Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Michael L Blakey


The half-century marked by the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War I was a critical period of cultural, social, and economic transition for African Americans in the southern United States. During the late nineteenth century, while African Americans were rebuilding communities and networks disrupted by enslavement and the ensuing Civil War, several settlements developed between Williamsburg and Yorktown on Virginia's lower peninsula. One of the settlements, Charles' Corner, is an optimal case study for understanding the gradual process of community building during a particularly challenging period of African American history dominated by systemic racism and legal persecution.;A majority of Charles' Corner residents made their living as self-employed farmers and oysterers, work which provided them with a significant level of economic stability and autonomy. The neighborhood continued to flourish until the United States government commandeered the property in 1918 in order to create a naval facility fronting on the York River. Residents were forced to relocate and abandon the property where they had invested decades of physical labor and built substantial social and economic networks. Fortunately, their farmsteads were preserved as archaeological sites which may be eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places as an archaeological district, due to their integrity and historical significance.;Archaeological assessments at four sites located at Charles' Corner provided an opportunity to address research questions and themes critical to the archaeology of African American life in the South after Emancipation. Questions focus on the establishment of socioeconomic networks after the Civil War, episodic displacement, and their role in the community building process. Addressing these questions through the application of an anthropological model for community building emphasizes the role of a diversified economy and construction of networks on a path of self-determination.;This dissertation is a response to critiques about the need to understand transformative periods in African American history. A study of Charles' Corner demonstrates the process of community building for one neighborhood during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the application of data from the archaeological record, historical documents, and oral histories. Furthermore, the residents' compelling narrative demonstrates the ways that rural African Americans contributed to the black freedom movement.



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