Developer Finds Human Remains Near Nashville Civil War Fort

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NASHVILLE, TN — A developer has unearthed human remains that could be two centuries old while digging to lay the groundwork for a new project in Nashville not far from a Civil War fort and cemetery dating back to 1822.

For Nashville, the discovery marks the latest intersection between times of economic boom and the city’s rich and sometimes troubled history – where new amenities sprout on or near lands where people have settled, fought or grieved long ago, then died and were buried, often with little record of their final resting places.

In a court filing earlier this month, AJ Capital Management noted that the discovery occurred in the neighborhood near Fort Negley as the company worked on its mixed-use Nashville Warehouse Co. development, which will include apartments and commercial spaces.

The fort, built by runaway slaves and freed blacks for the Union, has become a flashpoint in recent years in Nashville’s long journey from an Old Confederacy center to a vibrant, modern city trying to cope with rapid growth. It is about half a mile from the multi-building project, which is partially completed and flanked by a giant guitar board and construction crane in a rapidly developing neighborhood with businesses, bars and restaurants .

The company is asking a judge at the Nashville Chancery for permission to move the remains, which include skeletal pieces and thin wood fragments thought to be from coffins, to the adjacent city of Nashville cemetery. , 200 years old.

An archaeologist hired by the company wrote that his team discovered remains in May and again in June, describing them as not of Native American origin and “estimated to date at the beginning of the 19th century”, placing them potentially before the Civil War.

The archaeologist wrote that these were probably ‘isolated burials and not a wider cemetery distribution’, saying the remains had only been found in two of the 53 4ft by 6ft excavations carried out to work on the foundations. Both were found about 15 feet underground, within a few feet. State archeology officials, local police, and the county medical examiner’s office have been notified.

Part of each burial and remains were left unexposed and kept on site, the archaeologist wrote.

A spokesperson for AJ Capital did not respond to a request for additional comment.

According to Learotha Williams, a professor at Tennessee State University who specializes in African-American studies, the Civil War and Reconstruction, who could these potentially centuries-old people have been?

He wouldn’t rule out that the remains could be Native Americans, early settlers, Civil War soldiers or black fort workers – although that seems less likely, as there was evidence of coffins, he said. he says, and that was a level of respect that wasn’t generally given to black people at that time.

Williams said he would feel “a lot more comfortable maybe bringing in a university unit” to survey the area where the remains were found. He described Nashville’s “spotty record” in resolving the friction between growth and historic preservation.

Williams said things are “changing a bit” but there’s still “a long way to go” when it comes to Nashville’s sensitivity to stories of marginalized people.

More importantly, an effort several years ago to build the area right next to Fort Negley attracted enough attention that it was shelved because it was later discovered that the land below was probably burial sites.

Next to the fort, developers had planned to build a housing and entertainment complex where Nashville’s former minor league baseball stadium sat, near the foot of the fort.

After opposition grew, the city ordered an archaeological survey, which in January 2018 determined that human remains are likely still buried there, possibly of the slaves who built the fort.

Plans were discontinued, and the city instead considered a park commemorating the fort and the people forced to build it. The city demolished the ballpark and held public meetings about the redesign. A final draft of a master plan is expected to be released this summer.

After Confederate forces surrendered to Union soldiers in Nashville in 1862, the Union took over 2,700 runaway slaves and freed the blacks from their homes and churches and forced them to work on the fort , where they lived in “smuggling camps”. Although they were promised money for their work, few were paid. About 600-800 of them died.

The fort has deteriorated over the years. The Works Progress Administration rebuilt it in 1936 and it reopened in 1938, but the fort again fell into disrepair. The Ku Klux Klan rallied there during the Jim Crow years, and separate softball fields were later built nearby, according to the late author Robert Hicks.

The new development where the remains were found this year is farther from the fort, across a set of train tracks from where the baseball stadium used to be.

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