Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

By John Michael Vlach | Go to book overview

TWELVE
Plantation Landscape Ensembles

An antebellum plantation was fundamentally a place of work. This is, however, not the usual image associated with plantation estates. Grand mansions and elegant grounds have, at least since the early twentieth century, come to be regarded as emblematic of the plantation as a place. Generally overlooked is the fact that a planter's house was only the centerpiece of a holding that necessarily included fields, pastures, and woodlots. Moreover, these holdings would not have existed at all were it not for the sizable profits amassed through the unrelieved labor of enslaved workers. Because it is often the case that only the mansion houses remain, the impression conveyed by plantation sites today is exclusively one of wealth and easy comfort. Because the slave quarters and various work spaces are frequently missing, how such splendor and comfort were sustained remains something of a mystery. It is said that visitors to historic properties will often remark at the conclusion of their tours, "Nice place! Do you suppose they had any help?" Although this story is doubtless apocryphal, it indicates the sort of confusion that can arise when a built environment is shorn of its mundane, but vitally necessary, structures.

Fortunately, there are quite a few sites at which a considerable number of the cabins and outbuildings were photographed and mapped. Amazingly, there are even some places where large clusters of original slave and work buildings are still standing today. The images presented in this chapter provide us with the opportunity to examine some of these places. Moving beyond the analysis of individual examples of standard building types to look at groups of related buildings brings us considerably closer to the environmental experience of slavery. Because the sites examined here extend over a broad geographical area--from Maryland to Texas--and include planta-

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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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