Great Minds: UNCC and Winthrop University Professors Shine

2013 was a productive year for local scholars. Charlotte-area professors helped solve historical mysteries about slavery and life in ancient Jerusalem. Here’s a look at what they found and what they’re still hoping to uncover

A mysterious author

Winthrop University English professor Gregg Hecimovich spent the better part of the past decade trying to solve a mystery about an obscure slavery novel. What he discovered brought national attention to him and to North Carolina last fall.

In 2001, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. bought the novel, The Bondwoman’s Narrative, at auction. He determined that the author had lived on the Wheeler plantation in Murfreesboro in northeastern North Carolina but believed that the name she wrote under, Hannah Crafts, was a pen name.

Hecimovich, a Charlotte native, was working at East Carolina University at the time. He began searching in courthouses, libraries, and musty attics around former plantations in the eastern part of the state, looking for clues about who “Hannah Crafts” might have been.

He discovered documents indicating that the author was Hannah Bond, a slave who escaped from the Wheeler plantation in May 1857. She fled north, eventually finding shelter at the Craft farm in upstate New York, and likely finishing the novel in New Jersey. Scholars believe it’s the first American novel written by a female fugitive slave.

They also believe The Bondwoman’s Narrative is partially autobiographical. It depicts life on a Southern plantation, critiquing the system of slavery through the eyes of a house servant. The book references contemporary novels and current events, showing that the author was unusually well-read.

Hecimovich will detail Bond’s story and the search for her identity in a new book scheduled to be published in 2016. Its tentative title: The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts

An ancient bathtub

A UNC Charlotte religion professor and his colleagues believe they have found new evidence that could shed light on the life and death of Jesus. The key find? An ancient bathtub.

Last summer, a team co-directed by James Tabor, head of the UNCC religious studies department, and Israeli archaeologist Shimon Gibson put students and volunteers to work digging in the Jerusalem dirt. In the Mount Zion section of the city, the team uncovered the lower levels of a first-century A.D. mansion, which includes a finished bathroom and tub—a rare amenity for its time. The bathroom is the fourth found in Israel from the time period. Two of the others were found in Herod the Great’s palaces. The newly discovered mansion would have been adjacent to one of Herod’s palaces, which was later occupied by Roman governors during Jesus’s time.

Evidence found on the site indicates that the mansion’s residents were of a high status, Tabor says. “[The mansion] belonged, in all likelihood, to one of the wealthy priestly families of the time,”  he says. “The priests who lived in this area were the group who plotted the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Our excavation is uncovering the lifestyle of the wealthy aristocratic families who lived there in the time of Jesus. They controlled the religion, the politics, and the commerce of Jerusalem, in alliance with the Romans.”

The team also uncovered several murex snail shells, which were used to dye clothing during the time, and cookware, which could lead to further clues about life there. 

UNCC is the only American university currently authorized to excavate in Jerusalem. The dig is scheduled to continue  this June, when students and professors return to Mount Zion.

Categories: By Chuck McShane, Education, Quick Reads, The Buzz