Cayla Briann Colclasure

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

North Carolina, Chapel Hill, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10679

Approve Date

April 15, 2024

Project Title

Colclasure, Cayla (North Carolina, Chapel Hill, U. of) "“The Wind Blowed Cold”: An Archaeological Study of Life, Labor, and Imprisonment for 19th Century Workers on the Western North Carolina Railroad"

The construction of the Western North Carolina Railroad (WNCRR) through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina during the 1870s and 1880s relied on the forced labor of thousands of men, women, and children. Around 95% of these workers were Black men and boys imprisoned through discriminatory laws under the convict leasing system. In this system, prisoners were leased to private and state-run companies to do back-breaking labor during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This project uses the tools of historical archaeology to examine the daily lives, working conditions, and legacies of the imprisoned laborers who built the WNCRR. To explore these themes, I focus on the prison labor camps built along the railway where prisoners were housed in wooden barracks, their food was prepared in open-air kitchen, and auxiliary labor was performed. I use geophysical survey, archaeological survey and excavations, and landscape analysis to address my research questions at the sites of former prison labor camps. I collaborate with grassroots community organizations in Western North Carolina to serve their interests, heed their concerns, examine how these histories are understood in the present, and how to best share knowledge with various publics.