Park Manager Ashley Chapman
Park Service Profiles
A Ranger and Historian
Ashley Chapman literally fell into his job as a ranger at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville, SC. A native of Charleston and a trained archaeologist, he had worked in the private sector and was a consultant in Columbia when the archaeologist position became available at Colonial Dorchester in 2000.
“It wasn’t until I accepted the job that I knew I wanted to be a ranger. So while I was hired as a historian and archaeologist, I consider myself a ranger first.”
With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of South Carolina, a master’s degree from the University of West Florida in Pensacola and work experience, Chapman had the skills necessary to carry out part of his new position. The rest he learned “on the job.”
Colonial Dorchester’s Archeologist Park Manager
With eight years of “on the job” training,” Chapman, now park manager, is involved in most aspects of the site – from historical research and management to grounds keeping and law enforcement. But it’s the ongoing archaeological excavation taking place at Colonial Dorchester that stirs his soul.
“I feel I’m contributing to protecting South Carolina’s history while allowing visitors to experience it hands-on through our programs,” Chapman said. “We have one of the few places in the country that has year-round public archaeology programs where people can observe and assist the archaeologist.”
The Big Dig at Old Dorchester
Settled by New England Puritans on the north side of the Ashley River around 1697, Colonial Dorchester in the mid 18th-century saw an oyster shell tabby wall constructed in the town to defend it from imminent threats by the French.
During the Revolution, it became a military depot. Today, the tabby walls and the bell tower of St. George Church still stand while Chapman, his staff and army of volunteers work to uncover this once flourishing town beneath the soil. African pottery and china are among the items unearthed at the site.
Chapman said the most exciting thing he’s found was a British military insignia made out of shiny brass.
“It is approximately 3.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall in the shape of a flattened British royal crown. Typically, soldiers wore them on the ammunition boxes hung around their waists.”
While the work here is steady and slow, there have been times when not all of the relics have come from the soil. Chapman recalls giving a tour once where he suddenly jumped back in fright because he thought a snake had dropped on him. “As would happen, it was the shed skin of a snake that lived in the old bell tower ruins which looked just like the real thing,” Chapman said. “Of course everyone else jumped as well. Once reality took place, we all shared a good laugh.”
It’s Definitely the Best Job I’ve Ever Had
Chapman, who lives on the park with his two young sons, said without a doubt he’d encourage others to become a park ranger. “It’s definitely the best job I’ve ever had. It’s enabled me to raise my two sons in a historical setting and lets them appreciate the natural and cultural resources of the state.”
As park manager and chief archaeologist, Chapman finds his job satisfying and fascinating in a lot of ways. Mostly because it allows him to interact with the public in a very dynamic and unique way.