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The Landscape of Slavery

Toward the end of the 17th century, the price of tobacco plummeted and the supply of white laborers dwindled. The planters who prospered in this highly competitive environment owned large tracts of tillable land and could afford to purchase African slave labor. But sustaining production with a coerced workforce required planters to reconfigure the built environment to maximize surveillance and control.

Elite Virginians erected great mansions that displayed their wealth and their knowledge of English fashion, but analysis of house plans by the Monticello Archaeology Department demonstrates that planters adapted the interior arrangement of rooms so they could more readily monitor the movement of enslaved domestic servants within their homes. In addition, they relegated cooking and bulk processing of meat and milk to separate structures&—smokehouses, dairies, and kitchens&—not only to minimize the noise, odor, and heat generated by these activities, but also to limit the occasion for servants to enter their living spaces.  

(See also: Living with Slavery: Monticello I and II)

Planters could increase their profits by accruing more slaves and putting more land under cultivation, but the maintenance of distant and scattered fields made the continued concentration of slave housing at the home place inefficient. A system of -€˜quarter farms' evolved in which a gang of {xx to xx  ADD NUMBERS} field hands, men and women, lived together near a cluster of remote fields under the supervision of a resident overseer. It was his task to insure a high-quality, marketable product and, by the ever-present threat of force, to discourage laborers from resorting to their only means of resisting state-sanctioned enslavement: malingering, stealing, running away, retaliatory violence, or suicide.

{Images: Tidewater mansion, Westover, Mount Airy??; tobacco plant; Surinam slave driver?; N. Gibbs image?   Runaway newspaper add?; image of plantation on a hill?}


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