Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

By John Michael Vlach | Go to book overview

THIRTEEN
Conclusion

Plantation landscapes were most overtly marked by the architectural choices made by their white creators. At every turn in "the world the slaveholders made," one encountered the results of their decisions. By selecting the types of structures to be built, their locations, size, mode of construction, and style of decoration, planters were able to determine not only the look of the land around them but also, to a great extent, the conditions and circumstances under which their bondsmen and bondswomen lived and worked. The physical settings that they established can be regarded, then, as a direct material expression of their social power.

The social eminence of planters was, however, never as secure as they liked to believe. Fretful that their authority might be challenged, particularly by slaves, they felt that no aspect of a plantation's daily routine, however minor, could be overlooked. Success, according to one planter, required "taking into consideration everything, slaves, land, horses, stock, fences, ditches and farming utensils; all of which must be kept up and improved in value." 1 In an 1851 article describing how best to run a plantation, one Mississippi planter listed sixteen rules, the first of which he spelled out in bold capital letters: "THERE SHALL BE A PLACE FOR EVERY THING AND EVERY THING SHALL BE KEPT IN ITS PLACE."2 The ideal order among planters was a rigorous order intended to confirm their final authority in all matters. It was important that their domains be planned with care, defined with clear and certain boundaries, and run on efficient, unwavering schedules. Striving constantly toward this goal, planters used every means--but especially the manipulation of the built environment--to convince themselves that they were both physically and symbolically above their slaves and other less wealthy whites as well. 3

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Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xvii
  • One the Plantation Landscape 1
  • Two Big Quarters 18
  • Three the Yard 33
  • Four Kitchens 43
  • Five Smokehouses 63
  • Six Outbuildings 77
  • Seven Barns and Stables 107
  • Eight Production Machinery and Buildings 123
  • Nine Overseers' Houses 135
  • Ten Building for Slave Welfare 142
  • Eleven Quarters for Field Slaves 153
  • Twelve Plantation Landscape Ensembles 183
  • Thirteen Conclusion 228
  • Notes 237
  • Index 251
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