Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery (review)
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Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery. Edited by Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. Pp. x, 294. $45.00 cloth)

The essays compiled by editors Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg explore power and resistance and the relationship between the two to the built environment. Five articles are previously published works and seven represent new scholarship. Collectively, the essays seek to help analyze the connections between the construction of North American landscapes and structures and slavery.

The classic essays are W. E. B. DuBois's "The Home of the Slave," Carl Anthony's "The Big House and the Slave Quarters: African Contributions to the New World," Dell Upton's "White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia," William Chapman's "Slave Villages in the Danish West Indies: Changes of the late [End Page 402] Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries," and Robert K. Fitts's "The Landscapes of Northern Bondage."

The new essays represent new approaches to the study of North American slavery. Garrett Fesler argues that enslaved people illustrated personal aesthetics through swept yards. Rebecca Ginsburg's essay focuses on how perceptions and experiences of the landscape by blacks enabled them to be fugitives. Edward Chappell's work on slave housing in Bermuda and Robert K. Fitts's analysis of slavery in Rhode Island both find that slavery was still harsh even if slaves and slaveholders lived under the same roof. William Chapman's classic essay and Clifton Ellis's "Building for 'Our Family, Black and White': The Changing Form of the Slave House in Antebellum Virginia" examine how planters' increasing wealth combined with theories of slave housing which improved the construction of slave quarters but still was a resolute action to protect the humans slaveholders considered valuable property.

Barbara Heath's article offers a synthesis of research heavily influenced by the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery, Heath's own work at Poplar Forest, and work by other archaeologists. Heath's focus on the slave quarter, subfloor pits, and yards near the quarter makes for an up-to-date companion to the well-known essay by Dell Upton on how landscapes were consciously constructed which created certain behaviors by white and black eighteenth-century Virginians. Michael Strutt's work on slave housing in Tennessee illustrates a diverse group of places where slaves lived; most interesting were the slaves being housed in the mansion of the owners.

Cheryl Janifer LaRoche contends that most of the continental United States has a relationship with slavery in "'The Balance Principle': Slavery, Freedom, and the Formation of the Nation," in part because of the involvement of the federal government with continuing and spreading slavery through laws and admission to the union of states after 1787. The author in one case, however, states that "Congress eradicated 280 years of black resistance" when Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845 (p. 251). This denies methods of [End Page 403] slave resistance in Florida through emancipation.

The authors of several of the essays might have been more careful of using "African" when referring to Americans of African descent in the antebellum era. However, overall the editors and authors suggest topics for potentially fascinating future work. Heath encourages studying in Virginia after 1820 and beyond the Chesapeake. Ginsburg's essay should inspire others to consider how gender, skin color, age, and flight from rural versus urban areas influenced what a black landscape was for those seeking freedom. More work on housing slaves inside their owners' houses should be developed as Fitts, Chappell, and Strutt have done. LaRoche suggests accommodating slavery was part of the reason for the creation of West Virginia, and this is worthy of future analysis.

Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery provides important perspectives on the social and political history of the continent. The essays should inspire future research and greater reflection on landscapes.

Emmanuel Dabney

Emmanuel Dabney is an employee of the National Park Service and an independent researcher. Emmanuel has a BA in historic preservation and an MA in history.

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