Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Theresa Singleton


African Diaspora, Archaeology, Ceramic Analysis, Plantation Archaeology, Sylvia Wynter, Virginia

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Classical Archaeology and Art History | Classics


This dissertation is a study of the lives of some of the people enslaved on rural plantations and farmsteads in the northern Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. Scholars did not widely acknowledge the presence of slavery in the Valley before the 1990s, and this is the first work to provide an in-depth view of the lives of enslaved Shenandoahans before 1860. Specifically, this project answers two questions: what was life like for enslaved people in the Shenandoah Valley, and how did they shape the region's political economies. Data for this project comes from archaeological excavations at the main enslaved quartering site at Belle Grove Plantation and 19th-century written sources from Frederick and Shenandoah Counties, Virginia, and Jefferson County, West Virginia. Using these sources, this dissertation assesses 1) the impact grain agriculture had on enslaved people and the economic impact of enslaved farmers, 2) the food rations issued to enslaved Shenandoahans and the ways they grew, gathered, raised, and hunted at night and on Sundays to ensure their families had enough to eat, 3) how restrictions on enslaved people’s consumption practices limited their ability to travel to, and buy goods from, cities, towns, and country stores, 4) the ways enslaved people used imported tea and tablewares and locally-made utilitarian ceramics to make lives for themselves, and the larger economic implications of these actions, and 5) the struggles between enslaved Shenandoahans and their enslavers that took place through local landscapes. In addition to its contribution to Shenandoah Valley history, this dissertation proposes new ways of theorizing archaeological research on enslaved life that draws heavily from assemblage thinking and Black studies, focusing on ontological politics through which how enslavers defined enslaved people as a different type of human than themselves and enslaved people redefined their humanities on their own terms.


Open Access