How a Humble Stone Carries the Memory of an 1851 African American Uprising Against the Fugitive Slave Law

The Excavation of a Christiana, Pennsylvania, Field Shows How Free Black People Used Mutual Aid Societies for Defense

The muse for this story is a humble piece of stone, no more than an inch square. Sometime in the mid-19th century, it had been fashioned into a gunflint—an object that, when triggered to strike a piece of steel, could spark a small explosion of black powder and propel a lead ball from the muzzle of a gun with mortal velocity.

Archaeologists often come across gunflints. That’s because during the 19th century firearms were considered mundane items, owned by rich and poor alike. Gunflints, like shell casings now, were their disposable …