Deep in the woods of Barkhamsted, Connecticut, archaeologist Kenneth Feder found a series of irregular cellar holes. That discovery led to the archaeological and genealogical investigation into what had become the legend of Barkhamsted Lighthouse. The long told story as it appeared in local newspaper articles, a school play, and even a book-length poem focused on Molly Barber, a white woman born in central Connecticut in the middle of the eighteenth century. Molly, the legend goes, abandoned her family, her friends, and her privilege to marry the man she loved, James Chaugham, a Narragansett Indian from Block Island in Long Island Sound. Molly and James ultimately had several children and their growing community became a magnet for other outcasts including Native Americans as well as people of African and European descent. Some of these newcomers married into the family and together created a community in their little village.
As a tale of rebellion, race, resistance, and resilience the legend called out for investigation. The site was excavated intermittently between 1986 and 2009, and Feder also started a genealogical investigation of James and Molly and their descendants. After meeting with Raymond Ellis, a seventh-generation descendant of the founding couple, Feder recognized that this was more than just a historical mystery to solve, it was also a chance to connect archaeology of historic places with the present-day relatives of those who once lived there.
Kenneth Feder is professor emeritus (Anthropology) at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut. His primary research interests include the archaeology of the native peoples of New England and the analysis of public perceptions about the human past. He is the author of several books including: Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology ; Ancient America: Fifty Archaeological Sites to See for Yourself (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017); Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019); and Native American Archaeology in the Parks: A Guide to Heritage Sites in Our National Parks and Monuments (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023).
Chapter 1: A Lighthouse in Barkhamsted?
Chapter 2: Lewis Mills and the Legend of Barkhamsted Lighthouse
Chapter 3: Sources of the Lighthouse Legend
Chapter 4: Digging in the Documents: James Chaugham and Mary Barber
Chapter 5: Digging in the Documents: An Ever Widening Circle
Chapter 6: The Pedestrian Survey
Chapter 7: Digging in the Dirt: Excavating the Lighthouse, the Artifacts
Chapter 8: Generations Speeding Onward
About the Author
In Barkhamsted Lighthouse: The Archaeology of the Lighthouse Family Feder has created a truly compelling narrative. Working from primary documents, historical accounts, and archaeological data, he tells a human story full of singular characters that will resonate with today’s reader. Far from a sterile account of old records and dusty artifacts, this book tells the tale of marginalized people creating community on the edges of society. Feder’s words reveal the sense of discovery and wonder that accompanies the study of the past.
This journey unfolds in the forests along the Tunxis Sepo (Farmington River). While conducting scientific archaeological analysis, Feder uncovers a living people and shakes hands with the past. His study of the historical record brings humor and humility.
Archaeologists frequently find themselves explaining why archaeology matters. Through the captivating narrative of his experience with one site, Feder reveals that archaeology is more about the living than the dead. In this story, we are reminded that the past binds us to each other and gives meaning to our lives. Archaeology is the tangible evidence of all those people, many with extraordinary stories, that the history books forgot or historic records characterized with unflattering declarations. This is particularly true of the Barkhamsted Lighthouse Community. Archaeology reveals the truth of their humanity, what Feder calls the 'magic of archaeology'
In the most engaging manner, Dr. Feder takes the reader along on his personal journey, possible obsession, with the Lighthouse community. A self-proclaimed “document nerd” and exceptional archaeologist, he communicates the otherwise tedious fundamentals of archeological methods and historic research through an engrossing narrative that leaves the reader feeling connected to this no longer forgotten community.
The Barkhamsted Lighthouse: The Archaeology of the Lighthouse Family is a meticulous weaving together of facts, acknowledging the unknowable, to demonstrate that history does not need to be fictionalized to be interesting. Although the book is written as a tribute to James and Molly Chaugham and their descendants, their story resonates with contemporary issues of identity, social acceptance, and discrimination; as well as the perpetually alluring subject of love and family.