Archaeology challenges of past and present views
- How does archaeology challenge accepted views of the past?
- Can archaeology make us think about the present in new ways?
- Past and present biases
By the second decade of the nineteenth century, the expanding work force in Manhattan had created a severe housing shortage.
The city began to expand northward with landowners subdividing their houses into rental units. By mid-century, Irish and German immigrants crowded into the tenements and apartments along Pearl and Baxter Streets.
Feature O, a stone-lined privy, contained trash belonging to the Irish tenants at 474 Pearl Street, the same address where the Hoffmans lived earlier in the century, and material from the ground floor saloon.
John Lysaight, who eventually became an alderman, ran a saloon at 474 Pearl from 1865 to 1873.
In addition to glasses, liquor bottles, and a yellow ware spittoon, artifacts from the saloon included master ink bottles and smaller umbrella inks.
Like other Irish saloons, Lysaight’s was probably a place to write letters home and pick up mail, enter an ad in an Irish newspaper, take care of a business matter with the help of someone who knew the ropes, or get signed up for the next political campaign.
The tenants’ possessions reflect their participation in the consumer culture of the day and their efforts to conduct respectable lives in spite of the overcrowded housing and abysmal sanitary conditions.
By the 1840s Baxter Street had become New York’s first garment district.
For at least forty years tailors, shoemakers, and retail and second-hand clothing shops, many of them run by eastern European Jews, lined the street.
A deposit in the fill of Feature H, a stone-lined privy in the backyard of one of these properties, was full of pins, needles, thimbles, and cloth--the physical evidence of the sewing industry.
We have to be careful not to let the biases of nineteenth-century observers, men like George Foster who were outsiders to the neighborhood, prevent us from hearing the voices of the actual residents who lived there.
The Five Points artifacts speak for those whom Walt Whitman described in 1842 as “… not paupers and criminals, but the Republic’s most needed asset, the wealth of stout poor men [and we will add women] who will work” (the Aurora).