CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE PAST
Levi Jordan Plantation
Summation of Data from Cabin Areas: Why this data is important to the study of African American culture?
by Kenneth L. Brown, from "Material Culture and Community Structure: The Slave and Tenant Community at Levi Jordan's Plantation, 1848-1892." (2)
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.
terms of the economic structure of the tenant community,
the wealthiest cabin occupants are those who appear to
have been important within the internal economy. The
archaeological record of the political leader's cabin, the magician/curer, and the shell/bone carver,
either failed to yield evidence of specialized
occupations within the external economy, or the evidence
was limited. The fourth ranked cabin, that of the munitions maker, on the other hand, does appear to have had a
specialized occupation the blacksmith. The
seamstresses' cabin and that of the quilter rank
approximately equal to one another and just below the
munitions maker and blacksmith. No evidence has been
excavated that demonstrates an economic activity other
than that for the internal economy. All of these cabins
yielded some evidence that agricultural activities were
being practiced by these occupants. Thus, the
"wealth" many have been the result of their
internal economic activities, rather than those of the
external economy. Certainly, the blacksmith had the
opportunity for wealth accumulation beyond that from the
external economy. The occupants of this cabin, however,
appear to rank below the occupants of a least three other
In summary, the data from the archaeological and historic investigation of the Jordan Plantation suggests the presence of change in the economic and political structure of the slave and tenant communities. The evidence generated can be employed to support the concept of "capital generation and expenditure" by slaves and tenants. This capital was generated through the practice of a wide variety of specialized occupations. During the period of slavery, those occupations which could be hired out appear to have provided the ability to accumulate more capital. After 1865 there was the opportunity for this capital to be converted into land as well as other types of so-called wealth indicators, and several members of the community did purchase portions of the Jordan Plantation. For this community, however, the purchase of land meant the movement of the individuals off the plantation and, therefore, out of the physical community. After 1865, capital generation and expenditure appears to have been greatest for those occupations that were most important within the internal plantation economy.
While agriculture formed the basis of the community's economy throughout both of these periods; from 1865 until the forced abandonment, the highest ranking cabins were those occupied by the political leader, the magician/curer, and the shell and bone carver. With the exception of the political leader, all of those were specializations for the internal economy of the plantation. The political leader would have obviously had an important function in the relationship between the community and the outside world. In this case, the leader was a carpenter and his wife a seamstress. The magician/curer would, on the other hand, have led the members in shaping their relationship to and manipulating their way through the outside worlds both human produced and supernatural. The blacksmith/munitions maker represents the fourth ranked cabin, and it was occupied by an individual who operated in both levels of the economy, but whose status within the internal economy is below that of the others.
In conclusion, this data and its interpretation are important because of the insight they provide into the evolution of African-American culture after 1865. That is, the data appear to indicate that certain activities, many ultimately of African origin, played a critical and increasingly important role in the community's survival. If this is correct, it would provide archaeological support for Fogel and Engerman's observation on the post-1865 attack on the material conditions of life for African Americans in the rural South (36). This process appears to have fostered the intense re-organization of the community toward the mechanisms of internal control and self-sufficiency. Behaviors and beliefs that fostered a sense of belonging were increasingly integrated within this community. Such behaviors and beliefs were increasingly important for the survival of a potentially more stable community. The internal management of affairs, both political and supernatural, functioned to help keep the increasingly oppressive outside world from negatively impacting this community."
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‹ Carol McDavid 1998