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Northeast Historical Archaeology

Abstract

To modern suburbanites, life on a farm may seem hopelessly boring or, alternatively, charming and idyllic. Excavations at the Abraham Staats House in New Jersey’s Raritan Valley, just upriver from New Brunswick, provide a revealing glimpse of the dynamic and contentious lives of 18th- and 19th-century farmers. The Staats family, part of the early 18th-century Dutch migration to the Raritan Valley, saw their lives transformed by the Revolutionary War, the arrival of turnpike roads, the construction of the Delaware and Raritan Canal, the emancipation of slaves, the growth of the temperance movement, and family squabbles of Shakespearean proportions. Excavations at the Staats House undertaken by volunteers from the Friends of the Abraham Staats House, the Archaeological Society of New Jersey, and Monmouth University, combined with the rediscovery of long-forgotten diaries, deeds, wills, and court records, provide a richer glimpse into the complex realities of rural life in early New Jersey. Through the detailed intensive study, or microhistory, of this single household, local, regional, and national historical trends are revealed.

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