Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Historical Archaeology

First Advisor

Heather B. Trigg

Second Advisor

Nedra K. Lee

Third Advisor

Douglas W. Sanford


Stratford Hall Plantation’s Oval Site was once a dynamic 18th-century farm quarter that was home to an enslaved community and overseer charged with growing Virginia’s cash crop: tobacco. No documentary evidence references the site, leaving archaeology as the only means to reconstruct the lives of the site’s inhabitants. This research uses the results of a macrobotanical analysis conducted on soil samples taken from an overseer’s basement and a dual purpose slave quarter/kitchen cellar at the Oval Site to understand what the site’s residents were eating and how the acquisition, production, processing, provisioning, and consumption of food impacted their daily lives. The interactive nature of the overseer, enslaved community, and their respective botanical assemblages suggests that food was not only used as sustenance, it was also a medium for social interaction and mutual dependence between the two groups.

The botanical assemblage is also utilized to discuss how the consumption of provisioned, gathered, and produced foods illustrate the ways that Stratford’s enslaved inhabitants formed communities and exerted agency through food choice. A mixture of traditional African, European, and native/wild taxa were recovered from the site, revealing the varied cultural influences that affected the resident’s cuisine. The assemblage provides evidence for ways that the site’s enslaved Africans and African Americans adapted to the local environment, asserted individual and group food preferences, and created creolized African American identities as they sought to survive and persist in the oppressive plantation landscape.

The results from the Oval Site are compared to nine other 18th- and 19th-century plantation sites in Virginia to demonstrate how food was part of the cultural creolization process undergone by enslaved Africans and African Americans across the region. The comparison further shows that diverse, creolized food preferences developed by enslaved communities can be placed into a regional framework of foodways patterns. Analyzing the results on a regional scale acknowledges the influence of individual preferences and identities of different communities on their food choices, while still demonstrating how food was consistently both a mechanism and a product of African American community formation.