For more than a decade, archaeologist Dr. Cheryl LaRoche has been researching and physically exploring the landscapes of 18th and 19th century free Black communities, their churches, cemeteries and institutions, and their relationship to the Underground Railroad.
She is a historical and archaeological consultant who combines law, history, oral history, archaeology, geography, and material culture to define nineteenth century African American cultural landscapes and its relationship to escape from slavery. She often works at the sometimes contentious interface between the public and scholars, professionals and municipalities.
She has physically walked historic landscapes from New Hampshire to Missouri to Canada. Her first book Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance was published by the University of Illinois Press. In 2011, The Society for Historical Archaeology awarded LaRoche the John L. Cotter Award for her exemplary work in bringing a multidisciplinary approach to the study of African American archaeology.
Dr. LaRoche is an associate research professor in Historic Preservation in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at the University of Maryland, College Park. She lectures on a wide range of historical topics; her work has taken her across the country, from New England to the banks of the Mississippi River and beyond. She has consulted for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, the African Meeting House in Boston and Nantucket, and a number of other historical sites and projects. She worked as an archaeological conservator for the African Burial Ground Project in New York City where she was responsible for conserving the grave goods from the burials.
Cheryl LaRoche worked with Time Team America on PBS and the Josiah Henson project in Montgomery County, MD using archaeology to bring to light a new interpretation of Josiah Henson. Henson’s narrative, The Life of Josiah Henson, was long thought to have been the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stow’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. ArchaeologistLaRoche, who usually works on and in the ground, takes to the air with the show's producer to interpret the totality of Henson’s world.
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In this enlightening study, Dr. Cheryl LaRoche employs the tools of archaeology to uncover a new historical perspective on the Underground Railroad. Unlike previous histories, which concentrated on frightened fugitive slaves and their benevolent abolitionist accomplices, LaRoche focuses instead on free African American communities, the crucial help they provided to individuals fleeing slavery, and the terrain where those flights to freedom occurred. Exploring the religious and fraternal institutions at the heart of these free African American communities, LaRoche demonstrates how the AME and Baptist churches and Prince Hall Masons, in addition to Quakers, provided both physical and social structures that fostered escape from slavery.