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The Bibb Escapes/Gatewood Plantation (15TM35) is located on private property in Bedford, Trimble County, in the Outer Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. Recently, the site has been added to the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program due to the historical association with an escaped enslaved man, Henry Bibb. Henry, his wife Malinda, and their daughter were owned by William Gatewood. After multiple failed attempts of fleeing slavery, the Bibb family was sold down the Ohio River and were separated. Henry eventually escaped to Canada and became a prominent figure in the African-American community and abolitionist circuit. Bibb wrote his autobiography detailing his successful and failed attempts of escaping slavery and made mentions of his time on the Gatewood Plantation. Other archival data shows there were approximately one dozen enslaved persons on the Gatewood Plantation throughout the antebellum time period, but not much else is known about them.The Oldham County History Center has sponsored public archaeological excavations at the site since 2005, including public excavations and a summer field school for high school students. Early excavations uncovered a stone chimney and presumably a summer kitchen with a possible pit cellar. Recent public excavations documented an area of interest that includes a separate activity area indicating a structure with three subsurface features.
For this thesis I hypothesize the area of interest to be the location of the quarters for the enslaved people on the Gatewood Plantation. Other queries include: what is the form and function of this building and how do the features function within the whole Gatewood Plantation? Do the cultural materials represent the antebellum time period? Can the cultural materials demonstrate the change in occupancy or indicate specific behaviors of the occupants of the structure?
Excavation of the features and analysis of the cultural materials was conducted to answer the research questions. The results of the fieldwork and analysis supported by historical documentation of the Gatewood Plantation and compared to other similar, local, and regional sites strongly indicate a positive response to the hypothesis. This investigation provides important information regarding past components of slave quarters within farmsteads of the Upland South. The archaeological work at 15TM35 also adds insight to the historic context of the region and to the history of Henry Bibb and the enslaved community he was part of.