Behind the Gates, Doors, Fences and Walls: Architecture as Social Control in Early Charleston

Watts, Katherine, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, University of Virginia
Johnston, Andrew, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Edelson, Scott, Department of History, University of Virginia

Charleston, South Carolina is known today for its exceedingly intact eighteenth and nineteenth-century architecture, its history, its culture, and its food. The city was also the port where hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans were transported against their will to this continent, endured countless hardships during their lifetimes of servitude, and yet resisted and survived. The city is a great paradox— incredible beauty, yet a history of undeniable cruelty towards half of its population, astonishing wealth during the colonial period and abject poverty of the enslaved. Many architectural histories of Charleston have focused on the ornate townhouses and the lives of the white elite who resided there; this paper focuses on the more mundane, everyday spaces, including workplaces of the enslaved people. To understand the architecture of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Charleston, one must first understand how the enslaved labor force who built and sustained these townhouses, lived, moved through, and experienced the city. Chapter One is therefore an overview of urban slavery, followed by Chapter Two which includes a detailed discussion of the outbuildings and layout of the work yards within townhouse back lots. Chapter Three introduces specific townhouse plats from the McCrady Collection at the Charleston County Register of Deeds Office as case studies on the architecture of social control in a pre- and post-Denmark Vesey (the purported slave revolt thwarted in 1822) Charleston. White, black, enslaved, and free all lived together in a range of housing types, side by side. While they were geographically in close proximity to one another, socially Charleston was not integrated, and there were unequal power relations that favored elite whites in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This paper shines light on the architecture of the back lot, and the enslaved people who were purposefully concealed behind these gates, fences, and walls. By understanding the interactions of the enslaved with the built environment of Charleston, or even the construction motivations of the white masters, perhaps we can then fully embrace a more inclusive narrative, interpreting the experience of both blacks and whites in the architecture that remains today.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
Charleston, South Carolina, Slavery, Work Yard, Urban Slavery, Colonial America, Townhouse, Gates, Walls, Fences, Doors, Plats, McCrady Collection, Architecture, Social Control, Garden, Denmark Vesey, Slave Revolt, Wasteland, Rice, Charleston Neck, British Atlantic, Hiring Out, Single House, Slave Badge, Guard House, Work House, Stono Rebellion, Haitian Revolution, Four Corners of the Law, Piazza, Double House, Kitchen, Carriage House, Stable, Outbuilding, Miles Brewton House, Free Blacks, Ironwork, Branford-Horry House, Preservation , Arsenal, chevaux de frise, Joseph Purcell, Philip Simmons , Negro Act of 1740, White Point Garden, Elizabeth Branford
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