Date of Award

December 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Douglas Armstrong

Second Advisor

Edward Aiken


African American, historical archaeology, jim crow, material culture, tenant farming, Texas archaeology

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation explores the history and archaeology of a postemancipation community that developed around the Benjamin W. Jackson Plantation in Bethel, Texas, particularly concentrating on the transformation of the landscape through the rise of black land ownership and material culture collected at two households occupied by generations of the Davis family. The Davises were tenant farmers whose ancestors were previously enslaved on the plantation and members of the family continued to occupy the lands through the 1950s. In the decades following emancipation the antebellum landscape of the Benjamin Jackson plantation and the Bethel community in East Texas were slowly transformed and developed into an economically diverse community of African American tenants and independent landowners. Over generations, people who were formerly enslaved on the Jackson Plantation as well as people from neighboring plantations and communities built the infrastructure necessary for semi-autonomy, practicing subsistence agriculture and developing formal and informal economies, while in many instances continuing to labor through the production of commercial cotton on white owned land. Drawing upon diverse sources including archaeology, archival research, forms of oral history, art, and landscape, I consider how the material world functioned in the maintenance and reinforcement of unequal social and economic conditions, and also how over generations people engaged with the material world as a mechanism to reformulate and transform these conditions. The active participation of rural black farmers in consumer markets as a means to subvert and challenge day to day racism is explored, as are shifts in consumption from one generation to another following WWII and the accompanying increase in product diversity and availability during this period.


Open Access