Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

By John Michael Vlach | Go to book overview

SIX
Outbuildings

The Big House setting was characterized by a distinctive array of out- buildings. Besides the freestanding kitchens and smokehouses already considered, there were more buildings that sheltered tasks related to food production, preservation, and storage. These buildings might include a dairy, an icehouse, and a chicken coop as well as other small sheds. In fact, by the middle of the nineteenth century, a large gathering of outbuildings commonly identified a place as southern. Union officer Theodore Lyman, while stationed in northern Virginia, was quick to note the distinctive pattern of rural estates. He wrote of southern planters, "They have a queer way of building on one thing after another, the great point being to have a separate shed or out-house for every purpose. . . . You will find a carpenter's shop, tool room, coach- shed, pig-house, stable, kitchen, two or three barns, and half a dozen negro huts, besides the main house."1 Emily Burke joked that on a southern plantation "there were nearly as many roofs as rooms." 2 A similar comic observation was made half a century earlier by architect Benjamin H. Latrobe when he wrote that outbuildings seemed to cluster around southern houses "as a litter of pigs their mother." 3 Although the number and purposes of the structures on any given plantation could vary with the size of the holding and its degree of self-sufficiency, no estate-however modest-lacked a set of small service buildings.

Regarded as an ensemble, a set of outbuildings could be used to define the boundaries of a planter's yard in much the same way that they were used to outline the slaves' work space. A photograph of Kendall Lee's Ditchley plantation, located in Northumberland County, Virginia, for example, shows that Lee placed his dairy and icehouse behind the mansion, where they stood like sentinels at the ends of an imagi-

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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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