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Demography and pathology of an urban slave population from New Orleans.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 74:185-197 (1987)
Demography and Pathology of an Urban Slave Population
From New Orleans
DOUGLAS W. OWSLEY, CHARLES E. ORSER, Jr., ROBERT W..MANN,
PEER H. MOORE-JANSEN, AND ROBERT L. MONTGOMERY
Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University,
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803 @. U? O., C.E. O.,R.L. M.); Department of
Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-0720
(R.U? M.,l? H.MJ.)
KEY WORDS
Historic cemetery, New Orleans, Paleopathology
ABSTRACT
Twenty-nine skeletons from the first cemetery in New Orleans
provide significant new information about urban slavery in America. Dating
as early as 1720 and used perhaps as late as 1810, the cemetery provided an
identifiable sample of two whites, 13blacks, one individual of possible Indianwhite ancestry, and two possibly mulatto individuals. Numerous skeIetal and
dental lesions were noted in the series, and historical information was used in
conjunction with the physical data to draw conclusions about rates and patterns of mortality. PathoIogical changes indicate that the cemetery contained
individuals representing two slave occupational groups, house servants and
laborers. This research provides information in the expanding area of AfroAmerican biohistorical research.
The first official cemetery in New Orleans
was located in the block bounded by Toulouse, Burgundy, St. Peter, and North Rampart streets. Archaeological test excavations
at this site were prompted by the construction of condominiums disturbing burials that
were more than 200 years old. The significance of this cemetery was immediately apparent as no physical remains of an 18thcentury population in Louisiana has previousIy been investigated. Although the location of this below-ground cemetery in the
French Quarter of New Orleans was known,
no previous archaeologicalresearch had been
conducted there.
Archaeological testing recovered a limited
number of human skeletons. This sample is
important because relatively few North
American colonial period human skeletal remains have been available for scientific examination (e.g., Angel, 1976; Noel Hume,
1979). As the possibility exists that the burials also included individuals of African ancestry, possible slaves, the sample is equally
noteworthy. With exception of only a few reports, little is known about the skeletal biology of historic period negro populations (e.g.,
Angel et al., n.d.; Beck, 1980; Blakely and
0 1987 ALAN R.LISS, INC.
Beck, 1982; Kelley and Angel, 1983; Parrington and Roberts, 1984; Rose, 1985; Thomas
et al., 1977). The presentation of a symposium at the 1985 annual meeting of the
American Association of Physical Anthropologists indicates the current scientific interest
in this topic (Rathbun and Rose, 1985).
The skeletal biology research objective was
to derive osteological information about the
health, nutritional status, and lifeways of
this early New Orleans historic population.
The data collected included observations on
demographic composition, bone lesions, bone
radiography, and dental caries and abscesses. These data form the basis for future
descriptive and comparative analyses developed within the context of an increasing interest in the skeletal biology of historic
populations. As an urban sample from one of
the earliest and most ethnically diverse cities in North America, this series offers great
potential as a source of information concerning the rigors of urban existence, as a comparative sample for contrasts with rural
population samples, and as a unique source
of information about urban slavery.
Received April 7,1986; accepted August 6, 1986.
186
D.W. OWSLEY ET AL.
Fig. 1. Map of New Orleans, 1731. Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection, 533
Royal Street, Acc. No. 1974.25.18.19.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The St. Peter Street cemetery (160R92)was
established between 1721 and 1725. It served
as New Orleans’ principal cemetery during
the French and Spanish colonial periods unti1 the founding of the St. Louis I cemetery
in 1789 (Huber, 1974). During the early occupation of the city, as illustrated in the Gonichon map of 1731 (Fig. 11, the cemetery was
positioned beyond the levee and drainage
ditch, behind the four central blocks representing the core of the French colonial city.
A narrow path led t o the cemetery. During
the early years the burial ground was surrounded by a wooden palisade and, later, a 5foot brick wall. Being low and swampy, the
cemetery was also enclosed by ditches (Wilson and Huber, 1963). The earth excavated
from these ditches was used to raise the level
of the land. Unlike many of New Orleans’
unique cemeteries of the 19th and 20th centuries, burial was below ground (Wilson,
1974).
As the city grew, a new burial site was
needed. The old cemetery was so full “that it
was very difficult to find a place to bury the
dead, as when opening new graves, it was
easy to find remains of other bodies which
not only caused an inconvenience but also
caused bad odors, fearing that due to its proximity to the city, same could spread sickness ....” (Records of the Cabildo 18001802:40).Local physicians expressed concern
about the cemetery’sproximity to the expanding populace, as it provided conditions conducive to the outbreak of pestilence. Plans
for relocation were proposed in 1788 and later
approved by the King of Spain in a letter
read to the New Orleans’ governing body, the
Cabildo, on August 14, 1789 (Huber, 1974).
After the establishment of St. Louis I in 1789,
the St. Peter Street cemetery was officially
closed to further interments, although archaeological and documentary evidence suggest a brief period of continued use (Huber,
1974; Owsley et al., 1985; Wilson and Huber,
1963).The block was subdivided in 1801 into
187
URBAN SLAVE POPULATION FROM NEW ORLEANS
12 building lots corresponding with those of
the original plan of the city (Records of the
Cabildo 1800-1802). By the 1820s, all of the
lots were sold and in private hands, and the
cemetery was largely forgotten.
The cemetery served New Orleans for the
first 70 years of its early formative period.
During that period, the city, under the rule
of France and then Spain, grew from an initial founding colony t o a population of nearly
5,000, according to the censuses of 1785 and
1791 (Burson, 1940; Gayarre, 1903). The colonial population was Catholic, and the burial place was administered by the parish
church of St. Louis (Huber, 1974). The cemetery served the general community but primarily those of lower socioeconomic status.
Prominent individuals were entombed within
the church or in a small area adjacent to it
(Huber, 1974).A separate burial ground was
also established in 1734 for nuns of the Ursuline Convent and their servants at the
southeast corner of Chartres and Ursuline
streets (Cauvin, 1939).
Slaves were among those buried in the St.
Peter Street cemetery. According to Article
XI of the Black Code, written March 1724,
masters were required to bury their Christian slaves in consecrated ground (Gayarre,
1903). Since Article I1 ordered all slaves in
the province to be instructed and baptized in
the Catholic religion, the probability is high
that most of the black burials in the cemetery were those of slaves. Parish priests were
vociferous when unlawful burials occurred,
and they demanded disinterment and reburial in the cemetery with the rites of the
church being administered (e.g., Baudier,
1939).
Census data for New Orleans help identify
the demographic composition of the population served by the cemetery. The January
1732 listing of inhabitants compiled by Conrad (1970)was tabulated (Table 1). This cen-
TABLE 1. Census of New Orleans, January 1732'
White males
White females
Children
French servants
Negro slaves
Free negroes
Total
232
169
305
2
247
2
957
'Conrad (1970)
sus documents the approximate demographic
structure of New Orleans soon after the cemetery was established. A total of 957 individuals, 708 whites and 249 blacks, were
counted. With only two exceptions, all blacks
were slaves. Population size and composition
changed dramatically during succeeding
decades.
The census of June 1778 was undertaken
10 years before the St. Peter Street cemetery
was officially closed (Robichaux, 1977). The
size of the population had tripled and now
totaled more than 3,000 inhabitants (Table
2). Relative to the earlier census, this listing
provides greater detail as to the age structure and racial composition of the city. The
majority was still white, although blacks represented a much larger percentage of the
population. Including persons of mixed racial
heritage, both free and slave, the number of
individuals recognized as "colored" nearly
equaled the number of whites. A total of 353
negroes and persons of mixed blood were
listed as free, as compared with 1,154 slaves.
Thus three of every four persons so identified
were enslaved. This estimate reflects a considerable increase both numerically and proportionally relative to the preceding decades.
The census of 1769, for instance, listed only
99 free persons of color (Evans, 1974). The
age structure for whites in 1778 included 507
(32.7%) children, 872 (56.2%)young to mid-
TABLE 2. Census ofNew Orleans, June 1778'
49+
Total
0-13
14-49
49+
Total
Both sexes
(years)
Total
101
0
6
1
43
151
829
93
28
106
456
1.512
254
63
8
52
87
464
397
90
46
53
363
949
72
2
23
2
35
134
723
155
77
107
485
1.547
1,552
248
105
213
941
3,059
Male age (years)
Race
0-13
14-49
Whites
Free, mixed blood
Free negroes
Slaves, mixed blood
Negro slaves
Total
253
53
9
72
98
485
475
40
13
33
315
876
'Robichaux (1977).
Female age (years)
188
D.W. OWSLEY ET AL.
dle-aged adults, and 173 (11.1%)older adults.
Counts for all blacks indicate a slightly
higher percentage of adults with majority
representation found in the middle age category (n = 953, 63.2%). Comparatively fewer
(n = 112, 7.4%) individuals were older than
49 years.
METHODOLOGY
The methodology applied in the determination of age, sex, race, and the coding of
bone and dental lesions is described in Owsley et al. (1985). In brief overview, each skeleton was systematically inventoried using a
detailed format designed for derivation of
precise dental and bone baseline counts. All
bones were examined for pathological conditions. X-rays were taken as an aid to the
lesion survey. Identification and, where appropriate, diagnosis of lesions were based
upon several sources including Ortner and
Putschar (1981), Resnick and Niwayama
(1981), and Steinbock (1976). The paleopathological observations were scored using a hierarchical approach that descriptively coded
lesions according t o the predominant bone
cell response-bone loss, bone increase, or resorption plus apposition. This general classification refers to the major changes possible
in living bone. A more precise description as
to the nature of the pathology was then recorded using specific descriptors. For example, pathologies identified as representing
bone increase were classified within several
subcategories, such as 1)increase in volume
owing to periostitis, 2) increase in volume
owing to osteomyelitis, or 3) increase in volume owing to ossified connective tissue
(myositis ossificans). Pathologies were also
coded for 1) severity, 2) state (i.e., active
healing), 3)extent (i.e., local, widespread), and
4) specific location. Changes that were due to
degenerative joint disease were scored for
presence, location, and severity of hypertrophic bone formation (marginal lipping, osteophytes), porosity, and eburnation (Chapman, 1972; Jurmain, 1975; Ortner, 1968; Palkovich, 1978).
Owing to pronounced ante- and postmortem tooth loss, dental caries data were not
analyzed on a per individual basis. Rather,
the data were tabulated by tooth type (i.e.,
incisors, canines, premolars, and molars). The
presence of one or more lesions per tooth
constitutes its designation as carious. The
patterning of lesions by tooth type was quantified by sex for two adult age groups to delineate teeth prone to caries.
RESULTS
Cemetery demography
Skeletal remains were recovered for 29 individuals. The sample comprises of one newborn infant, 2 children aged 5-9 years, 3
teenagers aged 15-19 years, and 23 individuals older than 20 years. The oldest age category represented is 50-59 years. The sample
of adults (15 years or older) includes 14 males
and 12 females. Race assignments were possible for 18 skeletons. Two skeletons were
identified as Caucasoid, and 13 were classified as negroid. One child displayed dental
features (e.g., shovel-shaped incisors) suggesting possible white and Indian admixture.
Cranial and dental morphology for two individuals suggest mixed black and white
parentage.
The mortality distribution for the cemetery
sample is presented in Table 3. This table
lists the percentage of individuals represented in each age interval. The series shows
an adult bias with an under-representation
of subadults, who composed only 10.4%of the
burials. Differences in the adult age distributions for males and females suggest differential mortality. Only two (14.3%) young
adult males (15-29 years) were identified in
the cemetery series, as compared with seven
(58.3%) comparably aged females. In this
sample, the apparent peak of adult female
mortality was age 20-24. The percentage of
female deaths remained slightly higher than
males through the fourth decade. The maximum mortality peak for males occurred at
40-49 years. Two males were aged 50-59
years; none of the women was identified as
being older than 49 years,
Given the small number of skeletons recovered for examination, inherent sample
bias may misrepresent the actual mortality
curve of the colonial population. In this regard, an exciting opportunity for biohistorical research involving the City of New
Orleans concerns the possibility for an interdisciplinary approach utilizing the available
French and Spanish colonial records.
While this topic cannot be explored in detail here, it is appropriate t o document the
availability of selected vital statistics records
from the 18th century. The Archdiocesan Archives of the Catholic Church of New Orleans maintains a partial record of colonial
period interment acts for St. Louis Cathedral
(Nolan, 1985, personal communication) with
most years after 1770 represented. At our
request, translated entries for 1785 and 1786
were graciously made available. These rec-
189
URBAN SLAVE POPULATION FROM NEW ORLEANS
TABLE 3. Mortality distributions by age and sex for the cemetery sample and death
records for New Orleans. 1785-1786
Male
Age (years)
Skeletal
Birth
1-4
5-9
10-14
15-19
20-24
25-29
30-39
40-49
50-59
60 +
Adult
(age
indeterminate)
Total
1785-1786
Birth
1-4
5-9
10-14
15-19
20-24
25-29
30-39
40-49
50-59
60 +
Adult
(age
indeterminate)
Total
N
Female
%
N
Total
%
N
%
1
0
2
0
3
3
3
4
7
2
0
4
3.45
0.00
6.90
0.00
10.34
10.34
10.34
13.79
24.14
6.90
0.00
13.79
0
1
2
5
2
0
3
7.14
0.00
7.14
14.28
35.71
14.28
0.00
21.43
2
3
2
2
2
0
0
1
16.67
25.00
16.67
16.67
16.67
0.00
0.00
8.33
14
99.98
12
100.01
29
99.99
30
37
6
5
6
10
15
33
19
24
32
13.82
17.05
2.76
2.30
2.76
4.61
6.91
15.21
8.76
11.06
14.75
10
15
4
7
10
12
6
9
13
11
26
8.13
12.20
3.25
5.69
8.13
9.76
4.88
7.32
10.57
8.94
21.14
40
52
10
12
16
22
21
42
32
35
58
11.76
15.29
2.94
3.53
4.71
6.47
6.18
12.35
9.41
10.29
17.06
217
99.99
123
100.01
340
99.99
1
ords list age, sex, race or social condition,
and burial date. Identification of race and
social condition was often specific, noting free
or slave, white or negro, and various terms
representing degree of racial admixture such
as griffe (i.e., offspring of a negro and a
mulatto).
Of available mortality records (cf. Owsley
et al., 19851, the 1785-1786 age-sex distribution offers the best comparison for the osteological data because of completeness and the
probable interment date of the skeletal sample. The majority, if not all, of the recovered
burials date toward the later period of cemetery use. This mortality list provides approximate ages at death for 340 (87.0%) of 391
individuals.
Deaths during the first 5 years of life represented 27% of the city’s mortality profile
(Table 3). During later childhood, mortality
decreased and remained relatively low
through the teenage years. Young adults,
aged 20-29 years, experienced low mortality,
when compared to adults in general, al-
though the percentage of fatalities doubled
in the next age interval, 30-39 years. The
maximum mortality peak of adult deaths apparently occurred after the age of 60. Infant
and early childhood mortality percentages
were higher for boys than girls. As suggested
by the cemetery sample, female deaths were
more frequent than male deaths during adolescence and early adulthood.
Table 4 presents mean ages at death by
race and sex for the total sample (i.e., children and adults) and for adults excluding
subadults aged less than 15 years. Group
differences were evaluated using analysis of
variance statistics (SAS Institute Inc., 1982).
A two-factor analysis of variance was used to
assess the effects of race and sex on mortality
(Table 5). In the total sample, mean ages at
death were lower for racially admixed individuals than for persons classified as white
or negro. Average ages at death for whites
were 30.4 and 27.0 years for males and females, respectively. Corresponding means for
blacks were 33.0 and 37.0 years. Differences
190
D.W. OWSLEY ET AL.
TABLE 4. Mean age at death by race and sex for the total sample and
for adults, 1785-1786
Group
White
Males
Females
Negro
Males
Females
Mixed
Males
Females
N
Total sample
Mean
SD
30.36
26.98
23.09
27.39
98
23
42.82
47.87
15.88
22.18
54
62
32.96
36.97
27.73
21.19
36
54
46.75
41.67
23.91
18.44
22
17
10.96
24.24
19.64
27.23
5
10
41.60
40.80
21.97
24.02
Skeletal pathology
Each skeleton was examined for pathological features caused by malnutrition, infection, traumatic injury, and degenerative joint
disease. Three general categories of observations are presented in this report: 1) general
and specific bone pathology scores, 2) numbers of bone fractures, and 3) degenerative
changes in joint surfaces. The data are described on a per individual basis. It is necessary to emphasize that bone preservation in
this series is relatively poor, and a comprehensive survey of total skeletons was seldom
possible. Because of differential preservation, the data synthesis also utilizes counts
determined during the collection inventory.
TABLE 5. Twefactor analyses o f variance by race and
sex for the total sample and adults only
Source of variance
D.F.
Mean
square
F
Total (all ages)
Within-groups
Between-groups
Factors
Race
Sex
Total (adults)
Within-groups
Between-groups
Factors
Race
Sex
339
336
3
587.25
3,381.83
5.76*
2
1
225
222
3
4,807.92
233.63
8.19*
0.40
366.97
36.14
0.10
2
1
45.07
7.72
0.12
0.02
< ,001.
Adults (15 +)
Mean
SD
141
44
between races were not statistically significant when children were excluded from the
analysis. Even though most negroes were
slaves, slavery has no apparent detrimental
effect on age at death. This issue requires
further verification in future investigations.
Differences between sexes were not significant at the .05 level of confidence.
*Significantat P
N
Calculation of the various percentages given
in the following pages is based on the number of lesions relative to the inventory counts
(Owsley et al., 1985).
Cranial bones of eight individuals have
pathological features characterized by bone
loss, bone increase, or, rarely, apposition plus
resorption. Bone loss was most often expressed as loss of density owing to porosity.
In two individuals the porosity involved the
superior orbital borders of the frontal bones.
These pathologies were identified as cribra
orbitalia, a bony response often associated
with anemic conditions. Changes evident in
Burial 6 were classified as moderate in
expression and active at the time of death.
Both individuals were young adult females.
The total number of frontal bones in the sample (represented as either complete or partial) was 16. Of this number, 6 are female.
Thus 12.5%of the total sample, or 33.3%of
the females, show evidence of porosity probably caused by anemia. Porotic hyperostosis
was tentatively suggested by the increased
thickness of the fragmentary pieces of parietal recovered in one burial. Small benign
bone tumors, button osteomas, were observed on the cranial bones of two skulls.
Localized periostitis on the inferior border
and inner orbital surface of the left eye orbit
of Burial 6 indicates inflammation at the
time of death.
Examples of periostitis and osteomyelitis
of the postcranial skeleton were occasionally
observed. Six lesions were classified as bone
increase owing to inflammation of the periosteum. This total represents six adults and
involved one left and two right humeri (3/23,
13.0%),two right femora (2120, 10.0%),and
one right fibula (1/22,4.5%).Base counts used
in calculation of percentages represent numbers of complete left and right long bones.
These examples were fairly minor in expres-
URBAN SLAVE POPULATION FROM NEW ORLEANS
191
Fig. 2. Osteomyelitis of right tibia, Burial 23.
sion. Chronic osteomyelitis resulting in multiple saucer-like granulomatous lesions, and
a large penetrating defect was observed in
the right tibia of Burial 23 (1/21, 4.8%;Fig.
2). The right fibula was also infected (1/22,
4.5%).This tibia was examined by Dr. Donald Ortner of the Smithsonian Institution and
Dr. Walter Putschar, Massachusetts General
Hospital, Boston. Their evaluation considered the possibility of mycotic osteomyelitis,
as well as the standard bacterial osteomyelitis. The latter possibility was preferred, although other possibilities were mentioned.
“One possibility that did come up in our discussion of the case was chronic infection resulting from an ankle shackle” (Ortner, 1985,
personal communication).
Postcranial lesions were primarily classified as increase in bone volume owing to
ossification of connective tissues (e.g., myositis ossificans). The list of individuals showing
these types of changes on nearly all of their
long bones includes Burials 1, 3, 23, and 31.
These individuals are older (40+ years) black
males (Burial 31, possibly whitehlack). This
general pattern reflects a very high level of
physical activity and strain, which undoubtedly relates to occupational stress, probably
as slaves. These males show hypertrophy of
the deltoid tuberosities of the humeri, robusticity of the ulnar supinator crests, proximal
elongation of the posterior olecranons (ulnae)
owing to ossification of the triceps brachii
tendons, and ossification of the biceps brachii
tendon insertions on the radial tuberosities
of the radii (Figs. 3,4). These areas are major
muscle attachments and, for example, concern the flexor, extensor, and supinator muscles of the arm. Changes in muscle attachment sites in the legs are equally profound.
Contrasts within the sample are marked.
In women, these types of changes are much
less frequent and relatively minor, probably
reflecting the younger age composition of females and less heavy physical labor. Also,
certain older males (e.g., Burials 5, 11, and
16) do not display generalized patterns of
bone remodeling and buildup at muscle attachment sites. Skeleton 5 was a white male;
the others were black.
Bone fractures were observed in three individuals. Burial 5 had three slight depression fractures involving the outer table of the
skull. The depression of the frontal bone
measured 2.5 x 8.0 mm and indicates active
remodeling at the time of death. The other
fractures were healed and of long-standing
duration. One was on the right parietal and
measured 2.0 x 14.0 mm. The fracture site
on the occipital bone measured 3.0 x 8.0
mm. This burial also had a compression fracture of one of the lower thoracic vertebra.
Burial 1, a black male, had two small (measurements = 0.5 x 10 mm, 1.0 X 24.0 mm)
192
D.W. OWSLEY ET AL.
Fig. 3. Hypertrophic ossification of the radial tuberosities, Burial 23.
Fig. 4. Proximal prolongation of the proximal olecranons (ulnas) owing to ossification of the
triceps brachii tendons, Burial 23.
193
URBAN SLAVE POPULATION FROM NEW ORLEANS
depression fractures of the left parietal. Both
fractures involved only the outer table and
were healed at the time of death.
Two healed fractures of the distal ulna were
observed in black males (Burials 1 and 3).
Fractures of the distal ulna are often referred
to as parry fractures, as this fracture often
results from using the forearm defensively to
ward off a blow. Sixteen distal ulnas are represented in the collection, indicating a fracture frequency of 12.5%.
Fifth lumbar spondylolysis was noted in
two adult females. This number represents
two (50%)of four fifth lumbars recovered in
the female sample. Seven fifth lumbars were
recovered in males; none showed separation
of the neural arch.
Arthritic changes in postcranial skeletons
were found in eight adult males. Table 6
gives incidence of degenerative changes (i.e.,
osteophytes, porosity, and eburnation) in
males. Glenoid cavities of the scapulae show
the highest frequencies of involvement. The
most common expression of degenerative arthritis was the presence of osteophytes, and
these were generally classified in the slightto-moderate range. With the exception of
Burial 12, with moderately severe lipping
and porosity of the left glenoid, females do
not show these types of changes. Owsley et
al. (1985)provide similar data concerning the
common occurrence of vertebral osteophytes,
ligamentum flava, and Schmorl’s nodes in
this series. Schmorl’sdepressions were noted
in three males and one female (Burial 12) in
15 thoracic vertebrae (n for adult males and
females = 97, 1.5%) and four lumbars (n =
61, 6.6%). Two examples of bony ankylosis
were noted in two older (50-59 years) black
males, fusion of the second and third cervical
vertebrae of Burial 3, and a fused sacroiliac
joint in Burial 1. Changes in the joint surfaces and spinal columns of selected individuals compliment the described pattern of
hypertrophic bone formation and imply a
background of physiological wear and tear.
Certain males, but not all, were engaged in
heavy physical labor. Concomitant degenerative changes in their skeletons were more
pronounced.
Transverse lines
X-rays taken of relatively complete long
bones provided radiographically determined
transverse line data for nine left and ten
right femora, and seven left and eight right
tibiae. This sample represents 12 individuals, eight males and four females. All are
adult, and only two individuals are less than
30 years of age. Age is an important consideration in the interpretation of transverse
line data, as bone cortex remodeling in older
adults tends to remove lines (Garn et al.,
1968.
Lines, when present, were generally located in the distal diaphysis. Only one line
was observed in the proximal femur, and one
line was observed in the proximal tibia. The
maximum line count for an individual was
four in the left femur of an adult male. This
individual also had two lines present in the
distal left and right tibiae. The highest female count was three lines. In general, transverse lines are relatively infrequent. Average
femoral line counts determined using one
bone per individual, preferably the left, were
0.6 (n = 8) and 1.0 (n = 3) in males and
females, respectively. Mean numbers in the
tibia were 1.0 (n = 7) and 0.0 (n = 3). The
majority of individuals have no lines. The
TABLE 6. Degenerative changes in joint surfaces of adult males: Osteophytes, porosity, and eburnation
Osteophytes
Left
Porosity
Right
n
%
Joint surface
N
n
%
N
Scapula(g1enoid)
Prox. humerus
Distal humerus
Prox. radius
Distal radius
Box. ulna
Distal ulna
Prox. femur
Distal femur
Prox. tibia
Distal tibia
7
6
7
7
6
5
71.4
16.7
28.6
28.6
33.3
16.7
0.0
12.5
14.3
16.7
0.0
9
5
7
9
8
1
6
3
8
7
6
6
1
2
2
2
1
0
1
1
1
0
5
9
7
8
8
7
6
2
0
0
0
2
0
3
0
0
55.6
14.3
22.2
0.0
0.0
0.0
28.6
0.0
37.5
0.0
0.0
Left
n
%
1
0
1
1
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
14.3
0.0
14.3
14.3
0.0
0.0
33.3
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
~Right_
n
%
Eburnation
Left
_
_
_Right_
n
%
n
%
0
0
0
1
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0.0
0.0
11.1
12.5
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0.0
1
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0
0
0
0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
14.3
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
_
194
D.W. OWSLEY ET AL.
percentage of individuals with a t least one
line in the distal femur was 18.2%; the percentage with at least one line in the distal
tibia was 40.0%. This observation is consistent with the general view that lines are
more common in the distal tibia than on any
other bone (Garn et al., 1968). Five of 12
individuals have one or more lines in either
the femur or tibia. These observations, as
general indicators of childhood stress, provide baseline counts for comparisons with
other historic period samples.
surfaces than anterior teeth. First molars
also erupt earlier than the anterior dentition, which allows a longer duration of food
and particle involvement. Total counts for
this age category show that 15.4%and 22.2%
of the maxillary and mandibular teeth, respectively, were pathological. There appears
to be a slight sex difference, with males
showing slightly lower total incidence.
Older adults experienced higher frequencies of caries of the anterior teeth, as well as
continued posterior tooth involvement. The
grand total percentage was 25%, as comDental pathology
pared with 19.1% for young adults. Because
Tooth decay and periodontal disease were of loss of diseased teeth owing to periodontal
common problems. The age and sex distribu- disease and periapical abscesses, continuation of carious permanent teeth is given in tion of this high frequency denotes decay of
Table 7. Teeth are listed by type and the teeth remaining a t older ages. Among older
mandibular and maxillary arcades are tabu- adults, male values were higher than felated separately. The data provide insight as males, although the number of older aged
to the age progression of dental decay. Young females was very small. The total combined
adults, 15 to 29 years, show high frequencies age and sex caries prevalence rate was 22.3
of posterior teeth involvement in both ar- percent.
In addition to a high rate of tooth decay,
cades, especially mandibular molars (44%
carious). Anterior tooth involvement was rel- periodontal disease and alveolar resorption
atively rare. Posterior teeth are morphologi- contributed to antemortem loss of teeth. Alcally more complex and have broader occlusal veolar bone infections were common to the
TABLE 7. Distribution of carious permanent teeth by tooth type, age, and sex
N
15-29 Years
Maxilla
Incisors
Canines
Premolars
Molars
Total
Mandible
Incisors
Canines
Premolars
Molars
Total
Grand total
30+ Years
Maxilla
Incisors
Canines
Premolars
Molars
Total
Mandible
Incisors
Canines
Premolars
Molars
Total
Grand total
8
4
6
8
26
Male
C
0
0
1
1
2
%
N
0.00
0.00
16.67
12.50
7.69
10
15
26
8
2
10
17
37
63
1
0
0
5
6
8
0.00
0.00
16.67
50.00
23.08
15.38
13
11
20
23
67
2
2
6
12
22
15.38
18.18
30.00
52.17
32.84
2
3
3
9
11
0
1
4
4
9
31
0.00
25.00
26.67
18.18
17.31
26.05
0
0
2
6
8
17
4
15
22
52
119
Total
%
N
C
%
0.00
0.00
20.00
26.67
23.08
9
4
16
23
52
1
0
0
7
8
14
12.50
0.00
0.00
41.18
21.62
22.22
15
1
5
16
27
63
115
0
1
12
14
22
6.67
0.00
6.25
44.44
22.22
19.13
0
0
0
1
1
0.00
0.00
14
13
23
26
76
2
2
6
13
23
14.29
15.38
26.09
50.00
30.26
11
0
4
1
17
28
60
136
4
6
11
34
0.00
25.00
23.53
21.43
18.33
25.00
___
1
0
7
3
6
10
26
52
1
Female
C
0.00
33.33
11.11
0.00
0.00
0.00
33.33
25.00
17.65
0.00
0.00
18.75
21.74
15.38
URBAN SLAVE POPULATION FROM NEW ORLEANS
TABLE 8. Alveolar bone pathology
Adults-sexes combined
N
__
Maxilla
Incisors
Canines
Premolars
Molars
Total
Mandible
Incisors
Canines
Premolars
Molars
Total
Grand total
P
%
~
7
41
21
44
51
157
13
25
49
17.1
19.0
29.5
49.0
31.2
44
22
46
66
178
335
5
2
15
35
57
106
11.4
9.1
32.6
53.0
32.0
31.6
4
N, Nos. of tooth sockets; P, Nos. of tooth sockets affected by
periodontal or periapical abscess or antemortem tooth loss; %,
percent pathological.
extent that among adults 31.6% (49.0-53.0%
of the molars) of the tooth sockets were affected by active periodontal or periapical abscesses at the time of death, or already
showed antemortern tooth loss and corresponding bone resorption (Table 8).
DISCUSSION
The osteological research has presented observations concerning cemetery demography
and skeletal and dental pathological lesions.
Thirty-two burials were located and exhumed. This series includes 26 individuals
older than 15 years, two children, one newborn infant, and three who had no bones
preserved. Both males and females are represented. Sex differences in the adult age
distributions, as ascertained through both
death records and the skeletal collection,
suggest a slightly higher frequency of young
adult female mortality. Evidence for differential mortality by sex is not, however,
clearly reflected in the mean ages at death
derived from the death records. In other details, the two sources provide only marginal
congruence. Along with under-representation of infants, children, and adolescents, the
skeletal collection is seemingly deficient in
old adults. Most adults were assigned ages of
30-39 years, which provides striking contrast with the death records characterized by
a high frequency of older individuals. This
variation may simply reflect sampling error,
as both samples are limited. It may, however,
emphasize current limitations in the recognition and accurate aging of older individuals (Willey and Mann, 1986). This is not to
195
say that the blame lies solely in the osteological record. Further interpretation of the
mortality records must also carefully consider inherent defects (e.g., “age heaping”)
and other sources of error affecting this type
of data. As larger historic period skeletaI
samples become available, this general approach should prove instructive. Both sources
(i.e. paleodemography based on osteological
data and historical demography based on
censuses and registration of vital events)
used interactively ultimately will provide a
better understanding of the biology and historical demography of past populations.
The cemetery sample includes both whites
and blacks. Most blacks were very likely
slaves. In this regard, analysis of the death
records for the years 1785-1786 do not show
marked differences in mortality by race. This
observation requires additional confirmation. Consideration should also be given to
the possible effects of racial admixture on
preadult survivorship. Race differences observed in the available data indicate shorter
average lifespans for children of mixed
parentage.
Pathological changes most frequently observed in the collection reflect arthritic degenerative conditions or bone hypertrophy,
primarily as reflected in ossification of muscle and tendon attachment sites. These features reflect life histories involving high
levels of physical labor and strain, perhaps
attributable to manual labor on the docks of
this busy shipping port or as workers on the
canals and levees. Only certain individuals
clearly display pronounced patterns of degenerative changes. Others, notably females and
selected older males, show less clearly the
effects of aging and articular changes owing
to degenerative joint disease. This contrast
likely provides evidence of social stratification and corresponding occupational differences. For example, Burial 11,an older black
male, is differentiated from the others in both
archaeological and osteological features. Roman Catholic grave items, including a rosary
and a religious medallion, were buried in the
coffin, and soil pollen analysis indicates the
placing of flowers in the coffin (Owsley et al.,
1985). Bone pathologies do not suggest a lifeway characterized by heavy occupational
stress.
Urban slaves had a different lifestyle than
those on the plantations (Boles, 1983; Reinders, 1964). Many of the slaves in New Orleans were domestics, employed as cooks,
196
D.W. OWSLEY ET AL.
nurses, house maids, butlers, and coachmen.
One contemporary writer, observing the hierarchy of slavery, said that “the chief ambition” of a male slave was “to become
master’s waiting-man, or valet,” and “in the
case of a female, lady’s maid.” Below these
positions in status were housekeeper, chambermaid, steward, dining room servant, or
groom, or better still, carriage-driver (Hundley, 1860:351-352). The reason slaves sought
these positions, or were happy when they
were rewarded with them, was because “they
lived well in comparison to the slaves of the
plantations” (Fossier, 1957:375).Others were
engaged in skilled trades involving carpentry, bricklaying, cabinet making, coach making, painting, and butchering (Boles, 1983;
Kendall, 1940).
The diversity of labor available in the New
Orleans urban setting uniquely differs from
the rural pattern of labor, where most workers were engaged in agrarian activities. The
effects of these differences are illustrated, for
example, when present data are referenced
to available data documenting arthritic
changes in rural slave population samples
(Thomas et al., 1977; Rathbun, n.d.). Plantation slaves from South Carolina display consistently higher frequencies of arthritic
changes on major joint surfaces (Rathbun,
n.d.). This observation does not make light of
the stresses of slavery in this unique southern city. Healed “parry” fractures of two distal ulnas and profound skeletal manifestations of physical stress in these and other
individuals imply otherwise. In general,
however, variations within the series seemingly reflect the diversity of occupations
available t o blacks.
Other pathologies include relatively infrequent representation of bone periostitis, osteomyelitis, and slight indications of anemic
conditions. Frequencies of cribra orbitalia
and porotic hyperostosis and bone infections
were less common, and seemingly much less
severe, than has been noted in other AfroAmerican samples (Angel et al., n.d.; Rathbun, n.d.; Rose, 1985). Transverse lines of
arrested growth occur in relatively low frequency in terms of numerical counts and
presence absence representation. Comparable data for historic black slaves in South
Carolina, for example, reflect higher mean
numbers of lines in male and female tibiae
(Rathbun, n.d.1.
Dental caries and antemortem tooth loss
owing to periodontal disease and abscess formation were common health problems. New
Orleans dental pathology statistics are high
by worldwide standards, even for agricultural economies (cf. Turner, 1979; Wells,
1975). The frequency and type of caries evident in a population largely depends on the
nature and physical consistency of the diet
(Powell, 1985; Wells, 1975). In this regard,
the physical evidence suggests that the diet
in this urban gulfport environment was
highly cariogenic. Among foods mentioned in
historical descriptions were staples high in
refined carbohydrates and sugars, notably
corn meal, fine flour, and molasses (Fossier,
1957). During the pre-Civil War era, sugar
ranked as the second most valuable crop handled on the wharves of New Orleans, with
cane grown and processed on most south Louisiana plantations (Reinders, 1964).
In conclusion, the physical evidence from
the St. Peter Street cemetery provides new
evidence about the nature of slavery in New
Orleans and opens up new horizons for the
interdisciplinary examination of urban slavery. The evidence presented suggests that
the slaves buried in this cemetery may have
lived slightly better lives than those on rural
plantations. This conclusion, however, must
be tentative because no comparable skeletal
series from south Louisiana is available for
examination. Nonetheless, the methods and
approaches used at this cemetery are now
being applied at two 19th century New Orleans’ cemeteries, and the body of comparable
data is expanding. When the results of these
investigations are known and when a rural
sample is collected, we will be in a much
better position to contribute to the biohistorical understanding of American urban and
rural slavery.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Archaeological testing of the St. Peter
Street cemetery benefited from assistance
provided by many individuals. E. Thomas
and David A.Tortorich gave permission to
work at the site. Salvadore Anzelmo, City
Attorney for New Orleans, and Thomas M.
Finney, Director of Communications and
Public Relations, Archdiocese of New Orleans, provided invaluable support for testing.
Dr. J. Richard Shenkel contacted us about
the site and helped gain access to the property. We thank the Rev. Monsignor Earl C.
Woods, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of New
Orleans Archives for granting access to 18thcentury death records. Dr. Charles E. Nolan
compiled the archival material. Drs. Richard
L. Jantz, William M. Bass, Donald J. Ortner,
URBAN SLAVE POPULATION FROM NEW ORLEANS
Kim N. Schneider, Steven A. Symes, and
Mary H. Manhein contributed greatly to the
osteological analysis, and Claudia C. Holland assisted with the archival and archaeological research. Project support was provided
by a grant from the Division of Archaeology,
State of Louisiana, and the National Park
Service, and matching funds from Louisiana
State University. The Historic New Orleans
Collection provided the Gonichon map and
waived the reproduction privilege fee.
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