Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Kandace D. Hollenbach

Committee Members

Barbara J. Heath, David G. Anderson


Throughout the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, millions of enslaved Africans and African Americans were crucial to the success of plantations in the American South, but despite their numbers little exists in the written record to provide an accurate history for the African American slave community. However, archaeological and historic research shows that even under the constraints of slavery, enslaved African Americans were active in forming their own families and communities, countering ill-treatment and nutritional deprivation, maintaining their cultural and spiritual identities, and establishing ways to enhance their well-being. The research presented in this study emphasizes the utility of studying carbonized plant remains recovered from slave quarters to draw conclusions that contribute to our understanding of the lifeways of the enslaved in late eighteenth-century Virginia.

The primary focus of this study is Site 8 (44AB442), a late eighteenth-century slave quarter occupied by the field laborers of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation. Jefferson transformed Monticello from a tobacco plantation to a wheat plantation in the early 1790s, resulting in major alterations to both the landscape and the labor system. Agricultural labor systems implemented by planters and overseers largely impacted slaves’ free time, and consequently affected their domestic pursuits. Theories borrowed from human behavioral ecology have been applied to this study to interpret the Site 8 macrobotanical assemblage in order to better understand how the agricultural shift from commercial tobacco production to commercial wheat production affected the subsistence behaviors of the Site 8 occupants. Borrowing from Tucker (2006), a model based on future discounting theory is applied to the Site 8 macrobotanical assemblage to explain observable patterns pointing to a mixed foraging/low-investment horticulture subsistence strategy employed by the Site 8 occupants to balance nutritional stress and add variety to their diets.

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