The Catoctin/Renner burial ground in Frederick County is a late 18th to early 19th century cemetery containing the remains of enslaved African-Americans.

Archaeological Investigations

Both oral history and archeological work at 18FR323 revealed burial data that seem to be compatible with the idea that this site was a burial ground for enslaved individuals. The owners of the Catoctin Iron Works in the late 18th and early 19th century, who owned the land on which the burial site is located, did own slaves and probably used their labor in the operation of the furnace complex. The cemetery was laid out in north-south rows spaced 3.048 meters (10 ft) apart, with graves oriented east to west approximately 1.2192 meters (4 ft) apart. All 35 graves were single interment coffin burials, with one exception; a child interred directly above an adult female. Individuals were buried supine, with heads to the west, and in an extended position with hands folded over the abdomen. Rectangular and pinch-toe type coffins were made of white oak and chestnut. Age at death in this cemetery population ranged from neonate to elderly, and the condition of the skeletal remains varied from poor to excellent. The diagnostic materials in the graves (primarily coffin nails) are consistent with a date range of circa 1790-1840. There was no discernable pattern of date distributions spatially across the area excavated.

Burial-related artifacts encountered at the site include very simple funerary clothing (shroud pins, buttons, and wool fibers), coffin nails and coffin hardware. While the burials appeared to reflect European Christian mortuary practices, there was also evidence of possible African-American folk beliefs.

Archeobotanical Studies

A peach pit and what is interpreted as the remains of fruit and seed funeral wreaths were noted in some of the interments. Six soil/flotation samples were taken from different burials at 18FR323. Three samples from the thoracic cavities of skeletons did not reveal any ethnobotanical materials. In contrast, a sample from the cranial area of one infant burial contained a very large number (over 100) of uncharred raspberry or blackberry seeds. Another sample from the top of the east end of a coffin included  peach pit (an uncharred fragment), a single blackberry or raspberry seed, and a large quantity of sassafras. The top of another coffin also had lots of sassafras present in the tibia area. The authors interpret this as evidence of  intentional placement at the time of interment in at least three of these four cases.


Burnston, S.A., and R.A. Thomas
1981 Archaeological Data Recovery at Catoctin Furnace Cemetery, Frederick County, Maryland.            (MAAR, Inc.) MHT # FR 24.

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