Ransom Williams Family Recovered Artifacts
Reconstruction-era African American family's story told through the remains of their farm
In 2003, while surveying a piece of land for a new portion of State Highway 45, TxDOT consulting archaeologists stumbled across an old, crumbling chimney near the Travis-Hays County line. Historians soon learned the chimney was part of a farmhouse that belonged to Ransom and Sarah Williams, African Americans who lived and worked on the land between 1871 and 1905.
The Williams Farmstead was significant because Ransom and Sarah were African American and in the aftermath of the Civil War, discriminatory labor practices kept most African Americans from earning enough money to purchase land. Despite these challenges, Williams bought a farmstead in 1871. The archaeological remains of the farmstead reveal what life was like for one African American family that worked its way up the social and economic ladder.
Ransom and Sarah supported themselves by raising horses and farming 45 acres in southern Travis County. Williams registered his horse brand, "RA," in Travis County in April 1872. A fragment of a brand found on the Williams Farmstead matches the brand he filed with the county.
The objects left behind at the farmstead show that the Williams Family did much more than scrape by. They were successful enough to have money to spend on toys for the children, costume jewelry, manufactured dish sets imported from England, and mass-produced patent medicines and extracts.
Ransom and Sarah Williams valued education and made sure their children attended school. Archaeologists found several writing slate fragments and slate pencils at the farmstead, which the children likely used to practice their lessons. An education was one way that parents could ensure their children's social status and futures.
After Ransom died in 1901, Sarah and some of the children continued to live on the farm until about 1905.
Without the construction of State Highway 45, the story of the Williams Family may have been lost to history all together.
Courtesy Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin
Time Period: 1866 - 1936
This artifact is currently on view.