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  • Tara L. Tetrault and Suzanne Johnson

Descendants and Archaeologists Investigating the Dorsey Site in Sugarland, Maryland.

Sugarland, Maryland is a post-emancipation community founded in 1871. Early founding families like the Dorseys helped create this new farming community by purchasing their 4-acre farm in 1874 and teaching their children to look to the future and strive to be all they could be. At its peak, Sugarland was a self-sufficient community where its members worked together to build houses, plant, and harvest crops with each other, and share the food harvested each season. For example, during harvesting season, the children went out to the orchards to pick fruit and vegetables while the adults processed and canned food for the winter. Residents shared the harvest.

Figure 1. Archeological discoveries from the Dorsey Site at Sugarland.

Members of the Sugarland community also built community structures. At its peak, the Sugarland Community included a church, a community center, a store, a Post Office, a school, a court system, and a band. Members of the Dorsey family were instrumental in forming or managing the Sugarland Band.

Figure 2. The Lee Children at the Dorsey Well.

In 1990, descendant Gwen Reese set out to restore the Sugarland church and lead a grassroots effort to start a non-profit organization to preserve Sugarland history, gather collections and archives, and work with cousin, Suzanne Johnson and Historian Jeff Sypeck to publish a book in 2020 I Have Started For Canaan: the Story of the African American Town of Sugarland, Maryland. That year they also worked with Tara Tetrault to start the Dorsey archeology project

In 2021 with the assistance of an MHC grant and Archeological Society of Maryland members, we began investigating the Dorsey Site. There are no pictures of the original house or any of the Dorsey family members, so archeology is important to interpreting Dorsey's past. In 2022 we assessed two areas of features and uncovered the barn, the privy, and the trash pit. In 2023 we began evaluating part of the farm. Find us at



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