The construction and expression of identity: An archaeological investigation of the laborer villages at Adrian Estate, St. John, USVI

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Douglas V. Armstrong


Identity, Laborer villages, Adrian Estate, St. John, United States Virgin Islands

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This archaeological research study focuses on the material possessions of the enslaved laborers interpreted within a framework, which views goods and therefore all material culture as mediums of self-expression in the dynamic process of the construction of identity through time. This research thus rests on scholarship that informs us of the significance of material goods beyond their utilitarian value. As communicators in the construction and expression of identity within a fluid and changing social and historical environment, material goods are the means through which the self or community defines the world and makes sense of it. The two enslaved laborer villages examined in this study represent a pre-1800 village (1718-1800) and a post-1800 village (1800-1896) at Adrian Estate a sugar plantation on the island of St. John, USVI, the former Danish West Indies. The expression of identity in the early village was based in ethnicity where various forms of material goods and cultural institutions served to root the West African enslaved laborers in the familiar representing their own concept of self, differentiating themselves from the oppressive white world, and linking themselves in shared traditions. Identity in the post-1800 village was based in their knowledge of their critical worth and value as the slave trade came to a close, as they had more invested on Caribbean soil than West African, and as they gained more control of their personal lives. These changes and the recognition of their inherent value were expressed through the choices of material culture. The conclusions of this archaeological and historical study provide indication that material goods are used as instruments of expression in the construction of identities.


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