Remnants of an iron forge called Catoctin Furnace, located near Camp David in Maryland, provide insight into African American history. DNA analysis conducted on the remains of 27 individuals buried in a cemetery for enslaved people at Catoctin Furnace has revealed their ancestry and identified thousands of living relatives, many of whom still reside in Maryland.
The cemetery was active from 1774 to 1850 and the remains included 16 males and 11 females ranging in age from infants to adults over 60 years old. Genetic analysis determined that they descended from West Africa’s Wolof and Mandinka peoples, as well as Central Africa’s Kongo people. They also showed strong genetic connections to present-day populations in Senegal, Gambia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The transatlantic slave trade, which took place from the 16th to 19th century, involved the transportation of millions of African people to the Americas, with many enslaved individuals lacking documentation about their familial backgrounds. The genetic analysis conducted on the remains of the enslaved individuals at Catoctin Furnace demonstrates the power of genomics in reconstructing these lost histories.
The study identified over 41,000 Americans, including close relatives, who are related to the 27 individuals buried at Catoctin Furnace. The researchers hope to ethically and thoughtfully return the results to those individuals in the 23andMe database who would like to know if they are connected to the Catoctin Furnace individuals.
The study also found evidence of European ancestry in the majority of the individuals, indicating the history of sexual exploitation of enslaved people. Some of the individuals also carried genetic risk factors for conditions such as sickle cell anemia and G6PD deficiency, which are still prevalent among African Americans today.
The research aims to shed light on the experiences and labors of African Americans within the early industrial complex of the United States. By acknowledging their origins and placing their histories within the broader context of the country, this study helps restore the identity that was stripped away through enslavement.