"We Were There Too": Archaeology of an African-American Family in Sacramento, California
Thomas Cook and his wife escaped slavery by taking the Underground Railroad to Canada prior to the Civil War, before eventually settling in Sacramento in the early 1870s until at least 1901. In the early 1990s ASC archaeologists excavated a privy filled with artifacts associated with the family; this was one of the first urban African-American sites to be excavated in California, if not in the western states generally. The archaeological remains left by the Cook family reflect the household members' daily lives. Archaeological evidence suggests that family members carried on their high status occupations at home during off hours, thereby circumventing the public ban on serving both black and white clientele. A comparison of the Cook assemblage with that of a nearby white household shows similarities that mask the gulf that must have existed between these peoples' lives in early 20th-century Sacramento. The effects of racism, as well as the family's responses to it, can be seen in the archaeological remains left by the Cook family.
Archaeologists have added a great deal to our understanding of the grim history of enslaved African Americans in the antebellum South. However, many stories of blacks who traveled to the cities of the Far West - both free and as escaped slaves - have yet to be told. Although the advancement of African Americans in the urban West was limited by a racist structure, they nonetheless created a sophisticated and urbane culture.