The Archaeology of Plantation Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello : Context and Process in an American Slave Society

Sanford, Douglas Walker, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Hantman, Jeffrey L., Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Damon, Frederick, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Plog, Stephen, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Wells, Camille, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

Current archaeological strategies for researching African-American and plantation sites signal a transition away from inductive description and the search for material demarcations of status and ethnic identity. With an increased awareness of the past contextual diversity for plantation slavery and African-American lifeways, archaeologists instead are turning to methods sensitive to variation in these institutions, and geared towards understanding changing social and political relations between masters and slaves within a given context.

Advancing an interpretive framework, or contextual model, for examining an evolving slave plantation system, this study looks at Thomas Jefferson's piedmont Virginia plantation, Monticello. Here, Jefferson's voluminous documents and intensive excavations at seven slave quarter sites form the data base. Artifact and architectural information from these sites provides a comparative basis for evaluating the material and social conditions of slave domestic life between ca. 1770 and 1825.

During this period changing economic and political conditions in the local, regional, and international contexts within which piedmont plantations operated resulted in altered material and social conditions for slaves. As plantation economies diversified and stressed self-sufficiency in tandem with both transformed ideals of slave management and demographic conditions for slaves, a new system of slave and plantation life took shape.

Such changes are detectable in the archaeological record and should reflect situational meanings attributable to both slaves and masters. Hence, analyses of the artifact assemblages should not only reveal plantation slaves' changing circumstances, but the altered ideologies that guided interactions between Thomas Jefferson and the African-American slave community that dominated Monticello.

Beyond advocating a contextual approach, the study explores the interpretive value of contradiction in the dialectical relation between the archaeological and documentary records. Contradictions signify more than quirks of survival, namely informative contrasts capable of illuminating past cultural systems of meaning and action. The proposed methods offer comparative research tools for addressing important issues of past African-American and slave life. These include domestic life and materials possessions, slave quarter architecture and landscape, slaves' resources for social flexibility and their internal economy, and the nature of resistance, accommodation, and creolization within institutional slavery.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Jefferson, Thomas -- 1743-1826 -- Homes and haunts -- Virginia -- Albemarle County, Slavery -- Virginia -- Albemarle County, Monticello (Va.)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-04-29 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:36:54.

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