Land use, settlement patterns, and black and white responses to the Low Country plantation landscape, 1775-1825

Gertz, Lindsey Dene, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
McInnis, Maurie, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Upton, Dell Thayer, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

This study uses fifty historic plantation plats by John Diamond and Joseph Purcell, two prominent eighteenth-century Charleston surveyors, to examine the plantation landscape of the South Carolina Low Country. This sample of plats illustrates the collective space shared by blacks and whites and thus represents a significant body of historical evidence that has heretofore been unexamined. Chapter One examines the plats as material culture for the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Not only did plats function as legal documents and tools for social engineering, they also served as objects of display. Like plantation landscape paintings, the images of land ownership presented in the plats affirm white control of the plantation world. Chapter Two explains techniques for identifying cartographic symbols found on the plats and establishes a methodology based on the work of historian B. W. Higman who used a similar collection of plats to extract settlement patterns for plantations in Jamaica. Chapter Three provides evidence that roads and main houses were among the most prominent features of the white plantation world. Gardening was also an important part of Low Country plantation life and it may have taken either an orderly and geometric or picturesque form. Moreover, the plats show that the tripartite house form may have been more common for South Carolina plantations than scholars have traditionally believed. Overall, Chapter Three shows that the Low Country plantation landscape reflects white refinement and gentility. Chapter Four demonstrates that the living and working spaces inhabited by slaves are also a significant part of what makes the plantation landscape. This examination of plantation plats is important to ongoing AfricanAmerican scholarship in the Low Country for several reasons. It acknowledges various characteristics of plantation design that may have impacted the slave experience. Plantations often had more than one slave community and did not necessarily follow the centralized settlement model that many plantations did in other parts of the world. Low Country plantations employ a variety of living arrangements for slaves ranging from small rows to large villages. In addition, several of the patterns reflected in these plats may indicate the practice of African spiritual beliefs in the landscape. Overall, the South Carolina plantation plats suggest that the landscape was composed of patterns that were characteristic of both the local region and the broader transatlantic world.

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MA (Master of Arts)
1775-1825, plantation landscape, land use, settlement patterns

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

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:33:26.

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