations in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, but the APS WPA finding aid indicated that he also worked on New Deal-funded mound excavations.  Unfortunately, it turns out the finding aid was incorrect.  Augustine had nothing to do with these investigations.
  3. Learn more about J. Alden Mason’s National Youth Administration (NYA) investigations in the Philadelphia region.  So far, I have found scant information about these investigations, partly because they were brief, took place on an irregular schedule (even by New Deal standards), and did not make any major discoveries.  I did find out some additional details about the NYA investigations, but nothing earth shattering.
  4. Learn more about the people involved in the New Deal investigations, including their motivations, constraints, and basic thoughts on doing relief archaeology during the Great Depression.  Here, I was successful, particularly when I pursued Mason’s extensive correspondence.

One of the items I cam across related to Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) mound excavations in Northwestern Pennsylvania.  I knew that members of the Seneca Nation did work in that region, but I had assumed that these were separate projects from those conducted by other crews.  This was apparently not the case, as indicated in this August 1941 report from Wesley Bliss:

On Thursday Mr. Carpenter and the white crew moved to Corry, and the work [the Williams Mound, Warren County] was completed by the Indian crew.

As far as I can ascertain, the only non-white crew in Pennsylvania that worked on New Deal archaeology projects were these Seneca.  It would be interesting to explore how their experiences compared to other segregated crews, such as the African American men who worked at Jamestown, Virginia,  and the African American women who worked in the Savannah, Georgia, region.  But, that will have to wait for another day.