“System, Papa, in Everything”: Plantation Networks in the late Antebellum Deep South

Johnson, Emilie, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

This dissertation combines careful study of physical evidence and documentary records to explore multiple plantation properties under a single owner in the Deep South in the 1840s and 1850s. Relying on methodologies developed by vernacular architectural historians and scholars of material culture, plantation networks frame the full plantation landscape, contextualizing mansion houses with agricultural buildings, working landscapes, and great houses on contributing plantations, filling the spaces with objects, and exploring spatial and social hierarchies. Three types of networks are case studies to understand ways plantation networks shaped the landscape, built environment, and material culture of hub and contributing properties, which, in turn, affected the lived experiences of elite whites and enslaved people on plantations.

The first chapter defines three types of plantation networks represented by Millford, Melrose, and Ashland, as well as the ways John Manning, John McMurran, and Duncan Kenner acquired and managed them. Agricultural buildings of the working plantation landscapes are the subjects of the second chapter. The third chapter discusses architectural influences and design concerns of the mansion houses, great houses, and domestic cores. The fourth chapter fills the houses with furniture and goods, investigating consumption patterns and the role of fashion. The fifth chapter moves the reader through the landscape to the mansion house, through rooms of furniture, into social gatherings to understand circulation, access, spatial hierarchies, and social landscapes.

The research documents how powerfully plantation networks altered the plantation landscape. Networks allowed planters to share resources – buildings, materials, and enslaved people – with material and psychological implications for the landscape and people involved. Networks changed the scope of architectural and material consumption, allowing Southern planters to participate in fashionable trends sweeping the United States in the 1840s and 1850s. Finally, plantation networks created significant differences in social and spatial hierarchies in houses across the network. Networks answer questions about how people lived on and experienced plantations in the past and offer a framework for future plantation scholarship.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
nineteenth-century architecture, nineteenth-century material culture, plantations, Grecian Revival, agricultural buildings, multiple-property ownership
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