Excavation on the way in search of possible remains beneath slave memorial
Mayor John Street along with an Independence Hall archaeology team began digging up the past this week — literally.
Street officially launched an archeological dig on Wednesday at the site of the former President's House, on the threshold of the Liberty Bell Center.
At the controls of a hydraulic excavator, Street dug out the first mound of dirt from the site where presidents George Washington and John Adams once lived.
It is also known that at least nine enslaved Africans, owned by Washington, also lived at the site.
The dig's purpose is to find out whether any artifacts relating to the President's House era — between 1790 and 1800 — may still be in the ground. The dig is on the site of the future Slave Memorial where construction will set to begin in Spring 2008.
Street declared the dig is a statement that slaves existed on this site — a chapter in history about slavery in the North that is often not told.
"This is a story that had never been told and it still hasn't been told and it is our goal and our expectation that when people see the Liberty Bell, they will also understand that there was a great tragedy," he said. "The tragedy of American history that was taking place at that same time."
Street said he had never seen an archeological dig before Wednesday's kickoff, but it represented a lot to him.
"I am here today because we are digging for the truth," he said. "We are digging for the truth about the start of this country and about the great tragedy of slavery that affects everything we do in this country even today."
Most of the President's House was demolished in the 1830s and the site was repeatedly disturbed by subsequent construction and demolition.
The dig is scheduled to focus on the previously unexcavated yard areas of the President's House site that are most likely to yield clues about life in that house.
During the construction of the Liberty Bell Center in 2002, it was clear that slaves in Washington's home slept on what is now the threshold of the Liberty Bell Center.
A public outcry followed with a demand that the President's House be marked and its full story — including the stories of the slaves — be told.
After Wednesday's groundbreaking, an archeological team will use heavy equipment to remove layers of fill and rubble on the site.
Then a controlled excavation will follow — a tedious process of identifying and removing any archeological artifacts. The dig is expected to continue for three to six weeks.
Local attorney Michael Coard, who is also the founding member of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, said he was ecstatic about the dig.
"This is a step toward telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about American history," he said. "What today does is that it begins to sink the very foundation of American history as we know it."
Coard said no one is questioning President Washington as a leader and a general, but there is something to be said about a human holding other human beings in bondage.
He said it was better to dig and see if anything turns up, rather than going on for another 100 years and wonder.
Temple University Journalism Professor Linn Washington was at the dig with some of his students.
According to him, it is unlikely something might be found, but it was important to show the activism behind the dig.
"This dig is more symbolic than anything else, but we should not let the lack of finding anything diminish the significance of the monument being built," Washington said.