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Digging history: Student archaeologists learn more about Pope County settlement

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POPE COUNTY — The story of Miller Grover, a lost community of free African-Americans in Pope County, is largely untold, but every summer more about the settlement is discovered through a partnership between Shawnee National Forest and the Summer Field School of the Center for Archaeological Investigations at SIU.

“We’ve spent a lot of time at Bedford and Abby Gill Miller’s farm,” Mary McCorvie, an archaeologist with Shawnee National Forest, said. “Bedford came as a little boy with his parents, Harrison and Lucinda Miller.”

This year the Summer Field School students excavated at the farmstead of Jim and Fannie (Miller) McClure, one of Bedford’s four daughters.

Miller Grove is believed to have been established in 1844 and to have been active through the late 1920s.

“There is not a lot known about this community, so anything you can get out of the ground is extra information on them,” Mark Wagner, director of Center of Archaeological Investigations, said.

McCorvie said eventually they left because they couldn’t make a living at the site.

This year, the students found artifacts that proved this is a second generation of Miller Grove residents, not the first generation.

“It gives us more information about who was living here,” Wagner said.

The group found a wheat penny, cast iron stove parts, a doorknob and a skeleton key. They also believe they have found the location of the home.

The Summer Field School began at Fort Kaskaskia State Park, then spent two weeks at Miller Grove. After an open house Saturday morning, the group closed the dig sites at Miller Grove. They will return to Fort Kaskaskia for another two weeks beginning Monday.

“Because Fort Kaskaskia is a state park, people can visit any time,” Wagner said.

This year’s field school includes 10 students, three graduate assistants and five Passport in Time volunteers.

Passport in Time is a cultural heritage resources program sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service. Volunteers work with professional archaeologists and historians on projects on public lands throughout the U.S.

Two of those Passport volunteers are Rebekah Mills and her brother, Noah, of Dover, Delaware. Rebekah Mills is really interested in archaeology, and has done some archaeology work in Ireland, but decided to explore opportunities in the U.S., and Noah agreed to join her.

“Volunteering with the Forest Service is a really cool way to learn more about archaeology in the U.S.,” Rebekah Miller said.

She said Miller Grove was a great place to work because they have been able to open and close so many individual dig sites.

“It’s a really cool learning experience,” Rebekah Miller said.

They were working on a dig site away from the home on Saturday morning. Their group was finding pieces of ceramic pottery, glass and bricks.

“When you do archaeology in Dover, you find very different things, like shells,” Noah Miller said.

The pair has used their spare time to see other Southern Illinois sites, such as Fort Massac, Garden of the Gods, Lake Glendale and Blue Sky Winery.

For more information about the Summer Field School, visit the Center for Archaeological Investigations at More information about Passport in Time, visit


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