Within the House of Bondage:
Constructing and Negotiating the Plantation Landscape in the British Atlantic World, 1670-1820
Plan of Ashley Hall Plantation (second house) by Henry DeSaussure Bull in The South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Apr., 1952), pp. 61-66.
North elevation, Farley Hill house, aka Grenade Hall, Barbados, WI. Photo by Erin M. Holmes.
Bacon's Castle facade, Surrey, VA. Photo by Erin M. Holmes.
Between the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, the manner in which colonists adopted and adapted Georgian architecture and its associated trappings reveals changes and tensions in colonial identity. Planters moved away from and closer to an imagined British identity that was mitigated by the daily experiences of the plantation household, a place unlike any Georgian manor house in Britain in both its situation and the character of its inhabitants. I compare and contrast South Carolina, Barbados, and Virginia to explore the varied ways in which the introduction of the Georgian worldview and the development of a slave society influenced ideas race, class, and gender, and, in turn, about colonial identity. I argue that despite the introduction of neoclassicism and its attendant Enlightenment and republican ideology, the persistence of spatial and material form throughout the colonial period and after the American Revolution reveals the extent to which older social and cultural forms remained unchanged despite the schism of revolution, reflecting the dichotomy between rhetoric and reality.
My dissertation exposes how the material and spatial evolution of the Georgian worldview influenced the transformation of American identity during the course of the eighteenth century, challenging narratives that suggest order and uniformity in its application and acceptance and revealing the messiness of cultural transmission and transformation. I examine life within the plantation household and, by engaging with sensory history, provide a texture to the lived experience of daily life. By using sensory history to ask how individuals came to know what they knew, I am better able to answer questions about the transformation of colonial identity during the course of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I will unite these often-overlapping historiographies with an interdisciplinary methodology that places the built environment and material culture at the core of the narrative to better understand the way in which the senses and the physical world they represented influenced the experiences of colonization, slavery, and independence.