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The most important thing to say is that we have barely scratched the surface. For different themes of research there is a wide array of fascinating possibilities, about which we have not even touched upon. Some of these are even in the letters we have discussed. The summaries of business news that John so often sent his son provide excellent snapshots of a moment in the life of the Brown’s business empire, with a depth of narrative and a human connection that would be hard to cull from financial documents alone. In the letters that were during the revolutionary war there are a wealth of passing references to how the war affected the daily lives of the Browns. John mentions ships being taken, and having his captains preparing their vessels to outrun British warships, he writes of French troops being quartered in his house. As previously mentioned, servants are mostly invisible in these personal contexts, but much could be revealed by a careful and close analysis over the passing references of names like “Jona” and “Amboy” in Brown family correspondence. These are just samples of the approaches that could be pursued with even just the few letters we have cited directly for this project.
There are obvious upsides to the documentary record. We have hoped to show how easily personal correspondences can be used to humanize the interpretation of historical archaeology. This break down the wall between the “us” collecting, recording and learning from the material remains of the past and the “them” whose past we are excavating. Too easily these people can become shadowy vessels for carrying around and depositing artifacts instead of real human beings. In the case of the Browns these personal contexts give us a chance to look at a family, rather than a household, and an extraordinary family at that. The careful management of these documents by the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Brown family itself has with a broad range of documents from many decades that can be used to delve into an even broader range to research questions. However, like John Brown, we must also add cautions to out praise. The downsides of these contexts stem also stem from their being personal. These correspondences represent the portion of a single person’s thoughts and views that they chose to write down for presentation to someone else. They are subjective on many levels, and thinking of them differently is dangerous. To privilege these personal contexts over knowledge recovered archaeologically rather than using them to strengthen inquiry is to negate the usefulness of having an archaeological approach at all.