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Levi Jordan

Ken Brown Interview

On whether the tenants continued to live on plantation grounds after the "abandonment"

Questions or Comments?
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Ken Brown (the tall one on the left!)

CAROL: After the community of people who had been living in the quarters area left, did some of the tenants continue to live on other parts of the plantation?

KEN: We’ve never maintained that they [the Martin's] stopped having tenants work the place. After all, you don’t have a farm without tenants farming it. And, in fact, there’s one area across Highway 521 (down where the pipe line crosses) where I did some surface collection, and there were lots of early 20th century ceramics. If you look at what Ewing [Martin] has said about the house that was attached to the back of the main house to make the kitchen as it is now (that was done in about 1920), this addition to the main house was made from the tenant house that had been out in the orchard. That could have been the Claiborne Holmes house. Anyway, I’m sure there were still some tenants living on plantation grounds after the abandonment. What I have argued – or tried to argue – is that the community of ex-slaves that resided within that quarters area was eliminated in the late 1880’s.

If you look at the chattel mortgages [what's covered in Mary Barnes' paper] it’s clear people were still leasing land on the plantation. What they weren’t doing, however, is living on it to any great extent. The key point is that they didn’t have the same community of people living in one area of the plantation.

CAROL: So you don’t think that even it shows them renting land from the Martins and McNeill's that they were necessarily living on the land they were renting?

KEN: A lot of those people clearly were not (if the census material is accurate) by 1900. Obviously the critical census that would help all of us is the one that doesn’t exist [the 1890 census, which was destroyed by fire] but the 1900 census shows them living in other places. It does show them constructing communities, even if they didn’t live literally on the other side of a wall from somebody (as they would have in the quarters). The marriages by 1900 were taking place within a relatively restricted geographical area. It seems to me that one could fit the actual ending of the quarters community with the kind of thing that Charles Orser talks about in his book (44).

In this book Orser points out that, in general, the use of quarters as housing stopped being used pretty soon after the Civil War. What we may have had at the Jordan Plantation was a longer period of time when the quarters were in use, but in most cases tenants had a tendency to be dispersed after the war – in part because this dispersal eliminated communities where people could band together in the kinds of ways that I believe the Jordan community did. African-Americans were easier to control, according to Orser, if they were dispersed across the landscape living in separate houses. Also, if the owner of the plantation built the house or moved the slave cabin to someplace else, those people tended to be better tenants. First, they be easily isolated from other families. Second, if you are living in a cabin and the land is right there, you have a tendency to want to work that land and not move around and work other pieces of land. So, for all of those reasons, plus whatever else the Martin brothers were doing, they may have consciously decided to disperse the families and not known how.


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Carol McDavid 1998