Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

By John Michael Vlach | Go to book overview

FIVE
Smokehouses

A plantation's smokehouse was more than just a building where meat was preserved and stored. It also served as an index of regional diet and thus was perceived as an important symbol of southern identity by local people and outsiders alike. Certainly Emily Burke, a northern visitor to a Georgia plantation, recognized this when she wrote: "Pork at the South is never to my knowledge, salted and barreled as it is with us, but flitches as well as hams are hung up without being divided, in the house built for that purpose, and preserved in a smoke that is kept up day and night."1 Although various kinds of meat might be smoked, a plantation's smokehouse was mainly filled with "hog meat." The popularity of pork in the southern diet inspired Dr. John S. Wilson of Columbus, Georgia, to refer to the South as "the great Hog-eating Confederacy" and to suggest that the region be dubbed the "Republic of Porkdom." Observing in 1860 that pork was consumed in some form "continually morning, noon, and night" by "all classes, sexes, ages, and conditions," he claimed that "hog's lard is the very oil that moves the machinery of life." 2 According to geographer Sam Bowers Hilliard, as cotton was understood to be the "king" of the antebellum southern economy, the title of "queen" should go to the pig. 3

These opinions of southern foodways are confirmed by census figures. Between 1840 and 1860, there were 2.2 hogs for each man, woman, and child living in the South. This ratio meant that every southerner potentially had access to approximately three hundred pounds of pork per year. Even the slave diet featured relatively large portions of hog meat; full field hands were commonly allotted three pounds per week, or slightly more than one hundred and fifty pounds per year. 4 Because there was

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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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