Archaeologists searching for gravesites at historical Rock House in east Charlotte

Historians believe gravesites on the property could be those of former slaves on the estate.
Historians believe gravesites on the property could be those of former slaves on the estate.
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 7:55 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Rock House is Charlotte’s oldest standing home, built in the pre-Revolution era in 1774.

The home belonged to Hezekiah Alexander, a signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the original North Carolina constitution. He lived there with his wife and children off of what is now Shamrock Drive in east Charlotte.

Enslaved people also lived on the estate, their labor likely the reason for the success of the farm and construction of the home.

In total, an estimated 17 of the 29 people who lived at the home were enslaved.

This week, archaeology work is happening again at the home this time in hopes to identify potential historic gravesites on the land.

Nolan Dahm is the programs and exhibits manager for the museum.

He was on-hand as archaeologists returned to the site to conduct a ground-penetrating radar survey.

“Hezekiah, he was here with his wife, Mary, and they on this site, they enslaved 17 people, and so for a long time here at the museum we’ve been asking questions about that,” Dahm said. “Where did those enslaved folks live? Where did they die is another important question and in the early 2000s, we did some archaeology here to try to answer some of those questions.”

He said that those earlier efforts were largely unfruitful, but thermal imaging did reveal potential gravesites on the property.

“Just recently in the last few months, we decided we need to look into that more,” he said. “We think that if there are gravesites, there’s a pretty high likelihood they are maybe enslaved people, or actually one of Hezekiah’s children. We don’t know where he’s buried either.”

Dahm said it’s important for the museum to keep uncovering history, and that the new radar imagery will definitively reveal whether or not there are gravesites at the Rock House.

If gravesites are in fact found, then he said that could lead to further questions, such as those about the community who lived there and the conditions in which they lived.

“If the answer is yes, [there are graves] then what we do is we make a plan,” Dahm said. “Since we do think it’s probably a pretty high likelihood that enslaved people [lived here] if it’s brutal here, we would start to contact descendants. We will start to have community conversations.”

He said it could be difficult to locate those descendants, but the effort will be put in.

Meanwhile, inside the home, pieces of history, not only from the Alexander family, but also from those whose labor ensured the success of the farm, have been recovered, unlocking history and lessons about life and humanity.

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