Samantha Malette is a second year MA Student in the Anthropology program here at Wayne State, with a focus on historical archaeology. She is also a student leader of archaeological and archival research on the Unearthing Detroit project. Over the past few months she has been working on a trail of archival evidence which will hopefully answer the question: “Why were so many shoes recovered from Sector G?”
Sector G was historically located at the northeast corner of Atwater and Brush Streets. (Note: Atwater is in a different location today) Currently this area is underneath the central tower of the Renaissance Center.
In early August, Samantha was researching information related to Henry Berthelet, an important merchant in Detroit with property in the area where the Renaissance Center now stands. What she found shifted her research goal. Uncovered at the Burton Historical Collection, in the Detroit Public Library, was an account record between John Askin and Berthelet. Askin, a successful merchant in the area, had at one time been the owner of the property surrounding Sector G. The document records a massive purchase of shoes by Askin from Berthelet.
This prompted Samantha to revisit what we already knew about Sector G from the Master’s theses by Wayne State University alums Kent Taylor and Stephen Demeter, as well as an 1884 Sanborn map.
Sector G corresponds to Private Claim 1 the Elijah Brush Farm (Demeter) this is confirmed by early 1800 maps.
2G: Privy dates 1835-1840 (Taylor)
3G: Double privy associated with LaPierre family dates 1834 to 1835 (Taylor and Demeter) Newspaper clipping recovered from this privy was dated to April 3, 1933 (Demeter)
4G: Privy associated with Beaubien family (Taylor)
5G: Midden (trash) deposit (Taylor)
1884 Sandborn Map shows us the City Hotel was built on the property and occupied it in the later quarter of the century.
In a visit with Kent Taylor last year, he described to Samantha and Kate E. Korth how he felt this area had spoiled them both in the amount of artifacts and the level of preservation of the site. We, too, have been spoiled with the amount of archival material our team has recovered. Although this is an ongoing investigation, here is what Samantha has recovered so far.
After revisiting the previously written information available on the area, Samantha went back to the archives. Her goal was to gather the evidence that would associate Askin with the property. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with archival research, she was unable to find any concrete evidence of this. Instead, she revisited Taylor and Demeter’s association of the LaPierre family with the site.
Samantha reviewed a paper written by Master’s student Catherine Cangany in 2012 on the subject of moccasin production in Detroit. It was in this paper she found that Askin hired local shoe cobblers, one of those individuals being Baptiste LaPierre (Cangany, 289). By exploring the references utilized by Cangany, Samantha was able to distinguish a document that would show LaPierre and Askin’s business transaction.
With the help of other team members (Kate E. Korth and Sue Villerot), Samantha is moving forward by attempting to locate the original period maps of the area. She has found a LaPierre in a city directory from the 1830s, and is attempting to match their address with those listed on the period maps.
2012. Fashioning Moccasins: Detroit, the Manufacturing Frontier, and the Empire of Consumption, 1701–1835. The William and Mary Quarterly, 69(2):265-304. accessed 9/13.
1990. Whiteware Consumption as an Indicator of Economic Status in Three Early Nineteenth- Century Detroit Households. Unpublished MA, Department of Anthropology, Wayne State University.
1992. Analysis of Early Nineteenth- Century Footwear for The Renaissance Center Site, Detroit: Economic, Socio-cultural, and Environmental Determinants. Unpublished MA, Department of Anthropology, Wayne State University.
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