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Levi Jordan Plantation

The Cabin Areas: What they reveal about the people who lived there

For his analysis of with "internal" and" external" economies, see excerpts from Ken Brown's "Material Culture and Community Structure: The Slave and Tenant Community at Levi Jordan's Plantation, 1848-1892." The material on this page derives from that text. See "Summation of Cabin Information" for Ken's thoughts on why this data is important to the study of African American life. See also the interview I did with Ken in the summer of 1998, which goes into all these issues.

This carved shell "cameo" was found in the slave quarters of this plantation, and was made by one of the people who lived there. See "Shell Carver's Cabin" for more details.

For a discussion of the use of the word "cabin", and some other "problem" words, go to Words.

by Carol McDavid

Through the years, Ken Brown and his students have developed a great deal of information about different activities that took place in different cabin areas and, in some cases, have identified individual people who participated in these activities. These activities include the different sorts of different occupations, or "jobs", that people had. Some of these occupations would have connected the people doing them to the outside world – either to keep the plantation functioning (people could have been "hired out") or because they would have required items that came from outside the plantation in order to be performed. Either way, they would have formed part of the "external" economy of the plantation.

However, some activities were more important in "internal" ways – they helped to build and maintain the plantation as a community, and helped the group and its individual members to survive in personal, physical and sometimes even spiritual, ways. These "jobs" too might have created different statuses within the plantation community, so that people who performed them might have been better off, materially, than other members of the community. In this way, these internal ways of functioning could be said to form the "internal" economy of the plantation community.

These "external" and "internal" activities would not have necessarily been mutually exclusive (for example, the "seamstress" could have sewn for people inside and outside the community, and even "internally" important jobs might have sometimes required materials and supplies from the larger community). However, within each area of activity, very different relationships and activities would have taken place. The important point is that it was the residents themselves who were defining, their internal activities and statuses – they were not necessarily defined, or even within the awareness of, the "dominant" planter culture.

Activities that relate to external activity include carpenters, blacksmiths, and seamstresses. Interestingly, there is relatively little material remaining which indicates the presence of agricultural workers, especially for the slave period community. This could be because, during slavery, tools may have been kept in a common, separate storage area. More agricultural artifacts were found for the tenant period, such as metal parts of bridles and harnesses (bits, buckles, rings, and rivets) for mule teams. Other tools, such as horseshoes, hoe blade fragments, and ax heads have also been found.

Activities that relate to the internal activity of the plantation included the quilter, munitions maker, hunter, bone and shell carver, seamstresses, the political leader, and the curer.

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Carol McDavid 1998