In 1886 an unknown artist captured an important cultural scene in Canehill, Arkansas (Washington County), documenting not only a significant example of Arkansas’s early built culture but also placing an African American in this community setting. Instead of the typical interpretation of working in a field or engaging in other common labor, the artist portrays a single black man (lower-left) walking down a path as part of community activity. Similar scenes would have been typical of Davidson Township at this same time period. Courtesy: Historic Arkansas Museum Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bunn Bell.
The story of settlement in the Eleven Point River Valley two centuries ago is not only that of Anglo American yeoman farmers but the few African American slaves that emigrated with them two centuries ago as. In contrast to the large slave holdings of the southern planter-culture, the slaves of yeoman farmers participated in all aspects of clearing land, establishing farmsteads, and planting one of the state’s oldest seedbeds of agricultural heritage. Slaves worked along side their owners, performing the same domestic and farming tasks. They may or may not have been skilled in specialized crafts but the practical domestic / farming skills they participated in daily served them well following emancipation when they established independent homesteads. Farming was then, and still is, an important industry in Arkansas.
Most of the early slaves of Davidson Township, just like their owners, were laid to rest in family cemeteries with only field stones to mark their graves. Hundreds of these unmarked stones, some buried in weeds, memorialize all the men and women who built a community through mutual labors and elicit respect to be paid yet today.
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Black River Technical College
Restoration funded in part by the Arkansas Natural & Cultural Resources Council