Date of Award
Open Access Thesis
Master of Arts (MA)
Heather B. Trigg
Stephen A. Mrozowski
David B. Landon
During the 18th and 19th centuries, enslaved people at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest utilized provisioned, gardened, and wild plants from local environments surrounding their homes to provide for their own subsistence. The Wingo's quarter was home to a number of these enslaved individuals at the end of the 18th century. Using macrobotanical data, I describe the subsistence strategies of the people living at this quarter, showing how enslaved Africans and African Americans at Wingo's utilized different sources of food to shape their foodways. Additionally, edible and inedible botanical remains provide a picture of the local environment around Wingo's within which the slaves subsisted. Using a diachronic study, comparing botanicals from the Wingo's site with other slave quarters at Poplar Forest, the botanical remains paint a picture of how large scale agricultural activities, as well as more local horticulture and foraging, shaped the landscape in which the slaves lived as well as their subsistence strategies within this landscape.
While these quarters were inhabited, Jefferson began switching from tobacco as a major cash crop to wheat. The charred wood data from the slave quarters show how ecological succession played out on the landscape as a result of these new agricultural practices. Macrobotanical evidence from Poplar Forest illustrates that the environment in the Piedmont in the 19th century is drastically changing. Despite all these environmental changes and changes in the provisions from planters, slaves in the Piedmont managed to provide food for themselves and their families from all over the plantation.
Within these changing landscapes, the enslaved people at Poplar Forest sought to provide for themselves. Bringing with them food traditions from elsewhere in Virginia and even from Africa these people used the plant resources of this changing landscape to cook their food, cure their illnesses, and warm their homes. The edible macrobotanicals from all of the sites studied suggest that in spite of massive environmental changes, the foodways of the slaves at Poplar Forest were fairly consistent. I believe this speaks to the beginning of a foodways tradition that would eventually come to define food throughout the South, food of slaves, freedmen, and whites alike.
Henderson, Samantha J., "Understanding Slave Subsistence in the Context of Changing Agricultural Practices: Paleoethnobotany at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest" (2013). Graduate Masters Theses. 188.