San Diego County Pioneer Nathan ‘Nate’ Harrison and the Historical Archaeology of Legend

Nathan “Nate” Harrison (1833-1920), San Diego County’s first permanent African-American, is a local legend whose popular biography brims with enticing exaggerations and far-fetched fabrications. Harrison’s actual life story included enslavement in the Antebellum South, boom-and-bust cycles in the California Gold Rush, and lawless adventures in the Old West.  It was a microcosm of the diverse cultural heritages and volatile histories of the 19th-century United States. This talk and book-signing will offer insights from ongoing archaeological excavations at Harrison’s original mountain homestead.  It includes discussions of Harrison’s daily life, cottage industries, landscape use, crafted identities, and continuing legacies.  Since the existing documentary records concerning Harrison are rife with contradiction, invention, and revision, these analyses endeavor to contextualize the mythmaking and identity politics of the last two centuries with scientifically determined spatial, temporal, and formal realities in the ground.