Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Charles Faulkner

Committee Members

Benita Howell, Jefferson Chapman


Introduction: Archaeologists have been studying African-American material culture during slavery and subsequent freedom since the 1960's (McCarthy 1995). While most historians believed that no trace of African culture remained through slavery and consequent oppression, archaeologists (McCarthy 1995) and anthropologists (Herskovits 1941) sought to prove that African-Americans persisted with their culture as a rebellion or reaction to their forced migration to the Americas (Ferguson 1992). In studying African-Americans in archaeological context, historical archaeologists have not had to change thier methodology but had to modify their interpretive approach. Because a culture historical framework tells us only what types of artifacts African-Americans possessed, the focus of interpretation shifted to searching for the meaning behind these discarded artifacts and what they can tell of the culture that acquired and used them (Beaudry, Cook, and Mrozowski 1991).

The majority of recent African-American archaeological research has focused on the plantation life of the South, particularly in South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia (see Singleton 1995). While slavery was perpetuated due to the plantation system, other forms of slavery existed throughout the United States. The frontier settlements of Kentucky and Tennessee produced an unusual relationship between slave and master. Slaves and masters worked side by side forcing the wilderness into a livable habitat. If any of these early settlers from Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina brought slaves with them, it was usually less than a handful and, many times, just one slave. Frontier families lived in close proximity to their slaves and their living spaces as opposed to plantation life where slaves and slave houses were often far removed from the plantation house (McCormack 1977). The soil and climate of eastern Kentucky and east Tennessee did not support labor-intensive cash crops such as cotton and rice. The large plantations that sustained slavery in many of the other Southern states did not develop in this area. The result was a form of slavery that had African-American slaves primarily working as laborers on small farms or as domestic servants who cared for the children, cooked the meals, and cleaned the homes. Consequently, the relationships between slave and master as well as overall lifeways on the frontier were different than those found in the "classic" plantation system (McCormack 1977).

There has been little archaeological research conducted on frontier slavery largely because frontier slave sites are not as conspicuous as in the former system. One site on the Tennessee frontier where slaves lived in the last 18th and early 19th will be the subject of this thesis research. This is Blount Mansion, an historic site in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee where archaeological excavation was conducted from 1985-1996.

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