'Yes, I was a house slave: I slept under the stairway in the closet.' : slave housing and landscapes of Tennessee 1780-1860 : an architectural synthesis /

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Strutt, Michael
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation synthesizes the architectural, documentary, and archeological information known about the living conditions of African-American slaves in Tennessee. The author conducted an architectural survey from 1999-2002 and recorded 62 sites with 75 buildings, 27 rooms within mansions, and 7 wings with 18 rooms, totaling 171 rooms for slave living and work. Many are small single-pen log houses, some are brick, a few frame, and one stone building can be found in appendix 1 of the dissertation. The fact that most Tennessee slave owners held 10 or fewer bondsmen made Tennessee's living conditions different from the cotton plantation districts of the Deep South. To be sure, Tennessee had its plantations, the most well-known Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, serves as an example of how a large group of enslaved people lived in the state. But many slaves actually lived within their white masters' homes, or in wings attached to the mansion. The survey recorded a total of 45 rooms in mansions or wings, which is more than half the number of separate standing structures recorded.
Tennessee's landscapes also suggest closeness with 37 of 75 houses sitting within 100' of the "big house." The architectural evidence begs the question of what constituted a "community" among the enslaved. Archeological evidence demonstrates black and white lived together during the frontier period. And later because so many people did not reside on large plantations with family and friends living in the same quarter, the few people living on house lots or small farms had to broaden their area of familiarity to create a network and community support system. An example is the Joseph Brown house in Greeneville where 7 apparently unrelated, mostly teenagers, lived in one house in 1860. This sobering example should give historians pause to think about how we define community among enslaved groups. This information from Tennessee can be extended to other parts of the upland South where slave holdings were small. Scholars investigating the lives of enslaved people in that context should consider the wider connotations of what it meant to create "community" away from the property a person knew as "home.".
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