Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Historical Archaeology

First Advisor

Stephen A. Mrozowski

Second Advisor

Christa M. Beranek

Third Advisor

Heather B. Trigg


The study of colonial American plantations and the lives of the people that occupied these places is overwhelmingly based upon data collected from sites in the southern and mid-Atlantic states. For many people, the concept of the American plantation evokes cotton plantations in Virginia or sugar cane plantations in Louisiana. Popular culture focuses almost exclusively on the southern states in its depictions of plantation life. However, during the early colonial era and beyond, plantations dotted the north in states including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York. A paucity of information regarding these northern plantations has resulted in an incomplete understanding of the daily lives of the individuals who existed within this social and economic hierarchy.

This thesis aims to bolster our understanding of these plantations by examining the personal adornment artifacts from Sylvester Manor, a 17th-century provisioning plantation in Shelter Island, New York between the years 1652 and 1735. By focusing on artifacts of dress and adornment, I consider the impact of living in a culturally pluralistic setting on identity and the outward of expression of it. By drawing on a variety of social theory and cultural material studies, I provide a critical examination of these artifacts, including those exhibiting several distinct cultural characteristics, and explore their significance in terms of cross-cultural exchange of values and their physical embodiment.

The data in this thesis show that most items of personal adornment within the assemblage were of European manufacture. However, evidence of a certain level of agency is visible in the alteration or re-working of certain artifacts exhibiting symbolic or stylistic elements of Afro-Caribbean or Native American cultures. Additionally, class and gender distinctions are visible in the personal adornment assemblage, providing insight into the importance of dress in distinguishing oneself by status in an environment occupied by members of several different classes and cultural groups.


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