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Graduate research looks at slavery in U.S. Virgin Islands

University of Tulsa anthropology doctoral student Alicia Odewale is studying the archaeological evidence of slave quarters in the Christiansted National Historic Site of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Alicia Odewale

Odewale conducting research in St. Croix.

Odewale traveled to St. Croix in January 2015 to begin the first stage of excavations in the Danish West India and Guinea Company Warehouse Building, one of six structures located in the Christiansted National Historic Site.

“We collaborated with the National Park Service to search for evidence of royal enslaved Africans living within the Guinea Company Warehouse compound,” Odewale said.

She and Thomas Foster, associate professor of anthropology, studied historical maps and remote sensing data to determine the research location. The TU team dug 17 test pits, uncovering a partial wall and foundation along with more than 1,000 artifacts from the slave quarters and the warehouse building’s courtyard area. The National Park Service and a group of landscape architecture students from Rutgers University hosted a public forum to discuss Odewale’s findings and how they will impact future park projects.

“With funding provided by the TU Student Research Office and the Odell Foundation, this research has the potential to influence the interpretation of slavery in the New World and larger African Diaspora studies,” she said.

Odewale plans to return to St. Croix next summer for a larger excavation project in the same area. She plans to ultimately compare St. Croix artifacts to another slave quarter site in Virginia as part of her dissertation. The project uses archaeology to examine how enslaved people of African descent would have responded to risk and uncertainty in two different environments.

Gail Ellis