Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

By John Michael Vlach | Go to book overview

TWO
Big Quarters

Only a small percentage of plantation slaves was employed as domestic servants; from a group of fifty slaves, only six or so would be assigned to work at the Big House. 1 Even if a plantation's labor force included hundreds of slaves, the domestic staff would usually not number much more than half a dozen. An 1854 inventory listing the occupations of slaves at the Laurel Hill plantation in Georgetown County, South Carolina, for example, indicates that of 171 slaves, only 7 were employed at the main house. At nearby Chicora Wood, planter Robert F. W. Allston kept ten slaves at his residence: a cook, a laundress, a housemaid, a seamstress, a butler, a second dining-room man, a coachman, a scullion, a gardener, and a yard boy. His wife Adele, however, complained: "There are too many servants; I do not know what to do with them. . . . I cannot find work for them! . . . Please send them away, half of them at least."2

Some planters, however, did not mind if house slaves sat idle; they enjoyed the display of numerous servants waiting at the ready to do their bidding. In 1857 Indiana native George Cary Eggleston reported, after visiting the home of his relatives in Locust Grove, Virginia: "In hardly anything else was the extravagance of the Virginians so manifest as in their wastefulness of labor. On nearly every plantation there were 10 or 12 able-bodied men and women employed about the house, doing the work which 2 or 3 ought to have done, and might have done; and in addition to this there were usually a dozen or a score of others with merely nominal duties or no duties at all. The master liked to have plenty of servants always within call."3 Used to the plain living of a small midwestern town, Eggleston was clearly surprised when three or four slaves were called to take his horse or to fetch a pitcher of water. Because so

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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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