Lost Messages in Clay: Deciphering the Bricks of Levi Jordan Plantation


THC's Historic Sites

By Nicholas Bourgeois, M.A., R.P.A., Archeologist, Levi Jordan Plantation 

Bricks are the most common type of artifact found at the Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site. They were handmade by the enslaved laborers from local clay and fired on-site in kilns.  

The bricks were used to construct the main house’s chimneys, water cisterns, sugar mill, and sections of many other buildings. These buildings include an exterior kitchen, post office/general store, small hospital, and sleeping quarters for the male children of the Jordan family.  

In the early 2010s, the tedious process of stabilizing the Levi Jordan Plantation’s main house began. The stabilization of the house required many tasks, one of which was the deconstruction and reconstruction of the two chimneys located at the far east and west wings of the house.  

During the deconstruction of the chimneys, bricks containing unusual markings were discovered by members of the construction crew. We do not know what the brickmaker was trying to convey when they inscribed these markings into the soft clay of the unfired bricks.  

The proposed theories are many, and range from the markings having spiritual/religious significance, to a practical system of labeling that designates the bricks for a specific use in the construction of the chimneys.  

With little evidence to bolster either of these theories, the interpretation of these markings remains in the realm of speculation, and we may never know what concept was trying to be conveyed by their existence. Regardless of this fact, these markings are invaluable and contribute to the already-rich archeological record of the Levi Jordan Plantation.  

They are the tangible representations of an enslaved person’s thoughts and intentions to communicate a message that escapes us to this day. The markings represent a physical link to the mind of that individual and transform what would normally be considered a simple brick artifact into an artifact of abstract thought. 

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  • Bricks and marks at Levi Jordan Plantation